Steve Daking tells us how he became a pool player, and what led him to become an online pool coach
When I was a kid I was obsessed with the game of pool. I wanted to be the best player I could be, I played every chance I got, I pestered people to play me, and when they got fed up—I played on my own. Hours and hour, hitting balls around, all before I could see over the table properly. I remember I was a lot shorter than my cue, I used to have to kick the butt end away from me so that the tip end was low enough for me to get the chalk onto.
Young Steve collecting trophies
I spent ages scouring books and VHS videos for any information I could find. At the time there was wasn’t a lot of stuff available.
In the UK, most of the training material was about snooker as it has a higher public profile (although not as many people playing!). So I absorbed as much as I could and tried to put it into practice. An aunt of mine went to Florida on holiday and brought me back some books on American Pool (which wasn’t being played in the UK at the time). I was overjoyed to see some books with the word ’Pool’ on them, and then slightly disappointed to discover that the game was a bit different to the game of pool I knew. Anyway I took in as much as I could from those books too.
As I got a bit older, I started to play in a team in the local league. I remember the team captain had to phone the pub landlords if we were playing away because I was underage! I watched every shot played in every frame and tried to learn all I could from the more experienced players. I noticed that a lot of what they had to say was pretty similar, and very little of it really tailored for the British pool table. If there were any pool sayings, then they were snappy snippets passed from one player to another—golden words of wisdom that only belonged alongside the pool table. “Always use your two shots.”, “”Take the difficult balls first”, and “Don’t pot balls over pockets”.
A dashing young professional
As I became a better player, I realised that I lot of what I had picked up along the way was slightly flawed, and in some cases downright wrong! All because the information originated from other cue sports - it seemed like no one had given any proper thought to the British game. So I began to work out for myself what works on the British pool table. I studied the game, practiced, and eventually became a professional on the IPA International Pool Tour. I was 22 years old. At that time, I thought I had a pretty good grasp of what the game was all about.
Five years later, and I started to make my living from pool full time via exhibitions. It was then that I realised just how much there was for me still to learn. Many top players graduate to the higher end of the game and never have to produce consistent results on a typical pub table. If you concentrate only on tournaments, it is quite possible once you get to the top level to only ever play on tables that are nearly new, which are set up by the best table fitters in the business. Playing on one of these tables is great, you know how each shot is going to react—but the game is very different to the pool played in pubs, those tables take some abuse! As I chose to follow the entertainment route for my pool career I have had to play on what has been supplied by the venue. In the last 13 years I have performed exhibitions in nearly 2,000 venues, and I have seen some truly shocking examples of pool tables.
Another night... another table!
What’s more, I was expected to play to a high standard on those tables—because I was being paid to be there! To begin with, I didn’t like it one bit. Playing on tables that rolled out, or even had cushions missing! Over time I began to accept this as part of my job, and develop the methods required to play on any pool table.
I spent a few more years clocking up the miles, night after night of playing challenge frames against all comers, playing on all these different tables. Then one day I had an epiphany! A revelation that pool is not about the top players at the top end playing on quality tables in arenas in posh hotels, because that has absolutely nothing to do with the game on the ground. First and foremost pool is a pub sport. It should be about the millions of people playing every week in pubs and clubs, in all kinds of venues, under all kinds of conditions. This is what the sport is, this is the game I love. Local advantage is part of the game! If you need to open a window so that you can make enough room to play your shot, then that’s great! It makes the sport all the more challenging.
Difficult conditions on a pub table
To be a good pool player you need to know how to cope with those kind of things, because its not just part of the game, it’s what the game is all about. If you want to be a true winner at 8 ball then you have to take all that in your stride and beat people on whatever table is in front of you. Of course we all like to play on nice tables in well lit conditions, but in the game of pool, that is seldom the norm.
If two people are playing on a tiny 5ft table, which is on a slope, under a 20 watt bulb; one of those players will still win, the other will lose. So if I am one of those players, I want to be the winner!
So getting back to what I learnt from the books and the videos. There are a number of things that make British 8 Ball unique.
Ball sizes in American & British pool
The balls sizes and weights are different, so is the construction of the tables, as well as the variety of conditions players are expected to deal with. Therefore playing 8 Ball requires a whole set of different skills to other cue sports. Snooker and American books don’t give the right information, they just confuse things. It took me a long while to figure out what additional skills were required, what skills are the same, and the best way to pass them on to others.
I have been actively coaching players of all standards one-to-one throughout my pool career. I retired from tournament play at the end of 2005, primarily to concentrate on my Trickshot show, but it has also given me more time to think about the game in general.
I started organising the coaching material that I had produced over the years for different clients. There was a lot of it, so I thought that if I assembled it in some kind of order I might have a really good guide to how to play the game. Once I had put it all together, I could see that there were a few gaps. I could add more to the training, just because of all that experience I accumulated on the road.
Snooker tables are massive!
The more notes I made, the more I found there was to add. For example, I found a piece I had written about the method of applying topspin. It was a good piece - if someone who didn’t know how to apply topspin read it, then they would be able to produce consistent results with very little practice. However, I saw that I could add some British 8 Ball specific knowledge, because on the British table the cue ball is smaller so it reacts slightly differently from what is taught in Snooker and American Pool. Once I had added what I knew about that, I then realised that because of all those exhibitions, I had even more to add. I know what the cue ball will do on different types of cloths as well, not just wool or nylon, but I even know about the age of the cloth and how that effects things! In fact I have loads of this unique knowledge about every part of the game built up through years on the front line, out in the field, battling away night after night!
