We recently interviewed current Sports Scholar Lennard Cripps (the only Snooker scholar the programme has ever had!) to find out how he first discovered snooker.
What are you studying at Kent and what are your career ambitions after graduation?
I am studying Sociology and Economics, however, like many other students, I am not certain on my career ambitions after graduation. In terms of the areas of most interest in my course, I would say there to be a likelihood of me entering a field of microeconomics or econometrics.
How did you get into your sport, can you remember picking up a cue for the first time or getting your first snooker table for Christmas?
Well, my mum always would have the Triple Crown events (World Championship, UK Championship, The Masters) on when they were being televised on BBC, and watching the best players in the world clear up the table without missing a ball was impressive. I remember having a small, probably 5-6ft, table at home and constantly playing on it. Not long after having the table I had gotten my first cue which was a two-piece half joint cue, manufactured with Ronnie O’Sullivan’s signature, from JJB Sports.
When and how did you progress from smaller billiard tables to playing and competing on a full-sized Snooker table?
I remember having my first lesson, on a Wednesday, after school. I was 9 or 10 years old, and not even tall enough to re-spot the blue ball. It was obviously a complete transformation going from around a 6 by 3ft table to a full size 12 by 6ft table, with bigger and heavier snooker balls. At this point, I was only having lessons maybe once every 2-3 weeks. It was only when I was around 12-13 years old that I started to play a few times a week and competing in small junior tournaments.
Snooker has a rich history and cult following in the UK but which players were your heroes or inspiration growing up?
Well, it is probably no surprise that Ronnie O’Sullivan has always been, and still is, my (and many others) favourite player. His playing style and controversial attitude, at times, is why he attracts the biggest crowd and is so interesting to watch. I would say Judd Trump is an inspiring player to watch who is considered the best to emerge from the more recent generation of professional snooker players (around 2010).
Outside of the UK, Snooker is also very popular in the Far East whilst Pool formats are regularly televised in the US, can you ever see Snooker becoming a truly global sport or even featuring in the Olympics?
Yes, snooker’s popularity has grown internationally, despite its interest, unfortunately, dropping massively in the UK, compared to the heights it reached during the 80s and early 90s. Snooker’s popularity in the far east (especially China) is unbelievable, and there are also more professional players emerging from European countries, as well as a few from the middle east. Personally, I do not feel snooker should feature in the Olympics, simply because it is not a sport that you associate with the Olympics. I mean snooker is a very tough game that requires many hours of practise to perfect your technique, mentality etc. However, compared to the physical aspects and the unimaginable training that Track and Field athletes (for example) must endure to make sure their body is in its best shape possible, leading up to an event that occurs every 4 years, is what the Olympics is about, and to be honest snooker simply does not fit in that category.
Snooker’s status as a sport often gets questioned but can you testify to how much training and practice is required to compete at a high level?
So, as I pointed out towards the end of the previous question, I do understand why people may disregard snooker as a sport. Personally, it does not bother me if you regard it as a sport or not, however, snooker does share many aspects that your typical sport encounters. Yes, obviously snooker does not require the intense physical training that athletes must engage in. Albeit your standard (individual sport) preparations are still implemented in snooker and the feeling of pressure is as much the same as that of tennis, football, golf, etc. To compete at the highest level in professional snooker requires many hours of practise everyday week-in-week-out, just like any other sport, whether it is solo practise or match practise. Training is essential if you want to stay sharp and remain on the professional tour, let alone to enter (and stay) in the top 16 world rankings, and like with other sports it is key to practise the weaknesses in your game and to implement repetition, which can be mentally draining and frustrating at times. For example, practising long potting, which requires good technique and patience, is like that of a footballer practising their penalties or free-kicks, or a tennis player working on the accuracy and speed of their serve.
Your highest break is currently 126, at what age did you get to the landmarks of 50 and 100 respectively?
Well, I remember that I could get a new cue when I made my first 40 break (in a frame, not practise) and then had made my first 50 after having the new cue for a couple weeks. This must have been when I was around 12-13 years old. After my first 50 break I was stuck on breaks of 50 for a while and then managed to score a 60 break, which gradually increased to 70s and 80s. I made my first century, a clearance of 119, when I was 16 years old. For a snooker player this is normally a landmark that you never forget, and I still remember potting the colours (yellow to black) and having the brown ball to complete the century break.
Is a ‘147 Break’ a realistic goal for an amateur player or is it reserved as the Holy Grail only for professional players?
No, it is definitely not reserved for professional players, many top amateurs who are looking to become professional players often knock in a 147 break for fun. Of course, practising and playing professional tournaments are completely different, and I would say that producing a 147 break in a professional tournament is the Holy Grail, especially if it is being televised. I have scored 147 breaks in practise, however one of my goals is to knock a maximum break in during a real frame.
Speaking of professionals, it is your ambition to turn professional one day, how do you intend to make this happen and what is the pathway into the pro circuit and bigger competitions?
The most common way of achieving your ‘tour card’ is to enter Qualifying school (Q school) and battle it out against hundreds of other players aiming for the same thing. It is a tough format, which requires preparation and a good amount of competitive experience under your belt. The World Snooker Tour (WST) have also introduced other tournaments, in recent years, such as the Challenge Tour, which also provides the opportunity for top amateur players to become professional. It certainly is not easy to get on the tour, however, with the addition of more tournaments that grant the opportunity, it will be my goal to enter Q School and other tournaments after university.
Can you provide an insight into the amateur circuit and the volume and frequency of competitions pre-pandemic and also comment on your highest achievement or competition win to date?
