Originally published on DV Mace’s Smorgasbord of Sport, 06-Nov-2014.
Jeremy Snape is the world’s most eminent cricket psychologist – and one of the most notable sports psychologists in any field.
While it’s the players and coach who are the most likely to receive kudos for team performance, a lot more goes on behind the scenes than we are aware. Naming these few scarcely does his achievements proud, but among some of his major roles are: performance coach for South Africa at a time they started leaping up the Test and ODI ladders, team psychologist for Rajasthan Royals in 2008 (when they won the competition), and sports psychologist with the English side during the 2007 World Cup – while still an active player, even playing for England in the World T20 later that year.
He founded his business Sporting Edge in 2005 – a “performance training company” as the website terms it.
Despite his busy schedule, and his upcoming stint as Sri Lankan team psychologist for the series against England (looking towards the World Cup), I was lucky enough to be able to ask Jeremy a few questions.
1. You had quite remarkable success in terms of County one-day playoff games (famously four Lord’s Finals wins between 1999 and 2000 with Gloucestershire, the one-day treble in 2000, as well as the T20 titles with Leicestershire in 2004 and 2006). You’re regarded now as very much a fount of knowledge when it comes to the mental side of cricket, but do you believe that those skills are ones you had during your playing career too, that helped you lift your game (and your team’s game) in big matches?
Jeremy Snape: I was always fascinated by the mental side of the game and I saw that as the real differentiator in those defining moments of pressure. There is no doubt that I experienced my own failure in key moments and my own success too – so much was based on my thinking, my beliefs and my choices. The individuals who succeed are those who are self-aware, they understand how pressure affects them and choose the right options even when they are emotionally charged. I also saw humble teams who discussed and planned for pressure being successful while those who just celebrated ‘talent’ failing when they needed to adapt under pressure.
2. You were the team psychologist for the Rajasthan Royals in the first edition of the IPL, when the side (regarded pre-tournament as the weakest in the competition) famously took out the title. Would you consider that the influence of the mental side of the game (as well as the brilliant captaincy of Shane Warne) on the team helped them achieve victory?
JS: We knew that we were the underdogs, we needed to create both an individual winning mindset and also a team culture which could win. I designed a project to connect to the identity of the Rajasthan people because there was no team history, we needed a shared identity as we were from different countries. The Rajasthan people were fiercely proud warriors – they were resilient and protected their land with fortresses through history. We called our home ground ‘fortress Jaipur’ and that helped us to create a ‘siege’ mentality (we won all 12 home games!). We played on the underdog tag – and celebrated evidence of our young players taking on the world’s best…. With courage.
3. You worked closely with the South African national side, as their Performance Coach. Do you believe the side has managed to break free of the shackles of the “choker” tag, especially with the new batch of players coming through, or is it something that will continue to plague them going into this World Cup?
JS: Yes, they have an incredible team culture, this was developed with a great project I was involved with, led by Graeme Smith. They are as focussed on HOW they win as winning, they are role models. Their new players are talented, respectful and disciplined and I think they are free from the baggage of the past shortcomings. I think they will do well, they have so much power to inspire their country’s future.
4. The ICC employed you around 2006-2007 to work with the Associate nations. Things have changed dramatically in Associate cricket since those days, but do you believe that at that time mental skills were what set those nations below the Full Member nations (aside, obviously, from funding etc.)?
JS: Sporting Edge still works with the ICC although it’s been more focussed with Ireland in the last few years. The challenge for the ICC is between growing the global game by profiling smaller teams and creating ultra-high performance showcases like world cups. The mental side is important in competing but there are other issues in raising their game – full time training and facilities is still a key driver.
5. Perhaps the most famous incident regarding psychology in cricket (especially for those of us in New Zealand) is the 1999 Kiwi tour of England, when Gilbert Enoka and his ‘Better than Before’ brand led NZ to a historic series win. While this worked brilliantly with the New Zealanders, do you have to bring varying approaches to the different nations that you work with; especially with teams from the subcontinent?
JS: Yes, every team has a unique performance and social culture – you have to read that and be able to translate the basic principles of the winning mindset and team culture into what works locally. This is the art of psychology support as opposed to the science – it’s the stuff that isn’t in the books.
6. We all know Keith Miller’s famous quote “I’ll tell you what pressure is. Pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse. Playing cricket is not.” Do you feel that today’s players can still get something out of what Miller said, or has professionalism outdated that maxim completely?
JS: All modern day sports stars benefit from a sense of perspective but there has never been so much analysis, scrutiny and opinion surrounding our top performers. It’s easy to see how they feel exposed and with so much of their identity invested in their ‘game’ this is why it feels so painful when they fail.