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Barrow Boy Who Found His Purpose

He may have risen into the top 100 of the world rankings, but former pro Nic Barrow always believed that he was a coach hidden inside a player’s body.

By Arandeep Singh Dhillon

Having worked with the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan and Ding Junhui, as well as heading up the International Billiards & Snooker Federation Coaching Academy, Nic has gained a reputation as one of snooker’s best respected coaches.

Following his seven-year spell as a pro player, Nic decided to take up his passion and has since devoted his time to helping players from amateur level all the way up to World Champions.

“It is very different with any top player in any sport because they already know everything they need to,” said the Milton Keynes-based man, who has coached in nearly 40 different countries. “So it is about reminding them of what they already know and acting like an auto-pilot. As a coach it is just about preventing them from straying off the path.

“Even when I was a teenager I was writing an encyclopaedia about snooker. I wanted to compile in my lifetime a body of knowledge about the game that I could leave behind for young enthusiasts, amateurs and top players. That was always my purpose in life. Being a player was my training apprenticeship, so looking back I think I was a coach hidden in a player’s body. I was more interested as a player in understanding the game and testing all the theories and if you do that too much you won’t perform at the top level. Because a top sportsman thinks less than others – for them it is almost an automatic process.

“I always felt a strange dissatisfaction as a player – it was always compare and despair. I would be annoyed about someone ranked higher than me. Even if I ever got to number one, there would have been an annoyance about someone who had been number one for a couple of years in another sport. It was a never-ending emotion: compare and despair is simply a disaster.”

In 2011 Nic came close to bankruptcy. But he has battled back from his struggles to spark a new phase in his career, fuelled by his love of snooker. The path he is on took flight after becoming the head coach of the United Arab Emirates team at the age of 28.

“I had some great struggles two or three years ago on a personal level,” said Nic, who is a WPBSA official coach. “It developed when I was in the Middle East and I made quite a decent amount of money. I thought success was what some of my friends in the Middle East were doing, which was relaxing and spending vast amounts of money. That is pleasurable but it is not fulfilling, and it took a looming financial disaster to realise that consuming is not sustainable – but contributing is. As soon as I got back to that I discovered the truest happiness is a side effect of living a path, that has an importance greater than you, and living that path with great determination.

“So if you are living for a reason that is bigger than you and doing it to the maximum of your ability then sometimes you will get the side effect of floating on a cloud of happiness. In the same way that occasionally a player. if they apply certain processes, will be in the zone and will not miss anything for a number of frames.

“People who go through problems often feel alone but they are not. Thousands of people have been through their problem in history and are currently going through the same thing. I shared my struggles and if that serves to give someone a clue to escape from a cul-de-sac in their life – then great. Happiness is not a light switch, it is not even a target, it is a side effect.”

Nic, who has spent most of this week at the BetVictor Welsh Open in Newport, is confident that the sport is strong at grass roots level, but feels youngsters looking to break into the game must dedicate themselves to the green baize.

“They need to identify what they want to do in their life and remain focused on that goal,” he added. “People have to decide what they would do if they had unlimited time, money, opportunity and talent. Whatever answer comes up, nurture that. If it is in the realm of snooker, then never stop as long as it feels congruent. There is this philosophy to never give up but I think you should give up sometimes, in order to focus on your real purpose in life. Determine your path and follow it. If that is to do with playing snooker, expose yourself to as many different ideas from as many top people as you can do to form your own philosophy – whether on the forums, YouTube, or other players in the club.

“That is what I did and that philosophy worked for me. I have shifted some of my efforts to YouTube as it does attract the younger crowd because they are online now more than ever. I want to leave a trail of information behind me. If I was 12 again, that information would save me all the heartbreak and cue-biting frustration.”

Nic is now vying for the Association of Professional Coaches, Trainers and Consultants Specialist Coach of the Year award – known as the ‘coaching Oscar’.

“The ‘Oscar’ would be very meaningful and pleasurable, but really for me a greater satisfaction is self-determination,” the 43-year-old said. “Setting my path for life and living that dream every day, whether nobody can see what I am doing and I am struggling, or whether it is all in the limelight and it is going really well, is the key for me. At the end of my life I want to look back and see how true I was to my path. Winning the award would be a side effect of that.”