Crazy and Amazing: Snooker According to Top Scottish Coach Stevie Baillie
There is a close-knit community in the world of snooker, despite the game being global!
Top Scottish snooker coach Stevie Baillie has seen it all! And in this detailed question and answer interview, he recounts some proud memories he’s had over the years in both playing and coaching the sport we all love. The game is more than just a game, it’s a religion, and everyone involved in the game from fan, player, coach and business owner involved loves to spread the gospel of the great game!
Over to Stevie…
1) Can you tell me your name, age and where you are based in terms of snooker?
55 Years of Age
I am based in Houston Conservation Village, Renfrewshire, Scotland (10 Mins from Glasgow Airport) I have a Riley Aristocrat Match Cut Match Table, with Steel Block Cushions & Heated Bed at my Home. This is where I coach from. I also coach anywhere in the World.
2) So how did you get into snooker and more importantly coaching in the game? What qualifications do you currently hold?
I was always into football and golf as a kid. My Grandfather gave my dad an old Joe Davis 5’ x 2 1/2’ table for me and my 2 brothers when I was about 10. We had to put it up in the living room, so it only ever saw sporadic use when my Mum was out.
Years later when on holiday in Butlin’s, Ayr, my Dad would take me and my Brothers to the Snooker Room whenever it rained. My first impression of a full-sized table was that it looked more like a football pitch to me!
Although I would much prefer football, it became clear that I was the one out of the 4 of us who had ‘an eye for a pot’, as I was beating both my brothers and my Dad. I never played much Snooker at all, but one day in 1984, whilst recovering from a bad ankle injury from football, I was asked along to make up a doubles match with a friend.
We played in Reardon’s in Argyle Street Glasgow, and I was amazed at the high standard of both décor and tables of which there were 28!
I had a 41 crazy pot break that day (much to the disdain of our opponents, who had been told I don’t play the game) and thoroughly enjoyed it. The following day I went back up to the club and asked if I could play. The staff gave me a table, and off I went. That was me – I was hooked.
I think I played every single day apart from Christmas Day and New Year’s day for the next 4 years.
How Baillie Got Into Snooker Coaching:
In the mid-eighties, I used to go to group classes run by Jim Donnelly (The first ever Scottish Professional to qualify for Sheffield).
Over several weeks of attending, my own game improved massively, and Jim used to ask me after the classes if I wanted to practice with him.
Well……..back then, what he should have asked, was “do I want to pick the balls out for him!”
Playing regularly against Jim and several notable top International players of the day such as Jim McNellan, Jimmy Allan, Kenny McIntosh, Michael Maguire etc. It wasn’t long before my own game was improving very quickly.
Well, it had to or I would have just been a ball spotter for any of them.
Looking back I still consider myself very fortunate to have been introduced to a club like Reardon’s, which probably housed 70-80% of Scotland’s best players at that time.
There was probably no finer arena to learn the game in Scotland at that time.
Over the coming month’s Jim (Donnelly) asked me one day if I would like to help him with coaching some of the Juniors in his large classes.
I didn’t think I knew enough to coach at that time, but Jim assured me that I would be fine.
He showed me what to teach, and that was me off and running in an area of the game that had never crossed my mind!
Callan and Baillie: The Meeting
After a couple of years playing, I went to see the legendary coach Frank Callan, who at that time was coaching Steve Davis & John Parrot amongst his clients. Frank’s knowledge and methods were big eye-openers to me, aside from helping my own game improve, it gave me some “real gems of snooker wisdom” to pass on myself.
Over the years I have been to see almost every coach that was out there, I have always had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and new ways.
Some of the memorable ones were Terry Griffiths, Del Hill, Nic Barrow, Stephen Feeney etc.
Many of which I am proud to say, I have become very friendly with, due to our common bond of knowledge seeking.
I currently hold:
SightRight Accredited Snooker Coach
WPBSA Grade A Coaching Certificate
WSA Level 1 Snooker Coaching (Currently sitting Level 2)
3) Have you been playing or have played in leagues, tournaments and how did that go? if so?
