Jeremy Snape, former England, Northants, Gloucs, Leics All-rounder
I’m going to begin this month’s interview with a question. What has Shane Warne, Gareth Southgate, Jose Mourinho, Sir Alex Ferguson, Sir David Brailsford, Sir Mo Farah, Sir AP McCoy (note all the Sir’s!) and Mathew Pinsett all got in common? Answer: They have winning ‘mindsets’ and have all been interviewed by one of the World’s leading sports psychologists. And this month we are fortunate to be speaking to him. Yes, former England, Northants, Gloucestershire and Leicestershire all-rounder Jeremy Snape.
“I think having a winning ‘mindset’ is one of the last hidden frontiers,” said Jeremy. “We had a decade of fitness, where everyone had heartrate monitors and were educated on healthier eating. This was followed by a period which saw the growth of analysis and tracking, where we had cameras installed in parts of grounds - in cricket Hawkeye and Hotspot were introduced. Now the only thing left is something that is hard to measure, the intangible psychological element inside people’s heads.”
And this is why Jeremy set up Sporting Edge – a high performance consultancy that blends powerful insights with proven psychology to give sporting stars and businesses a competitive advantage. (www.sportingedge.com)
“I’ve been fortunate to get access to some top performers and interview them about how they built their own success and/or created environments that allowed others to thrive. I love sharing these stories and experiences with the aim of helping other people to perform at their best under pressure. I’ve stood to face Brett Lee; I’ve bowled to Sachin Tendulkar in front of 120,000 people at Eden Gardens; I know what it feels like to be under pressure. A little bit of theory is never going to help you, so I’ve developed some practical techniques that have since worked for some of the best players in the world. Some of whom still phone me up now, 5 years after we first spoke, for advice.”
“Honestly, the difference between your best and worst days will always be your mindset; not your technique.”
“For all of the hours I spent in the nets I’d spend 1000th of that time focusing on my mindset. Your mindset is the biggest influence on winning and losing yet nobody likes to talk about it.”
One person who has spoken about it however, is former Australian spinner Shane Warne. In Warne’s recent book he lavished praise on Jeremy having originally been very sceptical about his initial proposed presence with the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL.
“It’s fair to say Shane wasn’t a massive fan of ‘psychobabble’ as he called it! He actually told me later that he’d bought me a flight back to England, so convinced was he that my presence would be a waste of time! But I managed to forge a really strong relationship with him. And I think Shane changing his views helped knock a lot of barriers down for others. The fact he was publicly praising me in interviews and in his book fascinated people.”
And it certainly fascinated me. There are countless examples of players who had the ‘ability’ and ‘technique’ but for whatever reason were unable to succeed at the highest level in their chosen sport.
But, more of Sporting Edge later. Let’s look back at Jeremy’s playing career. A career that saw the all-rounder achieve considerable success with three, I think it’s fair to say ‘unfancied’ counties, and eleven appearances for his country.
Jeremy was born in Stoke, a self-acknowledged ‘hyperactive’ child. “I was always a sporty kid and as my Dad was best friends with the Northants stalwart David Steele, the summer holidays would often see me and my brother (and David’s sons) venture off to watch him around the county circuit. I loved cricket. We’d often play in the garden and on the beach and it wasn’t until a few years later that I joined the local club Kidsgrove Cricket Club.”
So what kick started his early cricket pathway? “Well, one day my Dad was decorating and understandably wanted me out of the way. He read the local paper and saw an advert for a day’s cricket training. This was obviously too good for him to turn down – a chance to get rid of me for the day. So, he packed me off. At the end of the day I was asked to wait behind. My Dad was given a call and asked to come down for a talk. His initial assessment was I’d obviously broken something, so he came armed with his wallet to pay for any damages!”
But, what neither Jeremy or his Father had realised was this was not just a ‘training day’ but a Staffordshire under 11s trial day!
“I was asked if I could go forward to the final trials on grass, which was all a bit of a shock. I got into that Staffordshire under 11s team, then progressed into the under 13s and then on to the under 15’s where I also got picked for England.”
