Interviews

County journeyman providing a sporting edge

Miles Dilworth talks to former England cricketer and now flourishing sports psychologist Jeremy Snape about the mental challenges of international sport

If you asked most retired sportsmen to pinpoint a moment in their career which stands out in their mind, you might expect to hear about their first international cap, a glorious cup win, or a flash of personal brilliance. But for Jeremy Snape, a man who has won no less than nine domestic trophies over a career spanning 16 years, it was one innocuous sweep shot back in 2002 that he looks back on as his defining moment.

It was Snape’s first overseas tour with England, and helped by a Marcus Trescothick century, the tourists were cruising to victory when Snape joined Andrew Flintoff at the crease. Coming back for a second run, Snape gave a late call of “no” to his partner, leaving England’s talisman short of his ground. Just a few balls later, his mind, scrambled, Snape tried to swipe at a full ball from Harbajan Singh and was out lbw.

“I failed in front of 120,000 people in India while batting for England. I chose that moment to play the highest risk shot ever and got out, it was only the pressure getting to me but at the time I didn’t know why I did it.

“Through this, and playing other professional and international cricket I found that the mindset was a key driver of success but there wasn’t such a strong coaching emphasis placed on it. I was keen to understand it and be able to simplify the theory to help people become more successful. This fueled my interest to go on and study for my MSc.”

By his own admission, Snape never had the most glittering career at international level and it seems that only since retirement has he truly flourished within the game.

In 2005, whilst still playing cricket for Leicestershire Foxes, he founded the consultancy Sporting Edge. Since then, Snape’s gaining prominence as a sports psychologist has been helped by well-placed connections. One wouldn’t necessarily expect local contacts to come to the former off-spinner’s aid with the advent of the Indian Premier League, but for the fact that the Chairman of the franchise the Rajasthan Royals, Manoj Badale, was a Leicester-based businessman. Having helped the unfancied Royals to the inaugural IPL title, Snape impressed the franchise’s other big-name import, Graeme Smith, enough to land his next big job as South Africa’s Mental Conditioning Coach.

Snape’s role from team to team has varied greatly, as has the character and personality of the players he has worked with. Switching from job to job requires little adjustment for a coach or a manager, but a psychologist needs to develop close personal bonds in order to fully understand the mindset of those who he is trying to help. So how has Snape coped with his ever-changing specifications?

“Every team you work with is different and you have to build trust with them rather than coming in with some pre-conceived ideas of what might work. The South African team was fantastic to work with because despite being one of the best sides around, they are very humble and always looking to learn. I was lucky that I could work closely with the players in the nets too, so I was working on the psychology in a very applied way.”

With the effects of an overly-congested international schedule beginning to take its toll, following several high-profile withdrawals from the international scene, the latest being Jonathan Trott from the most recent Ashes tour, the importance of the team psychologist in maintaining a calm and focused collective mindset has become increasingly important. Snape is aware more than most of the challenges facing the current generation of international cricketers.

“The modern era is overloaded with data and analysis, video replays and scrutiny in the moment of performance and then viral social media of blogs and opinions after it. Athletes need to feel that their coping skills are in line with they challenges they face. Taking ownership and breaking things down into chunks is they key.

“The PCA has some great support mechanisms in place for cricketers, I just think that given the congested fixture list, there is no down time anymore. We have to strike the balance between quality and volume.”

The rise of the sports psychologist has been a meteoric one. On Tuesday, Roy Hodgson announced that England will be working with psychiatrist Dr Steven Peters as they prepare for the World Cup in Brazil. But all of this has taken off from such unpromising beginnings.

“Twenty years ago there was little more than a few anecdotes and jokes about people’s mental failings in sport,” says Snape. “Many of the American sports have been pioneers in sports science and they have embraced psychology now as a part of the high-performance system, it’s on the rise in the UK and globally too.”

Snape has said in the past that whilst the 90s were the fitness revolution and the 00s were the sports science revolution, the next frontier will be the mental one. Perhaps now the sporting world is beginning to cotton on to the next revolution.

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