Snooker is not an exact science, but there is lot more to it than just potting balls. And I’m a great case in point, if you were to analyse my career up to now.
I’m 34 and I’ve yet to win a major tournament. When I first turned pro, if I knew I’d be at this stage of my career and had not won a ranking title, I would have been disappointed. I set out believing I would be a top-eight player.
I feel like I’ve never achieved my full potential – I’ve been in and out of the top 32 and a bit of a journeyman, which is not what I wanted to be when I started, even though there’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve proven myself at every level except in the big TV tournaments, and it is very disappointing.
All snooker pros have got one thing, one quirk, that holds them back in some way, whether it’s something minor or something much bigger. It can be that they’re too technical, they don’t work hard enough, or whatever.
Mine is a fragile confidence, and it seems to hit me harder than most. These past few weeks I’ve not been feeling myself. One day I can feel good, the next terrible, and it’s nothing to do whether I’m in a good mood or bad mood. I’m quite random like that.
It’s that sort of mindset that has held me back, the way I handle certain situations, or that I get too nervous. I’ve tried everything down the years to work on it and solve it, but I’m still searching for the answer.
I’m my own worst enemy. I even get nervous when I’m playing practice matches, it happens all the time. But, weirdly, I’m not frightened of playing in the top TV events, or in front of a crowd of a couple of thousand.
I’m too much of a thinker. If I was stupid, I’d be a great player. Some players who are thinkers find a way to deal with it, but those players who aren’t can just get on with it. I try so hard sometimes that it just strangles me.
I’ve been seeing a sports psychologist to see if that helps, a chap called Pete Lindsay who’s based in Sheffield and who worked with the British Olympic team. But, at the end of the day, there’s only so much they can do.
I’ve got the belief and the ability, I wouldn’t keep playing otherwise, and I live well and do the right things off the table. But there’s no magic formula, it’s a case of finding out what works for you. If standing on your head would help, I’d do it. And, believe me, I’ve tried it.
One thing I’ve learned is that you can only control the controllables. You can’t control whether you win or lose, or whether you’re lucky or not. What you can control is how much you practice, how focused and concentrated you are, to give yourself the best chance. You can talk about it for hours, it’s crazy.
The best players are the ones who can just naturally stay focused, who believe they can do it instead of just thinking they can. The likes of John Higgins, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis, they’ve got something you just can’t teach. All pros have the ability, we’re all good enough, it’s just doing it. Look at Judd Trump, his confidence his indestructible now.
If I had the choice between being a top-16 player for 10 years or winning one ranking tournament, I’d take the win. It’s all about having your day in the sun.
Look at Dominic Dale, he’s never been in the top 16 but he’s won two ranking titles. He was just on it during those events, and he’ll always have those pictures of him lifting those trophies. Fantastic.
As I said, I believe I can still do it, otherwise I’d pack it up. Even at my age, I’ll carry on working hard and I will get there. I’m still playing well, my technique is still good, my physique is good and, mentally, I’m in a good state. I just carry a few scars these days, because you do get hurt. But I’ll keep on punching.
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