It was a rapid rise, and the family friendship with David Steele saw Jeremy receive an invitation to Northants for winter nets. And at the age of 16, he was offered his first contract. “My parents were keen for me to continue at school and then go to university; so for five years I had what was called a summer contract, whereby I could continue my education and then play cricket during the months of June, July and August.”
Around this time, I was spotted playing for Staffordshire by the teacher from a local private school. After scoring a century and taking 5 wickets, he asked me how much I played at school. I laughed as the local comprehensive I went to didn’t do any representative sport at all because the Head Mistress didn’t believe in competition. This meeting changed my life and very shortly I moved to Denstone College where I played cricket every day and both my ambition and skill advanced. I ended up as Head Boy at Denstone and I still look back fondly on my time there as it set me up to handle the later success.”
The young all-rounder continued to advance and international recognition came again when Jeremy was selected for overseas tours to Canada and Pakistan with under the England Under 18’s and 19s respectively.
After 5 years, the summer contract became a full time one and the challenge now was how to break into what had become a stellar Northants line-up. “The Northants team was full of talent. Lamb, Larkins, Cook, Bailey, Capel, Curran and Ambrose. We had a really strong side, so it was difficult to break through. I captained the seconds, which was a nice experience and played quite a bit for the one-days teams in those early years, but I was never really able to breakthrough. When I look back at my time at Northants, I view it as my ‘apprenticeship’. I could have stayed there and possibly coasted but I wanted to take my cricket seriously and push and test myself.”
So, in 1999 Jeremy made the move to Gloucestershire - a move that culminated in four trophy-laden years. “It was sad to leave Northants, but John Bracewell and Mark Alleyne at Gloucestershire were looking for an all-rounder to strengthen their team. If I’m honest, they were much more structured and hard working than Northants, in that they couldn’t rely on their pure talent and past successes as top international players. We had to work incredibly hard for everything.”
And what success that was. In 2000, Gloucestershire won the treble, and 12 months later followed that up with a ‘double’. “It was a fascinating period. We had the right game plans, the right strategies and everyone knew their roles. We loved being the underdogs, without any pressure on us. But we were desperate to prove we were individually and collectively good enough. My own batting improved during that period, in one season I scored four centuries which was great for my confidence.”
And what was the key to success? “John Bracewell was instrumental. He came with new very ‘left-field’ theories but theories which were thought-provoking. He was incredibly disciplined. I remember one day we did a 9-mile run, which was about 7 miles further than I’d ever run before! He very much wanted us to be athletes that played cricket, rather than a cricketer who had to just be fit enough to reach the other end. This mindset shift definitely gave us a competitive advantage over other sides. For example we had one of our best fielders running from third man to third man between overs where previously that was a position for a tired bowler to relax. We knew every run counted and found novel ways to get an edge.”
Then of course there was the individual talent. “Jack Russell was an incredible player behind the stumps who galvanised that team. He was one of the world’s best wicket keepers. We then had Ian Harvey who was a firecracker of an overseas player, the brilliant nous of Kim Barnett, the discipline of Mike Smith’s bowling and a very good captain in Mark Alleyne. It was a special time.”
Jeremy’s performances for Gloucestershire brought full international recognition in 2001 when he was selected for England’s tour to Zimbabwe.
“Lots of people were talking about it, but Gloucestershire weren’t a particularly fashionable club. To receive a call from David Graveney and be told I was going to Zimbabwe was amazing. Sharing a dressing room with your heroes like Goughy, Thorpe and Nasser - players I’d long watched and admired and then suddenly being sat next to them on the team bus was incredibly exhilarating.”
Jeremy’s ODI debut saw him take the wickets of both Flower brothers, no mean feat, and his figures of 2/39 off 10 overs helped restrict the home side to just 206 runs. England won the game by 5 wickets and the Gloucestershire debutant was named man of the match.
“It was a special time. Robert Croft’s time with England was coming to an end and I think they saw me as a dynamic all-rounder who could bowl spin, bat and dive around in the field.”
