Any snooker player who wants to call themselves a professional should be forced to watch the edition of Sky’s Sporting Heroes broadcast last week which featured Stephen Hendry, a great model of professionalism throughout his long and distinguished career.
The hour long programme only skimmed the surface of Hendry’s remarkable achievements but it was good to relive them and to hear his views on what it takes to reach the top.
Most snooker players I’ve encountered are like most people: they enjoy life, they enjoy a good time, they usually allow enjoying a good time to prevent them making the key sacrifices which will enhance their careers.
As Hendry pointed out, the day after winning a tournament he would be back in the club practising because he wanted to win the next one.
He never played with pound signs in his eyes. He said the only time he ever played for money was when there was a 147 on.
Hendry was motivated by the pursuit of excellence: the glory which came from winning.
He grew up as a Jimmy White fan but the player he wanted to be and emulate and then overtake was Steve Davis.
Hendry’s game was different but his manner was similar: just as Davis was aloof and removed from the other players, so Hendry would keep to himself, thus acquiring an untouchable aura alongside all the trophies he was bringing back to Scotland.
Few players have been as driven. Talent counts for little without a strong work ethic. Nitwits and nobodies who attempt to do down his achievements will come up with all manner of phoney reasons for them. There is only one reason: Hendry dominated because he set his mind to dominate. He made all the sacrifices necessary. He wasn’t seduced by the distractions which come when you start to achieve success and earn big money.
Nights out on the drink, wanting to watch his favourite TV show, even family time all came second to the relentless pursuit of titles and records. Ian Doyle, his long time manager, deserves credit for this, helping keep his feet on the ground and instilling discipline.
Sporting careers – even in a non physical sport such as snooker – tend to be short. Hendry’s lasted 27 years, whereas a teacher would work for something like 40 years before retirement.
But at 44 he can now spend time with his wife and sons contented while so many other players are looking back at what might have been and in other walks of life people are still slogging through work.
Hendry was scathing about the ‘moaners’ who don’t like travelling. He said that was a part of being a snooker player he really enjoyed, getting to see places unimaginable had he not been part of a professional sport.
He also criticised players who win a tournament and then take weeks off because in his opinion their game declines in that time and they struggle to get back to their original level.
Who is going to argue with him? Hendry, like Davis before him, was the perfect pro, not just on the table but in off table appearances and interviews.
The only black mark – against them both – was that they were such bad losers that they were often monosyllabic in defeat, rendering press conferences worthless. Then again, Hendry did once say that “if you’re a good loser, you’re a loser full stop.”
I don't agree with that but it's revealing about his psyche. He was at a loss to explain where this mindset came from. Snooker was something he stumbled into by accident but maybe his intensity was due to being a shy boy who finally found something he was good at, which would therefore give him confidence in himself.
Hendry had done everything by the time he was 21: world champion, UK champion, Masters champion and world no.1.
He carried on winning the big titles until he was 30 when he captured a seventh world title, a modern day record.
My theory is that he then mentally relaxed. After winning the seventh he said “if I never won another title it wouldn’t matter.”
It wasn’t exactly true but even saying it betrayed the fact that all his ambitions had been realised. I covered every tournament on site at that time and saw the change in Hendry. Forget the matches, I’m talking about backstage. Whereas once he wouldn’t utter a word before a match, suddenly he’d be laughing and joking with people minutes before going out to play. The intensity was starting to go and so too were the titles.
His performances became, to him personally, embarrassing towards the end and he decided to retire in 2012.
He is now a popular BBC commentator but players can learn plenty from him off the table as well.
You only get one chance to make your mark so why not work as hard as you can? Why not grasp every opportunity that comes your way?
Stephen Hendry did. He did it all and he did it all his way.