By improving his mental approach to life as a snooker player, Tom Ford has improved his results and is moving rapidly up the world rankings.
The Leicester cueman has enlisted the help of mindset coach Sabrina Francis, with a particular emphasis on trying to maintain a more positive approach at the table. Francis is a disciple of Steve Peters, the renowned psychiatrist who has worked with a range of top sports stars including Ronnie O’Sullivan.
And Ford appears to be reaping immediate rewards. The 36-year-old made the quarter-finals of the International Championship earlier this season, before appearing in his third ranking semi-final at the recent English Open. Having dropped to 59th in the world four years ago, he is now up to 24th. He feels that Francis has equipped him to feature more regularly at the business end of events.
“I’ve always known my head hasn’t been the strongest part of my game,” said Ford. “I can think of several matches in the past where my temperament got the better of me and I went to pot. What I have got from Sabrina is someone that I can tap into and she keeps me grounded. The results are paying off quickly and I didn’t expect that to happen so fast.
“I just need to be able to forget what has happened and keep my concentration on the next shot rather than what has gone on in the past. I used to let things get to me and it was becoming a downward spiral. My game would suffer and it would just all get worse.
“A good example was beating Kyren Wilson 6-5 from 5-3 down at the International Championship. I don’t think I could have won that match if it wasn’t for working with Sabrina. I would have chucked the towel in. I’d have already started thinking about getting on the first flight out of there and I wouldn’t have knuckled down.”
Ford’s run to the semi-finals of the 2018 UK Championship was hallmarked by battling displays. He notched up three 6-5 victories before a 6-2 quarter-final win over Joe Perry. He then failed to produce his best snooker in a 6-1 loss against eventual champion Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Despite having been a professional for 18 seasons, Ford says that a lack of experience on the very biggest stage was partially responsible for a sub-par performance in his first ever Triple Crown semi-final. He hopes that his work with Francis will help next time he finds himself in a similar situation and aide him in his quest for a maiden ranking title.
“I was playing Ronnie. It was a big occasion,” he recalls. “It was in front of the cameras and I just buckled. It is a different story now though, at least I hope it is. I am not as used to playing on that match table as the top pros are. Hopefully when I do get into big match situations I’ll be a lot more comfortable and I can just go out and play my game.
“It is something I have been discussing with Sabrina and the goal is to focus on getting far enough in events to be on the main tables more often. Overcoming the biggest stage isn’t something people can easily do. However, it is what I have to try and do.
“I definitely have more belief now. I feel like I can go further in tournaments. I’m not saying that I am at the stage where I should be winning events, but I have the belief and know that I am definitely capable of winning them. I just need to keep playing the way I am and keep my temper at bay.”
Ford and his wife Claire became parents with the arrival of son Jack four years ago. With Jack now starting school, Ford cites his son as one of the reasons for adopting a change in approach to his career.
“I don’t want my son to watch his dad on TV and see him looking mardy when things don’t go right,” smiles Ford. “I don’t want him to grow up like that or think that it is something which is acceptable to do. That person isn’t me, so I don’t want my son to grow up like that. It’s why family life has changed things for me as well.”
One aspect of his game Ford has rarely struggled with during his career is break-building. This season he has already made two 147s – once of which came in the deciding frame of a 4-3 English Open win against Shaun Murphy.
He now has five maximums to his name, which puts him in elite company alongside six other players to have reached that milestone: O’Sullivan, Stephen Hendry, John Higgins, Ding Junhui, Stuart Bingham and Murphy.
“I know my strength is break building,” added Ford. “I’ve always known that was my strength. My weakness has been my safety play and temperament and those are the things I am working on.
“I just don’t know what it is about 147 breaks. I feel that when I am around the black, I am good at keeping things under control. It’s not like I’ve tried to practise going for 147s, it is just something that has come naturally. I may have had a bit of luck with it. I don’t intentionally go out to try and make them. It just seems to happen.”