The first Austrian at the World Snooker Championships is 17
Von John Cummins
Snooker is a game usually associated with grizzled, middle-aged men, playing in dingy, smoky clubs. While it’s true that many of the current top players are in their forties, it is generally necessary to begin at a young age to acquire the mastery needed to compete at the very highest level.
Florian Nüßle was just five years old when he tried snooker for the first time after watching the game on TV. „I could barely see over the table. Sometimes I used to stand on a chair to help me set up the shot.“ Now seventeen, he is heading to Sheffield in England to take part in qualification for the World Snooker Championships.
Snooker is a cue sport like pool or billiards but it is played on a much larger table with smaller pockets. A maximum of 147 points is awarded for a perfect break, where all fifteen reds and six other colours are potted in the correct order.
Playing the game well requires formidable skill: a combination of precision, control and tactical awareness, which only comes with hours of practice. Florian spends around four hours a day on the snooker table. He has switched to night school to allow him to focus on snooker but still finds it difficult to balance competing priorities.
„When I was younger friends never understood why I spent so much time training alone, but that never really bothered me because I just wanted to compete.“ The sacrifices he has made to follow his dream are considerable but so are the potential rewards, with top snooker professionals earning millions per year in prize money and endorsements.
Many of those top players were child prodigies. Ronnie O’Sullivan, widely considered the greatest player of all time, won the UK Championship at just seventeen. Judd Trump regularly beat adults before turning ten and was long feted as the next big thing. Of course for every rule there is an exception. 2015 world champion Stuart Bingham only took up snooker seriously in his teens and didn’t become a top player until well into his thirties.
Journalist Malcolm Gladwell argues in his book “Outliers” that you need to put in ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in any field. It is tempting to assume that a child who focuses exclusively on one sport is more likely to put in the kind of work necessary to become a champion. However, experts such as Dan Epstein, author of “The Sports Gene”, say diversification is actually more important than specialisation when playing sport at a young age.
„I played football and golf and it was only at age twelve that I made the decision to focus more on snooker,“ recalled Florian. Like Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer, he seems to have benefited from playing a variety of sports as a child. Epstein says such an approach leads to more all-round skill, less injury and greater satisfaction. Federer is often compared to former US pro Andre Agassi, who was forced to play tennis from a young age and later suffered from burnout and depression.
Florian appears to have no such concerns. Despite his single-minded approach he remains firmly grounded. He was described by a leading trainer as one of the two best young snooker talents in Europe after reaching the final of the Under-18 European Snooker Championships last year, but he is not getting carried away with his success. „It’s a great honour for me to go to the World Championships. I’m not looking for any results, but the experience will be really good for the future.“
One of the highlights of his career so far has been playing alongside his idol O’Sullivan at an exhibition match in Dornbirn. „There was a massive crowd. I made a 49 clearance at the end to win the frame. It is something that I will always remember.“
Such experiences are hard to come by in Austria, with the best players and coaches almost all based in the UK. Asked whether he needed to uproot himself and move to Great Britain to become a professional, Florian remained circumspect. „It would certainly help but I don’t know if it’s actually necessary. Players like Alexander Ursenbacher of Switzerland have shown that it’s possible without moving to England.“
After the World Championships, Florian will compete in so called Q School, in an attempt to qualify as a professional. If he succeeds, he will join a growing number of players from continental Europe on the main tour, including Belgium’s Luca Brecel, who has won a tournament and is now ranked fourteen in the world.
Snooker may still be dominated by players from Great Britain, and more recently China and Asia, but Florian sees a bright future for his European counterparts. Perhaps in the not too distant future they may even be competing for major prizes like the World Championship. „I think that’s a little bit of motivation for younger players from Europe like me, that it’s actually possible to get there.“
Only time will tell, of course, if he does get there. But with a little bit of luck and continued application all those years of hard work might just pay off.
Publiziert am 08.04.2019