With the start of the snooker season now in full flow, there is a need focus on the basic mental health preparation for professionals in the sport. With a growing interest in mental health, it is important to consider the relevance of mental health in sport and pay particular attention to mental health in snooker.
The specific mental health preparation can also be capitalised by the everyday snooker player. The elements of mental health that I will focus on is from the perspective of the elite athlete as a professional snooker player, will be stress and coping.
Evidence suggests that stress in sport is mainly experienced prior to competition. However prior to competition, external distractions and expectations were the most frequently reported stressful events that an elite professional athlete had experienced.
It is important to recognise the type of stress that is more detrimental to performance, than time experiences of the elite professional athlete.
Acute stress is most common and can exert itself in small doses from the anticipated and unanticipated demands that life brings. These bursts of stress can be both thrilling, exciting or exhausting and pressurised. Management of the different levels of stress is dependent on the coping mechanism of the individual.
However, from the lens of snooker as a sport, most stresses are bursts of stress when professional snooker players must act quickly to the nature of their sport. The bursts of stress requires professional snooker players to ‘think on their feet’ while maintaining professionalism, calmness, and self-confidence.
There are some situations that cause a burst of positive or negative stress for a professional snooker player whilst in competition and these could consist of:
- Gaining an opportunity from your opponent that has missed
- Acquiring the threshold of points to secure the winning frame
- Missing the vital pot / snooker
- Reacting to a hostile crowd or interruption from the audience
- A self-motivational outburst
These different aspects of stress manifest unexpected emotional responses and in turn result in an immediate response such as missing a vital pot in snooker. This is in contrast to how one may react in an everyday situation, as most situations would have a planned and timed response whereas the competitive nature of sport requires an immediate response. Research suggests that the notion of ‘burst stress’, ironically, accounts in large part negative responses in sport, such as outbursts of anger, disappointment, anxiety and frustration.
Equally, we have witnessed the positive aspects of ‘burst stress’ with the release of tension from a triumphant outburst when ‘crossing the winning line’ and this is evident in competitive snooker, especially in recent times. Therefore, unexpected stressors are perceived as more threatening than expected stressors.
One way to combat the points of ‘burst stress’ from the negative perspective is for the professional snooker player to role play or mimic the situations that may occur in competitive snooker and think about positive outcomes and their adaptive means for coping, when ‘burst stress’ moments happen in the future.
Studies show that coping strategies are a vital outcome in mental health. Responses of stress in competitive sport has a direct correlation to an elite professional athletes coping mechanisms. The use of coping strategies to overcome underlying stress or moments of ‘burst stress’ can be clearly absorbed by having defined goals, motivation and concentration during competitions and by building a resilient profile. Some will argue that this is primarily the job of the coach, but in fact it is between both the coach and the individual player give or take any added assistance from a mental health professional, to support the professional athlete during times of stress.
On the whole, it can be seen that most professional snooker players are able to cope well with the demands of topmost competitions. Professional snooker players tend to be relatively good at maintaining concentration and self-confidence, however it has been witnessed at times that professional snooker players can be relatively poor at controlling emotions and tension. In order to combat this emotional response it useful for snooker professionals to the think about their control of anxiety, maintaining concentration, planning and analysis and overall emotional control.
Assessing players’ mental health needs is paramount, as snooker is a psychologically demanding sport and like all professional athletes there is a notion of being mastery in their sport.
Coping with stress in such a competitive sport justifies the importance of preferences for a supportive and caring climate in snooker, hence why the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) signed up to support the Mental Health Charter for Sport and Recreation in April 2015 and there has been some extraordinary work and research in relation to generating awareness of mental health in snooker.
Image credit: Freepik
Rohit Sagoo is a Senior Lecturer at the City, University of London. Rohit does research in sport psychology and nursing science.