Chris Hammer, for Sporting Life, has been talking to Dr Steve Peters, who, for the first time, has spoken at lengths about how, specifically, he has been helping Ronnie.
It’s a fantastic interview and a very interesting insight into the mind of Ronnie.
Ronnie O’Sullivan and Dr Steve Peters: The partnership and techniques which reignited the Rocket’s career
By Chris Hammer
Dr Steve Peters has lifted the lid on his successful partnership with Ronnie O’Sullivan and revealed some of the techniques that have helped him reinvigorate his career over the past decade.
The enigmatic Rocket was close to walking away from snooker at the age of 35 in 2011 following a difficult spell dating back to his third world title in 2008, but after reluctantly meeting the renowned sports psychiatrist, his fortunes changed in emphatic fashion.
At that time he was still four short of Stephen Hendry’s seven Crucible titles while he had also won seven fewer Triple Crowns than the Scotsman’s tally of 18 and was also 14 ranking titles behind with 22.
However, the most important void in O’Sullivan’s snooker life was not the drought of major silverware but the absence of the fun factor.
As enjoyment began to return, back-to-back World Championships kick-started another awesome era, which reached another unforgettable high on Sunday night when he became the oldest Crucible champion at the age of 46 to finally drew level with Hendry’s most prized record.
The world number one’s 21 Triple Crowns and 39 ranking titles means he can now be statistically regarded as the greatest snooker player of all time – but would it have been possible without the influence of Peters?
After an emotional trophy ceremony that had followed O’Sullivan’s lengthy embrace with Judd Trump and tearful celebrations with his family, the Londoner said: “If it hadn’t have been for Steve Peters I would probably be in some hot country like Portugal living in a nice beach house and coming to the UK once every six weeks to see my family.
“I had the talent, I had the game… If I was on it was great, but if I was off I was looking for the exit doors, thinking ‘It’s time to go home’, because I didn’t enjoy digging it out.
“But I’ve learned that nobody can be perfect all the time, so just accept it, get on with it, make best with what you’ve got and you just don’t know what’s round the corner.
“It’s like a bit of optimism but it still needs to be drummed into me. I always seem to fear the worst – that’s my natural state, really, so I have to fight against a lot of the demons. But I’m here, I’m competing and yeah, it was good!”
Rocket’s old exit strategy
Peters, who had been watching the drama unfold from the auditorium having spent the duration of the tournament by his side, was given permission by O’Sullivan to speak openly to BBC 5Live about their partnership without worry of breaking patient confidentiality.
On their initial introduction back in 2011, Peters said: “Ronnie didn’t want me to him at first but within 15 minutes we formed a link and it’s got better and better.
“He did say he was coming to the end back then but I think it was more to do with the fact that he wasn’t happy, wasn’t performing well and had lost his direction in the sport.
“His strategy was then to leave and didn’t want to torture himself for another couple of years. But in discussion with him, all he wanted to do was be happy playing again and we’re still saying that 10 years on. Of course he wants to win but not at the cost of his happiness.
“Happy people succeed in life and that was his objective. I agreed with him, so we worked on that before any age concern.”
One of O’Sullivan’s main weaknesses at the start of their partnership was how he handled the pressure he put on himself.
Peters explained: “Obviously we all have different thought processes when we approach a difficult challenge and those processes can become a habit or a behaviour and we have various coping strategies.
“One of the things Ronnie was doing when I first met him was if things got really tough and he got emotional, his exit route was to run out of the building. He literally did that at one point in a competition. It wasn’t that he was losing – more to do with the pressure he’d put on himself.
“He will go with a perfectionist approach because he’s so driven and committed. But this means he’s quite unforgiving on himself. We’ve looked at that closely because it can be a negative and a positive.
“It’s all about how you learn about your own trigger points. His main coping mechanism was avoidance whereas now he’s learned different ways of coping if his mind starts to play up.
“If someone came to me with that same coping mechanism of running away, I’d say it’s completely healthy and natural, but it might not be helpful.
“You have to look at times when it works and when it doesn’t – then we’d talk about what strategy they’d like to work with under pressure. It can vary for different circumstances and scenarios.”
One potentially alarming scenario during the final came during the third session when Trump threatened an almighty comeback by clawing his way back to 14-11 down from 12-5.
But Peters said: “Complacency isn’t something Ronnie actually struggles with. He’s always of a mindset – which we’ve worked on over the years – to stay in the moment and stay in the process of what he’s doing.
“It might be a problem for others, who perhaps lose their focus when they are leading and start thinking about the ‘what ifs’ of the situation – so it’s certainly something to warn against.
“For me I like to find people’s trigger points that are unique to the individual as it’s important for me to understand their mind.”
