Mark Selby is a player reinvigorated, something he is quick to credit Chris Henry for, but his coach has praised his ‘brilliant student’ for being so willing to learn.
Selby is 37-years-old with three-world titles on his CV, but after a dry spell in terms of trophies led to a serious loss of confidence, he sought help from one of the most respected coaches in the sport.
The three-time Masters champ went over a year without lifting silverware before his 2019 English Open triumph, and even after that win he didn’t feel quite back to his old self.
Henry’s rounded approach to coaching looks at all parts of a player’s game, crucially including their mind, as he takes on a process called neural rewiring.
As one of the greatest players in the sport’s history, it seems extreme to say Selby needed ‘rewiring’ but it is a process that has rebuilt his confidence and self-belief in just a few months.
The rapid success very nearly took the Jester from Leicester back to the World Championship final and has seen him win the European Masters already this season.
Henry is thrilled how quickly Selby has taken his teaching on board on the mental side of things, but also in accepting that a visual problem has crept into his game.
‘I usually get the call through desperation and that was probably a bit of that,’ Henry told Metro.co.uk of when Selby asked for his help. ‘It was June this year. We’ve only been working together five months or so. We had six weeks before the Worlds.
Selby talking at the World Championship in August:
‘I owe a big thank you to Chris, it’s only been a few weeks he’s been working with me, but I can see the changes in myself already. ‘Especially when I watch my games, the change in my body language around the table I can definitely see, so long may it continue.’
Selby after winning the 2020 European Masters:
‘Hopefully I can maintain this form and carry it on throughout the season. ‘I owe a big thank you to Chris Henry. As I’ve said in my interviews before, I know I’ve won tournaments before without Chris but the last 18 months I was doubting myself and I worked with him before the World Championships and seen a lot of positives and improvements.- and the first tournament of the season I’ve come out on top.’
‘One of his problems was, and it’s a funny one, but it was vision and aiming. He was blaming things technically but we very quickly put that to bed.
‘I have my invention a training aid called The Balls, I sent a set over to him, it allows me, at distance, to coach people quite effectively because I can see what’s happening.
‘Technically he was good, but with the red ball we identified that his aiming was a bit off, he was uncoordinated with his vision. Because we see with our visual cortex in the brain we start to develop ineffective visual habits. Because players are not consciously aware of the problem, they can’t see the problem so they always blame technique. Technique is the tangible, vision is the intangible.
‘Very quickly we got onto that, he couldn’t believe that he was actually aiming to miss certain shots, but he was. We spent weeks and weeks and weeks with The Balls and getting that right.
‘It happens to a number of players, Shaun Murphy, Graeme Dott, there’s a lot of players who develop ineffectual visual habits. I work in golf too, it happened to Rafa Cabrera-Bello as well. It’s incredible how these things creep in.
‘If you’ve got a rifle and aiming to hit bullseye, without realising you’re aiming slightly left of the target and you pull the trigger convinced you’re aiming correctly. But you’re not. You’re convinced that there must be something wrong with the gun.
‘The two keys are striking and aiming where intended. You have to get those things correct. So those two silly little 17g plastic balls, they’re very effective because they tell you exactly where you’re striking and exactly where you’re aiming.’
Henry had to work on both correcting the visual problems Selby had developed, and then the mental side of the process as he rebuilt his confidence.
Both on and off the table the coach uses scientific techniques that he makes sure he proves do work to players before they embark on them, and critically, that they understand them.
‘I’m also working on the mental side of it, what I call mental rewiring, which is a neuroscience-based subconscious approach,’ explains Henry. ‘Basically creating different neural connections in your brain, which then relate to your self-belief, self-image and ultimately your self-confidence and how you feel.
‘Mark’s been on that seven-step process since June. We use all the five senses, we use audio, video, to literally bombard your subconscious with very good information.
‘For Mark there was a huge sense of relief that there was nothing wrong technically, he didn’t have to change his cue, his technique, he just had to get a bit better on his visuals.
‘Of course he’d lost a lot of confidence so we were working on that side as well, so it was a double whammy of on and off table.
‘In my mind he’s come on very quickly, he looks better round the table. We also work on an instinct timeframe, if you take too long, the probability of moving towards doubt and anxiety is there. You don’t want to rush, but you don’t want to take too long.
‘When you’ve done the conscious things, pull the trigger. You’ll probably notice with Mark now he’s a bit more instinctive, he’s getting on with things, he’s trusting himself to pick the right shots and just go with it.
‘He’s a brilliant student. We’ve done a lot of work online, he sits there with his notepad, he’s asking questions all the time about different aspects of the mental side.
‘He just does it, he’s one of these characters that just gets on with it. The seven step neural rewiring process that takes 30 minutes every day, he just does it. That’s the kind of person that’s going to do well. Once they’ve got the answers as to why they’re doing it, they just go.
‘He’s easy to work with, you’d think he’d be the opposite. You get the amateur player who questions every word you say and argue with you, but the three-time world champion just says, “right, okay” and it’s quite refreshing.’
Selby suffered a heart-breaking loss at the World Championship, losing 17-16 to Ronnie O’Sullivan in the semi-finals, dropping the last three frames of the match to fall short of another Crucible final.
Henry was with Selby in Sheffield and says he was understandably very down afterwards, but the process they are on kept him looking towards a brighter future.
‘I was with him at the Worlds,’ Henry said. ‘He was annoyed, at the way the semi-final had gone. He believed he should have won and ordinarily he would have.
‘Ronnie did one or two things that changed that match, did things differently, he’d almost given up a little bit and I think it helped him. He played a few shots he might not have if he was there to win and he got away with some things.
‘Mark was very disappointed, at 16-14 he looked set to win and probably a fourth world title, so he was very disappointed. At the same time he knew he was on the right track and optimistic.
‘His wife, Vicky, was very optimistic, she said he’s a bit more perky again at home, fun, he’s got something to strive for again, got something to work on. It was disappointing but he knew things were going in the right direction.’
Henry’s knowledge of the technical, mental and scientific aspects of the game is impressive when put on display.
A promising player as a junior, he moved into coaching at a young age under the tutelage of legendary coach Frank Callan, before going on an educational journey of his own.
‘I was very fortunate as a 16-year-old I was playing in a tournament in Blackpool, my mother got chatting to an older guy who thought I looked decent and that was Frank Callan,’ Henry explained.
‘Steve Davis’ and Stephen Hendry’s coach, The Guru, as he was known. I got to know Frank, learned so much of the technical and strategical side of it. It got to a point that I became an understudy for him, if he couldn’t do a stint somewhere, I’d go for him. The first place was Qatar he sent me to.
‘I played the 1989 Dutch Open final, the first two frames I couldn’t hold my cue, didn’t feel like I could pot a ball. I managed to recover and win 5-4 but afterwards I thought, “what was that? Why didn’t I even want to be in the room?”
‘I’d never felt that terrible awful feeling, didn’t want to be there, couldn’t win. That fascinated me and from then I started looking at psychology, then I started looking at the neuroscience, neurological connections and how that impacts self-image and self-belief.
‘Ultimately at this level now, emotion has the biggest impact on how you feel. You’ve got to find ways to train your brain not to get out of your comfort zone, you’ve got to programme it to stay within your comfort zone.
‘I did some courses in America, learned so much, and that still fascinates me today. I’m constantly learning, doing online courses, you can’t stand still or you’re going backwards.’
Selby begins his challenge for the UK Championship on Monday afternoon against Michael White, another pupil of Henry’s.