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Why you need to have a happy workforce

25th March 2022

In frame – a talk with Neil Robertson

Patrick Crowder talks work/life balance, homesickness, mentorship, and education with the champion Australian snooker player.

How do you normally prepare for a match?
 
Generally I don’t really like eating that much before I play, and it’s always been like that throughout my career. I actually try to eat anything I can really, because the worst thing is when you’re playing and you get hungry because maybe you didn’t eat enough before the match. My go-to is a peanut butter and banana sandwich because I find that really easy to eat, and it kind of fills me up for quite some time. Before I play a night session, like a final, I mean the worst thing you can do is eat a proper full meal and then all of the sudden you’re getting ready to go out and play and you feel like you’re ready to check out for the night, sit on the couch, and just watch some TV. Generally I always try to get down to the venue around 35 minutes before I play, and I think 15 minutes on the practice table is perfect. Some players like getting to the venue 45 minutes before, but then you’re waiting around and using a lot of nervous energy.

What is your proudest moment in snooker?
 
Probably being the first overseas player to win the Triple Crown – that’s winning the World Championship, the Masters, and the UK Championship. I did that in 2013, and to be the first player to do that is pretty cool. It’s certainly something I never thought was possible when I first came over to this country, not in a million years. Also, I guess I’m proud of how long I’ve been able to be successful, coming over from Australia. A lot of great players who have come from overseas will sort of go pro for ten years and then they’ve had enough and they go back home, whereas I’ve been able to sustain it for 20 years now living over here. I’ve been able to win a tournament every year since 2006, so that’s also right up there, I’m proud of being able to keep that winning streak going.

How did you adjust when you first moved to the UK?

In the 2001-2002 season when I was only 19, I was living in Leicester and I didn’t enjoy living there at all. It was completely different to Melbourne, so I really struggled. It was different back then as well, there wasn’t any sort of internet where I lived so it was difficult to keep in touch with the people back home. It always seemed like I’d have to walk an hour in the rain to get to this one internet café, and I just thought ‘this is depressing really’, so that was when I was questioning if I really wanted to commit to snooker and live in this country. I took a year off the tour, and I came back in 2003 with a few friends from Australia and we moved to Cambridge, which was a completely different world. From then on I settled in really quick.

How do you manage your work/life balance, especially with two young children?

My daughter is turning three tomorrow, and my son is eleven and he’s really into his football, so I tend to pick and choose my tournaments a little bit more these days. I can’t really commit to an absolute full season because if I do that then I’ll hardly see my family. I’ve sort of achieved everything I’ve wanted to achieve in my career ten-fold, so now if there are some smaller events on the calendar I’ll choose to miss a few of those and be home for the week instead. I take my son to all of his football training and his matches, and I get a really big buzz off of that. I think it’s important to strike that balance, and I think what’s led me to have good longevity in the sport is that when I’m playing in tournaments I really want to play. I don’t feel like I’m getting burned out and like ‘oh jeez, I’ve been playing too much’, so when you see me at events you’re seeing me when I’m very determined to do well.

How do you like to unwind when you’re not playing snooker?

Before lockdown I used to play in Warhammer tournaments, but I haven’t really been able to get back into it the same way that I was. Ever since my son has been doing really well in football I’ve not been able to participate in any of the tournaments, so I haven’t really been painting as much either. I do still love it, and I will get back around to it, I mean I used to spend 30 hours on a miniature and do really well in painting competitions. I also chill out a bit with some of my friends playing a bit of World of Warcraft. When you’re in a hotel room it’s nice to have a laptop or something to chill out and unwind. And that probably helped me get through when we were in the bubbles in the hotel. Some of the guys who I know started to lose the plot after three or four days in the hotel room, so it’s always good to have things outside of snooker.

It sounds like you’re really involved in your son’s football, do you find that your experiences in sport allows you to help him better?

I never played when I was younger – back in Australia everyone played cricket or Australian football – so I don’t really coach him as such, but I do analyse a lot and I try to help him out with experiences I’ve had through snooker about improving and being patient with yourself. It can be frustrating when you’re trying to do something and it’s not quite coming off, so he’ll be practicing in the garden and I’ll tell him the importance of learning patience, sticking to it, and putting in the hard work. I just basically try to let him do it himself as well, I don’t want to push him too much, I want to let him enjoy the sport. But I do like to try and implement the things that I know work for me and see if he can take those on board.
 
Throughout your career have you ever had a mentor to help you through? Have you been that mentor for another player?

Yeah, Joe Perry has been fantastic. I think one of the luckiest things that happened to me is that when I moved to Cambridge in 2003, he was changing clubs from where he lived to the club that we were going to. So he put his professional table in there, and we were lucky that we had someone like Joe to learn off. We could watch him every day to see how he goes about things, Joe’s been fantastic about those sorts of things and he’s always been great for advice. If I were to get into coaching it would be as a mentor – maybe to someone who has a lot of potential and plays the way I did when I was younger so that the things I learned to become a winner could help them make that transition as well.

You left school at 15, right? What would you say to someone with a lot of potential trying to choose between further education and following their dreams in sport?

Oh, stay in school! My son and his friends will be talking while playing footie in the garden or something and I’ll hear one of his friends go ‘I hate school, I can’t wait to leave’, and I’ll say ‘Hey, hey, boys, you’ve definitely got to stay in school’, then of course I’ll get the ‘Well yeah, but you left school at fifteen!” So I have to kind of really say “Look, you don’t understand, I’m a one in a billion story, this just doesn’t happen normally”. So I always say, at worst get a good basic education where you can always go back. At least complete your high school and get that done. Because especially with today, you can do courses online and stuff, you have to get a solid education. The chances of making it in sport and getting to the point where you actually earn a proper income is so rare. In the Premiere League it’s something like .002%, and you can’t pin your hopes on that. It was pretty tough on my mom when I left school, because no one from Australia had ever made a living in snooker, and I had to move to the UK, and there was no guarantee that I could do that. So definitely stay in school, there’s always time. You can still do your studies and practice whatever it is you’re passionate about. You don’t need to leave school to be a professional sportsman, it’s just not true.

If you had another job within the snooker industry, what would it be?

I’d be doing studio work (commentary) for sure, I’ve done that quite a few times and the feedback has been fantastic. It’s very easy to do as an ex-player, you’re talking about stuff that you know. So it’s very straightforward and enjoyable, really, getting to see what other players do, so I quite like doing that and it’s probably something that I’ll transition into quite well.

Were there any times of doubt?

Yeah, it’d be when I was 21. I was playing back home and I was off the tour, I wasn’t professional at the time. I didn’t have an education, so it was really hard to get a job, and my brother and I had this tiny flat. I had to go to the job centre, which is where you go to get what’s called the dole in Australia (Jobseeker’s Allowance, or unemployment). It was a dreaded moment to get in the queue for that, because when I went to the UK when I was 15 I figured by 21 I’d never have to do anything like that. In front of me there was a guy who was absolutely kicking off. I think he forged some signatures or whatever and they weren’t going to pay him, and he just started swearing at everyone and it was really awkward. I was just thinking “Oh God, is this my life?” and I went out and started having a real good think about things. I wasn’t really practicing much at the time either, I had kind of lost hope. Then I decided to practice a bit more, and I got a call from Mike Peachey who was the head of the Australian Billiards and Snooker Council. He told me that the world under-21s was going to be held in New Zealand, and that he would help with the expenses. To cut a long story short, I performed really well at the world under-21s and won it, and that got me back on the tour card, and the rest is history. So that was a really massive turning point in my career.

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