The best competitions that are available for any amateurs to enter are Professional-Amateur (Pro-Am) events. These are tournaments that can consist of professional players (usually the lower-ranked players) or some ex-professional players, as well as top amateur players. The standard is the best you will find considering a non-professional tournament and many players enter these events to prepare for Q school, as well as to keep your ‘match game’ sharp. You can usually find a southern Pro-Am event every month or so. My best achievement to date is qualifying through to the last 16 of the Under 21 National Championships. Unfortunately, Covid has pushed back the date for this event, however it will hopefully resume during the summer term. Below is a photo of me at the Pink Ribbon (Pro-Am) in Gloucester – probably the biggest Pro-Am in the UK, with a field of around 150-200 players.
You are currently the reigning BUCS Snooker Champion having won in 2020, can you briefly explain the format of this competition and how you won?
Well, it was a straight knock-out event where I won a total of 6 matches (best of 3 all matches, best of 5 final) and there were probably around 80 players in the draw. It is no surprise that the toughest matches were in the latter stages, which consisted of mostly final year and postgraduate students with already plenty of BUCS experience. However, I managed to use my experience, from many previous snooker tournaments and was able to win 3-1 in the final against probably the most dangerous player in that tournament.
Obviously, the pandemic has impacted all sports and all Scholars, have you managed to continue to train and practice, and what are your short-term goals as lockdown restrictions ease?
Unfortunately, like many of the other scholars, I have not managed to train and practice my sport. It has been very frustrating, given that all my practise needs to be done on a snooker table and therefore have not played snooker since before Christmas. As lockdown restriction ease, I will get back to the club and just practise some ‘light’ routines, and as I ease back into my pre-lockdown game, I will intensify the routines and possibly consider entering a tournament to see where my game is at.
Snooker is a very technical sport but also very challenging mentally, what do you do to stay calm and perform under pressure in competitions?
Yes, snooker can be very frustrating at times and can really test your mental strength. I cannot think of many other sports whereby you are restricted from doing anything whilst your opponent is playing the game. Because the two players share the table there can be more pressure on you knowing you must build a sizable break to win the frame otherwise all it takes is one miss/mistake and normally the top players in the world will clear up the table. This exact scenario is what separates the best from the rest, because if you are not able to dig deep, mentally, and deal with the ‘bad luck’ against you or coping with the pressure then all you will be doing in your match is sitting down and watching your opponent win frame after frame. Fortunately, like every other sport, you get used to situations and through past tournament experiences you can handle these scenarios better. Albeit every player in their sport faces pressure, even the best, and as simple as it sounds you must battle through the nerves as best you can.
Sports Psychology is a hot topic in Snooker with renowned Sports Psychologist Steve Peters being instrumental in getting Ronnie O’Sullivan’s career back on track, can all athletes learn something from these techniques to improve their Snooker or any other aspect of their game/sport?
I am not aware of any other snooker players receiving/received the same amount of sports psychology to the extent that Ronnie O’Sullivan has, however, there are players who would have had some level of psychological help to enable them to deal with the mental fatigue faced during matches and throughout tournaments. Having said that, many snooker players seem to just adapt to the psychology around snooker through experience of playing on the professional tour. I would imagine that players would improve their snooker, given they seek out a sports psychologist. Sports psychology is a complex field of work, albeit there are many snooker players who allow the mental side of snooker to get the better of them and possibly cost them matches, so I guess it would not do any harm in trying out a sports psychologist.
What was the Snooker scene like at the University of Kent pre-pandemic, and what opportunities are there for Pool and Snooker playing students if they come to Kent next year?
Unfortunately, the amount and standard of players overall have dropped significantly compared to UKC teams 5+ years ago, however, Canterbury remains a ‘hot-spot’ for pool, so that could possibly attract pool and snooker playing students to UKC. The facilities on campus are decent and there are clubs and tournaments in Kent. Also, BUCS Snooker and Pool is a great experience and enjoyable, competing in single and team events. UKC have a good record in recent years at BUCS so, again, there is no reason for a number of talented pool and snooker playing students to want to join the university team in the next year or so.
What advice would you have for someone just starting in Snooker or trying to develop their game?
So, if you are just getting into snooker simply work on the basics and I know it is a cliché but enjoy the game. Given that snooker is very technical, it can become very frustrating as a beginner and you can easily lose interest in it. However, if you do enjoy the challenge of completing basic routines then you will be prepared to put in the work to eventually manage to start break building – such a good feeling to score heavily, constantly potting balls, knowing all your opponent can do is just watch! For someone trying to develop their game, practise is obviously a must and playing tournaments can be just as important. At a young age it is very beneficial to play in many junior tournaments to gain experience and having a reason for putting in the practise. This will not only improve your match play significantly but also the experience can benefit you as an additional advantage over players in similar age groups as yourself.
You are first Snooker Sports Scholar at the University of Kent, how has the scheme helped you and what would you advise new applicants from other non-traditional sports applying to the Scheme?
Well, firstly I do appreciate the University for not disregarding snooker and accepting my application, for this reason, I would advise other applicants from non-traditional sports to at least apply for the scheme! Given the unexpected restrictions caused by Covid, first-year scholars did not quite get a full year experience from the scheme and therefore were not able to benefit fully through BUCS, weekly scholar sessions etc. Regardless, the scholarship sessions, BUCS funding, and the remaining amount of funding received is obviously very useful to allow for individual improvement and to cover the financial costs of tournament entry, travel, and training. The funding I have received this year will be used for post-lockdown tournament fees and practise.
If you’re interested in becoming a sports scholar at the University of Kent, check out our Scholarship webpages for more information.