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The reluctance to gain psychological support in Snooker

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

With over 20 years of working within and around sport I have seen and felt many changes,

I come largely from a mental health background in one form or another with my experiences listed elsewhere including upon my website.

When I first become involved with Snooker I was very much aware that I was probably the only person involved with the sport who worked with the methods and theories I did, all of which came from medical or therapy settings and environments.

I personally knew how strong this way of working was and the benefits those in sport could gain but I also found out very quickly how hard it was to convince players the same.

I would often ask myself “Why don’t they get it, why are they so reluctant to use something that obviously works so well?”

I actually knew the answers or many of them but it was none the less still frustrating as I wanted to help people who I saw often speaking within interviews about how much they were struggling, struggling in ways that I knew was mainly needless and could greatly be reduced and prevented.

It wasn’t because players didn’t know that the mental side of their sport was important, as they would mention it continually and every book out there that covered the technical side had a section or at least a couple of paragraphs mentioning the same.

Yet players still focused on the technical side, still searched for any improvements they could make and still blamed their technique when they didn’t perform as expected and still done little to build their mental strength and mindset.

More recently I have found that there has been a growing increase in gaining support around this area with players, with various reasons why this may be changing, this has brought with it an increase also of those who say that they work within this field and supply that support although their knowledge, methods and skill set varies greatly.

So why have people been so reluctant in the past in gaining support although the acceptance that phycological strength is so important when it comes to performance ?


Stigma still plays a part in competitors gaining support although this has greatly reduced over the years.

If we look at the common language used Mental strength, working on the Mental side, Mindset, Psychologists amongst others these are heavily connected to Mental health as a whole and the much broader connotations, fears, beliefs and feelings around the subject.

In reality there should never be any of these worries around gaining help for mental health issues, talking and gaining assistance is very much a sign of strength not weakness but unfortunately we are all to aware of the worries that people have and the affects that declaring a mental health problem has had on many people, especially around embarrassment, family and friend relationships and employment.

We now live in times though where those in sport have been more open to gaining support around increasing focus, concentration and building confidence while also looking at how to re-set after setbacks and clear negative thoughts.

To do this successfully you really need to look at the whole person which always takes you away from sport and to talk about their everyday lives and who they want to be as an individual.

In other sports away from Snooker competitors have got more used to this and talking about their personal lives and issues as part of achieving their goals of gaining better performances.

As athletes are exposed to using such support in sport many are becoming increasingly exposed to the language, questioning and approaches used which slowly helps to break down old barriers and that stigma.

Well known athletes such as Footballers, Tennis stars and those in cycling and track and field have greatly helped by talking about their own mental health challenges and within Snooker people such as Mark Selby, Mark Allen, Ronnie O’Sullivan have also encouraged others to speak about their mental health and to take up support although there is still a long way to go.

Fear of change

Although we may feel that any change we are about to make could be extremely positive a worry or fear or the unknown can prevent us still from taking what may feel like a leap into the darkness with our minds telling us that there are unknown risks to be concerned about, especially when feeling that we are being forced to make changes this fear can greatly escalate further.

Snooker is very much about routine and patterns, many that we may refuse to stray from because we are uncertain of what will happen if we don’t stick to them. Certain practice routines, people and environments may have greatly helped us to get to where we are and although we may feel increasingly frustrated and stuck be reluctant to make positive changes in a worry of losing something.

In reality we can fear a change that is never on the cards to be made, When working with someone on the psychological side of sport we can assume that a therapist is going to want to strip how we play and how we think apart when the majority of time this will never be needed.

This comes from a misconception of what this support is about and supplies. Steve Peters who is well known for working with Ronnie O’sullivan has stated how he never tells someone what to do, but instead asks questions to tease ideas from those he works with and challenges ideas to encourage his client to think more positively, make positive changes or to confirm that what they already have in place is good and helpful to them, yet the fear that someone is going to cause us damage often remains because the unknown hasn’t become the known.

Fear of showing weakness

Across all sports the last thing that a competitor wants to do is show their opponents weakness.

Crossing over a little into stigma something that can greatly delay or prevent a player gaining support is that they believe announcing such or being seen to be working with someone on this area will be shown as a weakness to others, mainly their opponents.

In fact again gaining help is very much a strength where as long as the right professional support is provided the person will gain a number of tools, techniques and methods to use in a vast number of areas within their discipline.

Tools that will help to set goals, bring calmness, self-control, focus and concentration, determination, a positive mindset, resilience and an increased ability to recover from disappointment and setbacks, something that the majority of their opponents won’t have, especially collectively.

Peer pressure can certainly play a part within this area where acquaintances can greatly affect whether someone gains support or not depending on their own personal beliefs and agendas.

Do those around a player want to help them develop and succeed or prevent them succeeding, what are their own views on gaining support in this area, are they personally affected by the things mentioned here?

Where can you gain psychological support from?

In theory a level of support can be gained from anyone. words of encouragement, discussions after losses, congratulations after a win and a motivational pep talk can be gained from anyone around you such as a friend, family member, coach or even a stranger.

However an ideal person would have a degree of professional training and qualifications such as a sports phycologist, therapist or counsellor who has knowledge of using a working structure to help provide you with the correct information and advice in a safe manner and will also be following an ethical framework which provides them with the ability to look after yourself and to deal affectively with any issues that may arise during discussions such as with safe guarding or issues around low mood and depression.

With this in mind I would strongly encourage anyone seeking support in this area to use the below checklist when looking for such help and to ask some basic questions.

Check list

What are the persons relevant qualifications?

Are they insured to provide the service they offer?

What is their experience and can this be evidenced?

Are they registered with any governing bodies?

Have they a current DBS check preferably enhanced?

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