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Tour Exile Gives Holt Perspective

Former Shoot Out champion Michael Holt believes that success at Q School could turn his experience of dropping off the World Snooker Tour into one of “the best things that has ever happened to him”.

The Nottingham cueman was relegated from the professional circuit by the narrowest of margins, after ending the 21/22 season ranked in 65th position. He then suffered the heartbreak of losing out to John Astley 4-2 in the final round of Q School Event Three, falling one win short of an immediate return to the sport’s top tier.

Over the last year he has turned to coaching amateur players to earn a living, as well as setting up his own YouTube channel (@MichaelHoltSnookerCoaching). However, Holt is now stepping up his preparations for this year’s edition of Q School, which runs from May 26th to June 6th. He is hoping to gain one of eight available spots in the professional ranks next season.

Holt, who is now married with two children, admits that although losing his professional status was a difficult experience, it wasn’t as crushing as it might have been when he was younger.

“It was a disaster dropping off, but the analogy I would use is having a stone in your shoe. It feels really big at the time, but when you stop and take your shoe off you realise it is only small,” said 44-year-old Holt.

“I’m sure if I was a single 25-year-old it would have been a bigger thing, snooker was all my life was at that point. Now it is a part of my life that I want to get back. I have a wife and kids now.

“It has given me time to explore stuff I simply wouldn’t have done if I was on the tour. If I can get back on then it could turn out to be one of the best things to ever happen to me. I have to get back on to feel like that though, because ultimately I am dying to compete on the tour. I believe I can still play to the level I need to do well.

“I’m probably about a week into the practice. I’m alright and playing well. I’m on course to be where I want to be. It doesn’t take long to be playing alright, it is just the mentality side and getting into a rhythm of playing well. That process is happening and when Q School comes round, it is up to me to throw the dice and give it a go.”

Holt has always been aware of the need to have alternative avenues to pursue when operating as a professional sportsman. This can be displayed by the fact he has done module in politics and business with the Open University. The numbers on his YouTube channel are beginning to grow and he currently has a busy coaching calendar.

Holt said: “I only know what goes on in my head, but I do know that there is a world out there beyond playing. As a snooker player you can get a bit stuck in a goldfish bowl. There are people out there who don’t know snooker exists, so I suppose having that perspective has helped me to deal with it. I still have my toe in the goldfish bowl though.

“I’ve thrown myself into the YouTube world because I’ve had to. My channel is slowly growing. I’m not quite at Hendry levels, but I’m after him! Alex Crowley from Tine Creative has started producing the videos for me, so they are going to look next level now. We had our first day of filming recently. He’s been brilliant and is a really good guy. I’m flattered he wants to get involved if I’m honest.”

The thing which Holt has tried to impress on his students most is that, in his opinion, there is no single solution or quick fix to becoming a better player. For Holt, the most important thing is to find a way of playing which suits each individual and that they can replicate consistency. As a result he goes on a more personal journey with his students, finding what works for them rather than chasing a universal text book technique.

“The theme of my YouTube channel is that it is more about finding what works for you. I call it the Circle of Death. People get too involved in technique and that is not a good place to be.  The thing is that this Holy Grail of technique doesn’t even exist in the professional game. That tells you everything you need to know. I am dragging people away from that and I’ve had some good results. It seems to be helping people.

“I teach them how to play not the way to do it. That is what you need to teach. You could have the perfect technique, but if you don’t know how to play then it is no good and you will cue straight to the wrong position. Most of the tour don’t cue straight. Judd Trump and Luca Brecel don’t cue straight. They are alright! What they are all good at, is they can play. They know how to play a shot and where to hit it.”

The main personal takeaway for Holt in his venture into coaching has been to aim to get greater enjoyment from competing if he gets back onto the circuit. He believes the key to success is the mentality and says that is an area he wishes to improve on.

“One thing during my career is I haven’t enjoyed the matches enough. Everything else I have enjoyed, from the travelling to being around the guys on tour. I enjoy practising, but matches were a bit of an ordeal at times. That is mad. If I get on I am going to enjoy it and have a real go at it. I don’t feel like I’ve ever shown my best game. I’d like to come out swinging.

“In professional sport the difference is mindset. The people who deal with things better will be the champions. They all have different ways of going about things but ultimately it is mentality. Look at Luca, he said he didn’t practice before the Crucible, but he got his mind where it needed to be and went for it. If you look at the great champions like Mark Selby, they are just better mentally. I am personal friends with Mark and I’ve asked him how he does it and he just says he loves it.”