Within 5/6 months of playing in Reardon’s I was beginning to learn from the resident top amateur players and professional at the time, Mr. Jim Donnelly.
I was invited by Mr. Frank Roeher (a Referee who Managed the Club Team) to play for the club.
I was very flattered and was so nervous on my very first Match that my knees were trembling and my heart thumping when at the table.
I’ve always been blessed with a good temperament in pressure sport, so thankfully no one knew or noticed but me, and I managed to beat my first opponent 2-0!
Proud Moments Representing Scotland
I then joined the Scottish Billiards & Snooker Association, and began playing in the national Ranking Events and climbed the rankings fairly quickly over 2/3 seasons.
I then progressed on to playing for Scotland whilst winning some events and performing decently in others. This was a dream come true for me personally, because I remember the first week of playing the game in Reardon’s club, that I dreamt of representing my country in Snooker.
At that point, going to Mars would have been a more realistic option.
Happy to say now at the age of 55, that I have represented Scotland on almost 40 International occasions.
Aside from many Home International appearances. The pinnacle for me was playing in 8 IBSF World Amateur Events and 11 European International Events. It might not mean an awful lot to some, but I have experienced some of the best times in many countries around the world. Both on and off the table. The icing on the cake has been the forming of many friends from around the globe from the UK to Australia!
4) What’s your highest break?
147 (x2) in Practice Frames
143 in a competitive match
5) In terms of coaching people, how do you go about approaching lessons and how to get the best out of a student or client?
My approach to coaching people is very flexible as I have many years of experience coaching all ages, levels, individuals, groups, classes etc.
Sometimes clients look for anything from a single problem-solving lesson to maybe a 12 or 20 lesson programme. I always sit down with any client and ascertain with them what exactly they are looking for from their coaching experience.
Once we have clarified their level and needs, I would then explain to them the plan of lesson(s) and actions that they will be following over the coming period(s).
As for getting the very best results out of a student; I am always very honest with beginners and intermediate players (Good Players Already Know!) on how difficult the game really is!
I also enforce on them, that as with anything in life, they will only get out of it, what they put into it.
I am quite an exacting taskmaster on my students, although all lessons, aims, and goals are delivered in a very fun and enjoyable fashion.
The lessons need to be that way, to ensure the student actually enjoys chasing his goals. Otherwise, too many players become disillusioned with the game and fall away from it.
Regardless of the players standard of ability, I always have something in store for them that will challenge and push their abilities, thus leading to guaranteed improvement.
When explaining any shot or theory to any player, I always make a point to prove the point to them in a very practical way.
I see too many coaches who have only ever learned to coach from a course and badge presented for completing the course, these coaches, although great for expanding the game, means that there are many coaches who are usually “found wanting” very quickly with any player possessing a bit of experience of actually trying to play the game.
This is something I think the coaching course leaders need to work very hard on, so as to bring genuine credibility to those in possession of the Coaching Certificates.
6) If you had the chance to create a product for training, what would you make and why?
Over the years I have created several items and ideas for training.
Nic Barrow’s CAT (Cue Action Trainer) is a great piece of kit for players to get the feel for perfect cueing.
Stephen Feeney’s SightRight methods are far and away, the best Coaching Methodologies I think the game has ever seen, and trust me on this, I have seen every device and invention ever made or conceived as I have spent fortunes over the years on owning them! That is my own personal opinion on the SightRight Methodology and the main reason I was one of the very first ever accredited SightRight coaches In the world. Taught properly, SightRight blows the minds of all players that I have worked with on it, as it has for players of the caliber of Mark Williams, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Stuart Bingham, Martin Gould to name a few.
7) Do you coach a lot of pupils and if so, do you see many talents coming through where you are? DO you think the game is going in the right direction when it comes to grassroots snooker?
