Judgement of Pace
Once the beginner has a reasonable grasp of potting angles and his/her game is starting to improve, the next challenge they will face is positioning of the cue ball. In simple terms, cue ball control comes down to two main factors - tip height (for spins) and, the area we will look at in this article, judgement of pace.
In snooker it is possible to get a feel for the pace of a shot during your preparation. 'Feathers' or 'waggles' (the backward and forward movement of the cue in preparation for the final delivery), if used correctly, should prepare your cue action for the shot you are about to play and will increase your chances of success when trying to apply the correct pace to a given shot. It is the correct use of your practice swings (from here termed 'feathers') that will help you to achieve the correct length of backswing. The correct length of backswing will in turn aid your consistency in achieving the correct strength or pace for the cue ball.
Common faults in judgement of pace for cue ball control
Shown below in green italics are a number of faults I see when coaching 'judgement of pace'. A suggested correction is shown underneath each common fault:
Fault - No feathers
Having no feathers during your cue action in readiness for your final delivery is giving away the chance to have the best possible preparation.
During your feathers it is possible for you to get a 'feel' for the pace of the shot you are about to play. Using feathers to rehearse the length of your backswing and the opening and closing of your 'grip' (where required) will enhance your chances of making a well timed delivery, which in turn will improve your chances of controlling the cue ball as intended.
Fault - Not recognising the pace the shot requires
This fault is just an error in judgement - making the wrong call on the pace required.
Better judgement in this area comes with trial and error used in conjunction with a sound method. There are two methods I use to help players in this area. For each of these methods (and for all shots) it is imperative that you are getting your tip as close to the cue ball as possible in your 'address position' and each time you feather the cue ball. The first method is the 1-10 method where your feathers and final backswing will be of a length (in inches) matched to a 1"-10" scale. Therefore, a gentle shot may be a '2' on the scale (feathers and final backswing of 2 inches), whereas a shot requiring medium power maybe a '5' on the scale (feathers and final backswing of 5 inches). You can simplify this method by not using numbers but by using 'gentle, medium or power' as your criteria for decision making. The photos shown below illustrate how you may want to set this up on your table to practice this particular method.
Feathers and a final backswing back to the yellow should be used for 'gentle' shots, back to the green for 'medium' shots and back to the brown for 'power' shots. This second method offers only a guide - do not see it as an exact science. There will be shots that will fall between these three options and perfecting your judgement of pace will be down to a lot of trial and error on the practice table.
Fault - Inconsistent length of 'feathers'
I see many players with an inconsistent length of feathers. Here I am talking about inconsistency of length on the same shot! As I have mentioned above, a medium powered shot may require feathers and a final backswing of approx. 5 inches (130 cms). Some players for this type of medium-paced shot will start off with feathers that are 3 inches in length, then start to feather to about 7 inches (as they realize the shot needs more power) and will finish off with two very short feathers (maybe 0.5 inches) - I call these 'woodpeckers' - before making their final backswing and their delivery. The result is three different lengths of feather in preparation for one shot! When you come to play the final backswing, your mind is somewhat confused by the inconsistency in the preparation and will fall back on instinct (sometimes good, sometimes bad). This inconsistency in length during your preparation is giving away the benefit you can achieve by using feathers to help with judgment of pace.
For a medium pace shot for example, make a decision on the length of the feathers and final backswing (approx. 4 - 6 inches) - and stick to it - for each of your feathers (first to last) and your final backswing. The same rule applies to all shots.
Fault - Incorrect length of feathers for the pace required
This is slightly different to 'not recognising the pace the shot requires'. This fault assumes you have made the correct decision with regard to the power required, but then you do not adopt a length of feather and final backswing that matches your correct decision. For example you have correctly assumed a particular shot is medium power, but you have feathers and a final backswing that are much too long and suited to a power shot.
Make sure that your feather and final backswing length are in tune with your decision on the length required for a particular shot (the 1-10 method and the gentle/medium/power method outlined above can help to improve this discipline).
Fault - Delivering the cue too fast or too slow
This fault occurs as a result of feathers and/or a final backswing that are too long or too short for the shot you are attempting. If you have feathers and/or a final delivery that are too long for a gentle shot, then you are very likely to make a delivery that is much too slow to compensate. If your feathers and/or final backswing for a power shot are too short, you are likely to make a very fast delivery to compensate.
To give yourself the best chance to make a well timed delivery I suggest you aim to make a similar POSITIVE speed of delivery for every shot (with the exception of plain ball shots, very gentle shots and extreme power shots). I advocate that your judgement of pace should be managed by the LENGTH of your feathers and final backswing and not by the speed of the final delivery.
Fault - Final Backswing not the same length as the length of the feathers
It is very common for me to see players with the same length of feathering for every shot. This will usually lead to a final backswing that changes in length to suit the pace required (unless they have the previous fault and look to alter the speed of the delivery). If your final backswing is not the same length as your feathers, then why are you bothering to feather the cue ball at all? You are rehearsing one shot and playing another with your final backswing - think about it!
Aim to make your feathers and final backswing of the same (or very similar) length.
Aim to replace your common faults with some of the suggestions I have outlined above and you will almost certainly see improvements in your striking and cue ball control.