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.


John McBride said...

The man was unbelievably dominant. Something that will always stick in my mind, is in one of the World finals he had against Jimmy. Jimmy broke off in the very first frame, Stephen comes to the table & clears up with a 136 at his very first visit. I just watched on in awe. The guy was a born winner who had an incredible determination to win. They say, 'you get out what you put in'. In Stephen's case, that's exactly what he got, & some.....

Anonymous said...

The greatest - no contest. And the last time I looked he was still listed in the official rankings.

Anonymous said...

The 1988 documentary 'Doing the business' about Hendry and Doyle is on YouTube (in 4 parts) and equally fascinating. Great lessons for younger players about the meaning of dedication.

Ray said...

Jack Karnehm used to say "You don't live long enough to master this game" - well Stephen has got as close as anyone could to achieving this goal. He is snooker's equivalent to Jack Nicklaus in golf.
I wonder if some of the talented young players today - Trump, Brecel,Lisowski - practice anything like as hard, or are as dedicated as Stephen Hendry?
Or is it the case that they are so good, know it all and don't consider they need to? If so they are totally deluded.
I would like to thank Stephen for all the pleasure he has given to me and millions of others over the years. I was especially pleased to witness his first competitive 147 (against Willie Thorne). It was really amazing to see such excellence.
My admiration for him knows no bounds especially because he had to give up so much in his teens to enable him to concentrate on his snooker.
A true Champion of Champions.

Anonymous said...

Agree, has always struck me as a good role model & true professional

Never spoken to him, but when I saw him backstage at the Crucible this year he was having a chuckle at that days "Sun" newspaper prior to spell in the Box.

Anonymous said...

This travel issue is a matter of personal outlook.

Some people like travelling, some hate it. Likewise marmite.

It's not right or wrong.

But if you hate travelling don't get a job that has a lot of travelling.

Anonymous said...

Good piece.Will admit I was never a Hendry fan,nothing personal but I,like many others,wanted Jimmy White to win ;-)

But I can certainly admire his dedication and focus that deservedly took him to the top.Anyone who does that you have to say well done,and fair play to him for that.

wild said...

"But if you hate travelling don't get a job that has a lot of travelling."

truer word has never been said.

get on with it or quit dont moan about it.

kildare cueman said...

I didnt think anyone could overtake Steve Davis but Hendry certainly did that.

Reardon brought the game to a new level but Davis superceded him.

I wondered whether Hendry would be bettered but barring some individual performances by ROS and JH, nobody has even come close to playing CONSISTENTLY to that level.

Doesn't appear to anyhing coming soon either. I can still see the 1992 boys at the top for the next 5 years.

The thing that struck me about Hendry, was the way he got better under pressure. The only way you could beat him was to catch him in the early round and more or less bore him out of it. Any sign of a fist pump or a "come on" and you were beat.

Jim said...

Does anyone know when this will be aired again, over the next 5 days sky are showing sporting heroes Geoff Hurst (who!) 16 times but no sign of the Hendry episode.

Richie Segal said...

Good programme, shame that Gary Newbon made so many mistakes

Anonymous said...

simply the best. mtfh

Anonymous said...

Similar to a previous comment.
I regarded Hendry in the 90's with the same contempt as I did Davis in the 80's. Rational being, they administered relentless punishment in the direction of White.
That said, Hendry is to be admired for his singleminded determination. His success in the game is nothing less than he deserved.
'Runner-up is failure' he famously said.
With an attitude like that, no wonder he achieved what he did.
Almost as impressive was his exemplary conduct.
The ultimate pro.
He didn't have me on the edge of my seat, as with White but as a winner, he is without equal.
Oh, and with most of the world's finest, he's a Scot !

jamie brannon said...

Ronnie O'Sullivan has proven Hendry's claim that your game declines if you take time off after a title as nonsense! He didn't look too shabby at the Crucible this year!

John Higgins was back in the groove after his six-month ban too.

Would like to see this interview, don't know if anyone has posted it on Youtube?

He's become snooker's star broadcaster for me, unafraid of telling it how it is, possibly because he's never got too matey with the players as Dave alludes too. That said, I got the impression he was more willing to socialise as the 1990s started to fade from view.

Keith said...

In his prime when results got a little predictable - I think we needed someone else equally good to create media interest.

He's a surprisingly good commentator. I hate the cosy way that retired players move straight to the commentary box in other sports - cricket is really bad - but he has good insights.

Anonymous said...

Hendry was a predator in his day if he smelt blood he would move in for the kill and clear up simple as that. Who is the greatest? It's very hard to say if its on ability it's got to be ronnie but if its on dedication and professionalism it's hendry. For me the 3 greatest players of all time are steve davis, Stephen hendry and ronnie o'sullivan it's very hard to put them in order due the fact ronnie is still playing and could still achieve more future success.

Anonymous said...

JH really ?