So I started reviewing all the coaching material I had ever produced, adding the knowledge I had built up along the way. I thought about publishing it all in a book, but I believe it’s better to be shown something instead of trying to imagine it from diagrams on a page. I could have put it on DVD, or rather a series of DVDs; but I think that however much DVDs try to be user friendly, even with elaborate menus you can never find what you want quickly. Putting all the video on the web is the answer. I can make each video clip short and to the point. So if you want to work on a particular part of your game, you can watch that segment again and again without too much messing around. I can also update the course as rules get changed, or if I discover a new way of playing a shot I can add that to the course.
I have divided the course into 3 sections and called them Pub, Club and Tour. In my opinion all players should start at the beginning and work their way through the lot. That applies no matter how long you have been playing. This was really brought home to me recently when a player I know quite well came to me for some coaching. I was a little surprised that he felt he needed any help as he had a reputation as a decent player, he had won lots of local competitions and had been a county player for many years. Some pool players are quite embarrassed about seeking help with their game and this player was no exception, I will call him John, to spare his blushes. I assured John that I wouldn’t tell any of his team mates and he could schedule his lessons for a time of day when the club wasn’t very busy.
Three Levels of Learning
On the first lesson I asked John what the problem was, I thought he would be quite happy with his game—in the years I had known him, he had won loads of trophies & cash, and was always in demand to play in various teams. He took a deep breath and began to tell me his problem. One day he would play really well, and the next day he might play badly and be really disappointed with his game. He was lucky enough to have a pool table at home and would practice a couple of hours every day after work, but it didn’t seem to make any difference, in fact it sometimes made things worse! While he was still getting to the later stages of tournaments, he wasn’t playing as well as he knew he could. This lack of consistency was really getting him down, so much so he was thinking of giving up playing altogether.
Now when an experienced player like John comes to me for coaching it’s a little difficult. I had watched John play many times and I knew he that he could play to a high standard. I didn’t want to waste his time by telling him a load of stuff he already knew. So I asked him how he started playing, who taught him the game. Where did it all begin? It turned out that he had learnt, like most people, by watching other players and picking up bits and pieces as he went along. He started playing in a pub team and enjoyed it so much that he began to play in competitions at his local club. The more he played the better he had got, until eventually he started winning the tournaments and playing for his county team. That was several years ago and he didn’t think he had got any better since he first qualified at the county trials.
It's all in the wrist...
John and I played a few frames and I watched him intently. After the first frame I had an idea of what could be holding him back. After a couple more frames I was certain what his problem was. It was something as simple as the way he held the cue. More specifically, the hand he used to grip the butt end was twisting when he went through to play the shot. Most of the time it wasn’t a problem, but the moment he got under pressure the arm could tense up a bit and that would stop the cue going through in a straight line; that would mean that he would hit the cue ball slightly off centre and miss the shot. We did a few exercises, and rotated John’s wrist a small amount. Through trial and error we found the cure for the problem. John went away to practice - it took a long while for him to get out of his bad habit and cue the right way without thinking, but eventually he got it ironed out and found the consistency that he was looking for.
Over the next lessons we went through all the basics one step at a time, and found lots of little gaps in John’s knowledge which added together were all holding his game back, not by much but enough to make the world of difference to John at the level he was playing at. I am happy to report that after his lessons John finished last season in the top three of his county and now intends to join the International Tour.
Working in the 8ballcoach.com studio
I have met many players like John. Most people never have any formal coaching when they start to play the game, and as a result don’t get a proper understanding of the basics. With some determination and practice, you can get to a pretty high standard without ever really looking at how you hold the cue. If that is the case, sooner of later your game will reach a plateau. You will reach a certain standard and not get any better. Sure, some days everything will fall into place and you will play great, but you won’t be able to do it day in and day out. Some days will be good, other days will be bad. The only answer is to go back to basics and learn to cue properly. So for that reason, I believe everyone should complete the Pub level course. I know there will be players who want to dive into more advanced techniques straight away, but you have to take my word for it - the only way to be a complete player is to start at the beginning and work through.
Me with Gary Drage of SAM Leisure
I have tried my best to keep the costs down (our sponsors have helped a lot with that, so please do me a favour and visit their websites when you have finished here!), I hope you will appreciate the massive amount of work that has gone into this project. It has taken me and my small team the best part of a year to produce. Writing, filming & editing. Hundreds of hours of work, as well as a big investment in studio time and video equipment. I believe that membership represents excellent value for money. Members don’t just get video, but the benefit of years of my pool playing experience, which isn’t available anywhere else.
So this website contains everything you need to know to be fantastic pool player. I wish there had been a resource like this available when I started playing, it could have made all the difference to my game back then. 8BallCoach.com will not make you a great player overnight, nor will you improve just by watching. You have to absorb all of the lessons, then you have to practice.
What this website can do, is save you lots of time, because you don’t need to find out what techniques work for British pool and you don’t need to seek out further information, as I have attempted to cover every aspect of the game in some way. It will also show you what you need to practice too, practicing the wrong things can actually make your game worse!
So if you want to become a better player, win more matches and just enjoy the game more—invest in the 8BallCoach.com courses and you can get the benefit of all my experience, without having to spend time travelling all over the world and playing on all those different tables!