I do have a few dozen players on my rota’s. I do see several potential talents coming through, but as previously stated above. these players will only get the returns on the dedicated hard graft required to make it as a top-flight player in the game.
Far too many don’t seem to have the passion and drive required to do the hard graft on the table. It’s a very tough game to play to a high level.
I do think the Pro-Game is heading to a good place. If the players are patient enough and remember where their game was only 7/8 years ago. Then I’m sure they will agree.
As for grassroots Snooker? I still think there are far too many “personal agenda” types within the Amateur game in many countries around the world.
This, in turn, creates nepotism and favoritism setups and structures, rather than a truer and purer “ ALL” players are equal and are treated equal structure at NGB level.
I have met many true game at heart people around the world on my travels as a player and delegate, but these souls are definitely in the minority rather than the majority. These are the real true worthy administrators of the game. The others with personal agendas or ego trips, are and always will create unfair issues within the game for the players.
Again, you can trust me on sound knowledge of these issues and people, as I was 9 years on the Board of Scottish Snooker with 7 of them served as the Chairman. So I really do know what I am talking about on this subject, both at home and around the world.
8) What’s been a proud moment in your coaching career?
I have had many, many proud moments in my coaching career. Even a smile from a student when they play their very first screw back shot (It’s what they all want to learn!)
to a student who makes his first century or wins an event.
But looking back, the two proudest moments for me personally were:
1. A young kid named Ross Higgins came to me through his father at 10 years of age. Ross had started playing the year before, and when he first came along, he could pot
a ball or two, but always wanted to leave straight pots from most positional pots. I worked with Ross on and off over the next 6/7 years, where he improved due to his application
and love of the game.
A Surprise Pairing
He went on to win several Junior National Ranking Events and Amateur Champion Titles and progressed on to playing on the WSA
challenge tour. But, when he was 17, he came to me and asked me if I would partner him in the Scottish Amateur doubles championship that year. I was really surprised
at this, as he was mixing with and practicing with some of the best players in Scotland at this time, and my own game had declined somewhat at this point.
But he insisted that he wanted to partner me that year. We had a great time and some great matches during the event, and lo and behold, we went on to win the blooming
The Joy on his face (and probably mine!) when we lifted the Trophy, is a special moment I will remember and smile upon until my dying day.
Aside from Ross’s ability on the table, I can honestly say that in all dealings with this young man, that he is one of the nicest human beings I have ever had the pleasure
of meeting. That, for me, is the riches of being involved in the Snooker World.
- In 1996/97 season, my first one back after an 8 year sabbatical from competitive play, due to marriage, work and children commitments. I was drawn against a young 17-year-old blond kid from Greenock in a ranking event at the JP Snooker Club in Edinburgh. I managed to beat this cocky little kid who was potting balls from off the lampshades! Never had I seen such a natural cueist and clean potter of a ball, and he also made it look like he didn’t even need to think about any shot by his rapid sty;e.
Afterward, I got speaking to him and offered him a couple of shot selection, experience bits of advice from our match. His reply was that he “didn’t like to play that way
!”. So I thought, “okay son, you play your way whilst I am still in the tournament”.
A few weeks later I watched him closely at another event and was blown away with this kids talent, he missed on the 13th red for a 147 and in another frame, he missed Green on 122 for another Maximum. He was playing George Carnegie a very cagey former West Of Scotland Champion, and regardless of his two close maximum’s, George proceeded to negotiate the talented kid with a 3-2 win.
Cutting a long story short, the kid’s father spoke to me and said that his son needed some experience put on his young shoulders, and there started my lifelong friendship with young Thomas McSorley. In Riga, Latvia in 2004 at the European Team Championships, Thomas & I were representing Scotland and had traveled over a day earlier to get some match table practice in. We played 6 best of 7 matches against each other with him prevailing the 4-2 winner. In amongst our sessions, he missed 5 further Maximums. He missed one black! A Pink, A Blue and 2 greens to miss out on nailing a max that day.