Jeremy ended up with 7 wickets from the four ODI’s he played in that series and a tour to India followed soon after. “I felt comfortable in those games in Zimbabwe and didn’t think it was too much of a big step up. Well, not as big a step up as playing in front of 120,000 people in Eden Gardens! That game was incredible. I don’t think anything could have prepared us for it. We certainly didn’t talk about the mental challenges. I remember having to bowl to Tendulkar and the noise was incredible, but all my focus was on making the first ball land somewhere near the spot! When I batted, I was out there with Freddie trying to chase the runs down. I remember I called for a second run and he didn’t hear me amidst all the chaos and noise and was run out. When he walked back, I was just left out there alone in the middle of this cauldron knowing it was now down to me, a nudger and nurdler who knew he’d have to hit Harbajhan Singh for about 15 in the next over. I panicked and played a terrible shot and got out. As I walked back to the pavilion, being pelted with onion bhaji’s, I realised there was more to this game than we were talking about and that’s where my interest in the mental side of the game begun.”
Jeremy went on to play 10 one day internationals for England. It should have been a lot more. “I know I was very privileged to play for England. There were many better players than me that never got an opportunity. I have my England cap framed at home. It’s the only piece of cricket memorabilia I have in my house.”
I asked Jeremy if he felt it should have played more?
“I went on the 2002 tour to Australia. I was unfortunate that in the first warm-up game in Sydney I went out to face Brett Lee and four balls later my thumb had been fractured in 6 places! I went out to bowl with my thumb hanging off, but it was pretty obvious I needed an operation and get metal plates inserted. I had to fly home and was an obvious doubt for the World Cup that quickly followed that tour. Ashley Giles went instead of me and the rest is history. Was I frustrated I didn’t dominate World cricket, no. I was always realistic and just very privileged to have played the games I did for my country.”
Domestically, Jeremy made the switch to Leicestershire, 12 months after that final England appearance. “Leicestershire was another county that wasn’t fashionable, and the 4-day side had been struggling for a while.”
So, why Leicestershire? “I felt it was an opportunity to re-prove myself. The strategic and mental side of cricket had also really started to fascinate me; so, choosing Leicestershire as my final county, meant I could do my master’s degree at nearby Loughborough University.”
And the Gloucestershire success followed him over. “We built a great one-day side and excelled in those early years of T20 cricket. I tried to replicate some of the principles that had delivered success at Gloucester and we won the competition twice and reached finals day in each of the first four seasons. Those periods of T20 cricket were great for me. I scored the winning runs at finals day, which was an amazing feeling and I also took a T20 hat-trick.”
I asked Jeremy what made Leicestershire so successful in the shortest format of the game? “We were a poor four-day side and the shorter format suited our bowlers. In four-day cricket we struggled to bowl a side out twice, while in T20 cricket our bowlers were effective at mixing up deliveries and not getting hit too far. With the bat, we knew how to manipulate the ball around the field. I think we just quickly realised there was an opportunity for us in T20 cricket, wo we built a strategy to outthink and out manoeuvre the opposition who invariably had bigger names. I remember in that first year we set up a practice game between ourselves at the start of the season. The team who batted first were all out for 46 off of about 3.5 overs! We learnt quickly through failing and realised that even though it was a ludicrously short innings there was still time to ‘build’ an innings. Partnerships and momentum are key in T20 cricket with both bat and ball. An accepted norm now is you can’t be 3 wickets down after 6 overs. And we quickly realised that, back then. If we lost a wicket we had to re-group.”
“We were also quite innovative in that we ensured every single player was sat there ready and padded up from the first ball. While it looked completely stupid it meant we could be flexible in the order. If a certain bowler was bowling, which a particular batsman really fancied, we could switch our order around with ease. We always had a strategy and that suited our squad. One of my career highlights was captaining that winning T20 side in 2004 and hitting the winning runs!”
I asked Jeremy if at the time he thought T20 would become the giant that it has become today. “I think what we did know was that it would take a big effort to fill a stadium in any other format of the game, yet in T20 cricket Grace Road could become full, with relative ease. So, very quickly we knew it would be big commercially for the club. In my time as captain I tried to create a season within a season. When T20 cricket came around we’d go away for a day like we would in pre-season and discuss tactics and roles etc. It was a refreshing change in what could be an attritional season of cricket.”
