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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 April 2007, 09:30 GMT 10:30 UK
Snooker's frame academy
By Jonathan Rawcliffe

Ding Junhui
Chinese sensation Ding Junhui is based at the academy

The English Institute of Sport in Sheffield's Don Valley is an impressive facility.

Versatile and state-of-the-art, the indoor venue is capable of hosting everything from international athletics meetings to basketball, volleyball and judo.

It is not exactly the first place you would expect to bump into a bunch of snooker players.

But the reason Ding Junhui, Peter Ebdon and Shaun Murphy are in the building is because the EIS is also home to the new World Snooker Academy, a centre of excellence designed to drag the sport kicking and screaming into the modern era.

"The image of snooker is changing - it's in a transitional period," academy director Keith Warren told BBC Sport.

"Snooker just seems to fit in with all the other sports based here. It's what the game needs to get away from the old stereotypes. This is snooker for athletes."

A stone's throw from the Crucible Theatre, the academy is light years away from the dingy, smoke-filled clubs and halls which have traditionally been the breeding ground for top professional players.

With eight championship-standard tables housed in brightly lit, sound-proofed rooms, it aims to provide the perfect environment for promising youngsters to improve their game, and seasoned pros to warm up for major competitions.

There is not a bar or cigarette vending machine in sight.

Former world champion Ebdon, now living in Dubai, uses the academy as a base whenever he returns to the UK. "The conditions are fantastic - as good as you would find in a ranking tournament," he told BBC Sport.

"For many players, it's a big shock going from playing on snooker club tables to using a professional table. The pockets are very tight, the cloths are very slippery, and the way the balls react makes them seem much lighter.

"For players who want to become professionals, to be able to practice in these conditions must be a massive advantage for them."

Inside the World Snooker Academy
The facilities here are excellent - as good as a ranking tournament

Peter Ebdon

The commitment to nurturing talent at grassroots level is clearly the driving force behind the project. Prior to his involvement with World Snooker, Warren ran his own academy in Northampton, and is convinced such institutions work.

"You are already starting to see the success - Ding Junhui has been involved with the academy system for four years. He came to England as a 15 year-old, and will be a top 16 player next year - he is without doubt a future world champion."

"He had to turn his back on his home country and spend eight or nine months of the year practising in the UK at the academy and I'm sure it's played a part in his success.

"For overseas players we provide the whole package, from picking them up at the airport, bringing them to Sheffield, accommodating them, and giving them coaching and practice facilities. They get looked after."

Since opening in September 2006, the academy has established links with schools and colleges in South Yorkshire, with the aim of sparking interest in snooker among the teenagers of today.

"The idea is for players of any age or standard, from school kids to beginners, to come here, have coaching, or just practice in these conditions," Warren said.

"In the holidays we will run summer schools, not just for locals, but for kids from all over Europe. We're getting a lot of interest.

"This spring, we are also launching the Paul Hunter scholarship, which will give one elite junior the chance to spend a year at the academy, and will include things such as media training, nutritional advice and sports psychology."

"There are no distractions in the academy. A facility like this can only improve young, serious players, who are keen enough to want to pursue snooker as a career - this is the place to come and learn the trade."

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18 Oct 06 |  Snooker


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