Ronnie’s raw emotion
O’Sullivan’s outpouring of emotions with his family and during his tearful embrace with Judd Trump came as a surprise to many onlookers who are used to seeing his laid-back attitude about results and also how he regularly talks down his achievements.
But Peters said: “It’s emotional skill to put things into perspective and then celebrate them at the right times. Obviously he’s delighted with the result and I’ve already talked to him about plans for next year.
“He’s an emotional, passionate man and people like that need to manage those feelings. I think emotions are a great thing, but you have to engage them appropriately.”
On the lengthy post-match hug with Trump, Peters added: “I get hugs too, he’s a very tactile man! Obviously, they were talking too and wanted it to remain a private conversation which is hard in a public situation like that.
“This is a unique sport. When I entered this world 10 years back I was welcomed in very openly and I found snooker players encouraged each other and there are lots of friendships. It really is a pleasant atmosphere and lots of encouragement.
“So it didn’t surprise me to see them hug and complement each other like they did.”
Ref row unjust
Controversy has never been too far away from O’Sullivan throughout his often tempestuous career and there was a flashpoint during this year’s final when referee Olivier Marteel accused him of making a gesture after a foul.
O’Sullivan replied: “‘Tell me, tell me, what did you see? You tell me what you saw. You saw nothing. Go look at the camera. You saw nothing. Don’t start.” And later told Eurosport that Marteel was ‘looking for trouble‘.
Analysing how they dealt with the incident, Peters said: “We did discuss the issue he had with the referee after the session but it was helpful that someone came into the dressing room to confirm cameras hadn’t picked up anything.
“That helped immensely – but if that hadn’t happened we’d have tried to put any feelings of injustice to one side.
“When I work with people in sport or outside, we talk about something unexpected and unwelcome happening, and I ask them what they would like to do. It’s inevitable that issues with referees or opponents will happen so we when we discuss it first, we have a programmed response. Reacting in the moment can sabotage your sport, your concentration and focus.”
Age is just a number
At 46, O’Sullivan is continually asked how many years he can go on and Peters explained there are different ways to handle the issue of age.
He said: “I’ve been privileged to work with many athletes and some of them won’t see age as a barrier – they just continue and look at performance. Others will look at the statistics and facts and say they are time limited in the event.
“Those in sports like gymnastics will tend to fade out earlier than others whereas cyclists can go on until around 40 at optimum performance.
“It all depends on whether they place their emotions and feelings on the statistics and information or whether they focus on their individual performance. They have to ask “what do I want to do and how am I going to achieve that”.
“Ronnie hasn’t been consistent with this – but that’s normal. How many times do we wake up one day feeling we can take on the world and then the next for no apparent reason we don’t think we can cope.
“You expect the mind to be fluid with how we handle life – it’s not going to be consistent. So what I try and help people to do is understand that when your mind isn’t doing what you want it to do, let’s look at how to get in the mindset that you want – and to stay there. But the mind will hijack us from time to time, so he will sometimes think ‘maybe I’m getting too old for this’.
“We address that by rewriting the statistics.”
As for whether O’Sullivan is the greatest sports person of his generation, Peters said: “Clearly someone who has been at the top of the game for around 30 years is among the greatest sports people of all time. In the last 10 years he’s been in five World Championship finals and won four of them. That’s pretty spectacular for anyone but it’s also the longevity so I’m glad he didn’t stop at 35!
“When I started working with him in 2011 I did ask him at the time if he’d be happy with two more world titles and he said he’d never win two more.
“He won the next two years and I always remind him of that! We’re being a bit greedy now but we’ll continue to be and we’re up for next year again and the one after.“
I very well remember Ronnie during the 2010/11 season. He was deeply depressed. He was struggling in his private life, fighting for the right to see his children. He was also suffering severe insomnia.
Before the World Championship, he had withdrawn from 8 PTC events, getting himself in trouble. He had not won a match in a ranking event since the 2010 World Open in september. He had lost in the first round of the Masters as well. After losing in the first round of the 2011 China Open he was feeling so low that he had wanted to withdraw from the World Championship. World Snooker asked him to take a bit of time and, maybe, reconsider. He did. His then manager, Django Fung had persuaded him to see Steve Peters …
The rest is history … AND hard work.
He lost in the QF in the 2011 World Championship, to the eventual winner, John Higgins. Given how the season had gone, this was almost miraculous. He was much more positive as well.
Right! After all this very serious, intense stuff, time to relax …
Here is a quiz, designed bu John Hunter form Cuestars Academy: https://www.cuestarsacademy.co.uk/ronnie-osullivan-break-quiz/