The following morning in his very first match, he sent a wave of euphoria throughout the Riga club by blasting in a completed 147 in rapid style. On potting the black up into
the middle pocket, I was the very first person he made his way to, to share in his celebration. What a break, and what a moment for us both!
Thomas has since married himself, and now has a young family of his own. He seldom plays, but still comes to my house every Monday evening for our weekly best of 19
match for a £10 note. I hate to admit who currently holds the upper hand – but I think I have funded his kids in sweets for the past year or two.
Thomas was also best man at my wedding when I re-married, and both my wife and I, along with Thomas’s brother were the only witnesses to his own wedding a few
years later when we helicoptered into the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas for his own wedding to Lisa his long term Fiancé.
Yes, that is the kind of lifelong friendships that can come from just being involved in this crazy but amazing game we all love.
9) What is the common fault/s you see when clients come to you for coaching?
The most common faults I see are;
Beginners: Is that they do not work hard enough or focus enough on acquiring great basic fundamentals of stance, bridge feathering.
Intermediate: So many of them have got to a plateau, but tend to have their heads full of too many tips and techniques from advice givers and poor coaches.
Advanced: Many fail to ever look closely at the fundamentals of accurate sighting. Yes, they can fire a straight bullet, but they fail to point their rifle at the bullseye.
Professionals: In many cases, it can be that they have just lost a bit of confidence. A slight tweak to correct them back to “who they were” can be all that is needed.
10) If you were to offer one vital tip for someone beginning in the game, what would it be?
Make sure that wherever you take your advice or glean your knowledge from. That it is indeed from a knowledgeable source with credibility.
As stated earlier, there is loads of free advice on offer from well-meaning people. But the reality is that unless they really know something about the technical fundamentals and flaws, then they will do more harm than good to aspiring player’s hopes and dreams.
11) Can you tell SnookerZone a funny moment in your snooker career or something unusual that has happened? Can be related to snooker or just something in life…
Around the 1991/92 season, Thomas McSorley and I were playing on the WSA Open Tour chasing the elusive Pro-Ticket spots available at that time.
In one of Thomas’s matches against a very handy opponent, they had a very officious Referee -you know the ones that love the blazer, the people watching and the
power!”. Well at the beginning of the third frame with the scores tied at 1-1. Thomas’s opponent goes for a 3 ball plant off the side of the pack. He missed the plant, the
white careered off balls and into the middle bag, with the reds traversing all around the table at great speed. They were spread all over the entire table like a Kangaroo’s
So the Traffic Warden mentality Referee proceeds to take the Cue Ball from the middle bag, he gives it a polishing rub with his ultra-white gloves, Third Reich style struts to
the Baulk end of the table, gives the Cue Ball another rub and firmly places it against the middle of the cushion rail on the table. He then points his zapper to the electronic
scoreboard and adds 4 points to Thomas McSorley’s score before booming loudly “Foul 4 – Thomas McSorley. Well, from the D, there are 3 easy reds that go to the Green and Yellow pockets. There are another 3 dolly red tap-ins to the middle bags, and there is another red in the jaws
of one of the Black pockets. Nothing is near a cushion!
McSorley picks up the white, places it in the D in a position that gives him easy access to 5/6 unmissable reds. He looks up and down the table, looks at the ref and asks in
a monotone voice – “Is that a Free Ball?” whilst giving me and the rest of the crowd a silly grin.
Well, instead of laughing at him, Mr Traffic Warden Hitler Ref, gets behind the red from the baulk cushion, hunches down closes one eye and looks down the table. He then walks around to both side cushions and does the same thing, before standing up and so officiously announcing in a firm and loud voice “No Free Ball”.
Well……… the entire room erupted into uncontrollable laughter at the Ref’s unknowing stupidity of just being had!
His intensity in his own performance and his penchant for his own self-importance had detached him from the banter.
Still to this day one of our favourite and funny recollections of the fun and laughter out on the Tour.
SnookerZone would like to thank Stevie for his great responses and time in doing the Q&A and good luck in the future…