Jeremy’s performances in T20 cricket saw another chance with England - 12 months after dipping his toes in the water on the coaching side with England. “It was funny. I went from playing for England, to working for England, to playing for England!”
Jeremy was selected for the first T20 World Cup in 2007. “What a fascinating experience. If I’m honest I feel we got our strategy wrong. We had some fantastic hitters like Freddie and KP, but at Leicestershire we found success by having the balance of hitters and rotators. Two hitters batting together could often become an ‘ego off’, which would fail more often than not. In that World Cup we had Freddie and KP at both ends. Vikram Solanki was told to go out and whack it and so was Darren Maddy. It was just all fireworks and suddenly we’d be 4 wickets down very quickly and couldn’t rebuild from that. But it was a great experience to play with and against the best players in the World. In one over I remember having 2 dropped catches and then being hit for six off of the last ball. That over could have been very different, yet it ended up being my last game. Cricket can be a ruthless sport!”
In 2008, Jeremy was invited by the owner of Rajasthan Royals to go and be part of the coaching team in the first season of the IPL, as we alluded to earlier – a wonderful experience. “We ended up winning the IPL and those 7 weeks in India was my first real coaching experience with a really top team. We created a winning culture that over-delivered.”
Jeremy’s psychological skills meant he could bring so much more to a team dynamic than just throwing balls at batsmen. Such was his impact at the IPL, Graeme Smith invited Jeremy to become part of the coaching team with South Africa. It was a move that brought a premature end to his own playing career.
“2008 was actually my benefit year but I ended up retiring 3 or 4 months into it, so I cancelled my benefit and took up the offer with South Africa. My first series was against England, which was interesting having played for them a year earlier! It was fantastic to work with the likes of Kallis, Steyn, de Villiers, Amla, Morkel and Graeme Smith. We went from number four to number one in the world, despite all of the political tensions. That period with South Africa was a great opportunity for me and an amazing experience to be touring the world with that group of players as a respected coach.”
After that spell with South Africa, Jeremy became part of the Sri Lanka coaching team for the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. “That was another great experience, especially to work with Kumar and the guys and to get to know the Sri Lankan culture. The one down side was being the only foreigner in the camp meant that I had to tackle some of the hottest curries I’ve ever tasted day after day. I’d walk into the dressing room after a hot training session and the chef would just smile and say ‘enjoy’!”
It was another fascinating experience. “I was in an environment giving presentations around mindset to players that didn’t speak English too often. It was a fantastic, cultural and technical experience to adapt my style to what the players needed.”
Since that spell with Sri Lanka, Jeremy is putting all his energies into developing Sporting Edge. He has worked on the board with the football LMA (League Manager’s Association) for the last six years, which has given him great first-hand access to the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho, and he has also worked with Eddie Jones and the England rugby side.
I think over the coming years you’ll hear a lot more about Jeremy and his work across all sports.
Not a bad journey for a boy who was packed off to a cricket day so his Dad could concentrate on decorating!
I wanted to close with Jeremy though, by returning to cricket and asking him who were the best and toughest players he played with and against?
“Curtly Ambrose and Allan Lamb at Northants. Curtly was an incredible professional. One of his greatest strengths was his ability to manage his energy throughout a county season. He’d still be able to bowl in September like he would in May. He could also work out how to get a batsman out in 4 balls. He also never chirped anyone, he’d just give a batsman that stare. Lamby was a mercurial talent. He was charismatic, funny and a great influence for me. Jack Russell was an inspiration and Ian Harvey was transformational for us. He was probably the biggest piece in the jigsaw for us at Gloucestershire. Finally, at Leicestershire, Sehwag was just an enigma – beautiful to watch and so destructive!”
“In terms of playing against... Andy Flower was an incredible player of spin. Brian Lara was a great player. Sachin would bleed you dry and Sehwag and Gilchrist would just embarrass you! Then there were the fast bowlers. Walsh, Brett Lee, Ahktar, but the one who makes me still wake up in the middle of the night with a cold shiver is Wasim Akram! It was a privilege, as an average player to face these lads and fight the mental battles.”
With 9 career trophies, 8,633 runs and 387 wickets across all formats, combined with 11 appearances for his country, one would say Jeremy did a bit better than average!