The former Essex all-rounder, Hampshire captain and England batsman, John Stephenson, talks about his pathway into his career at the home of cricket, Lord's Cricket Ground.
Raise Your Game: How did you first get involved in cricket?
John Stephenson: I had three elder brothers who all played cricket and I was brought up in a cricketing family. I went to a fantastic cricket school and learnt my cricket from a very good coach. When I left school Essex engaged me as a professional cricketer in 1983.
John Patrick Stephenson
14 March 1965
England, Boland, Essex, Hampshire, Marylebone Cricket Club
- Appointed Head of Cricket at the Marylebone Cricket Club (2004)
- An opening batsman for England's test match against Australia, The Oval, August 24-29 (1989)
RYG: What skills did you take from the cricket pitch to your role within MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club)?
JS: As a professional cricketer you get the chance to meet and talk to many people after matches. Cricket can be a very all-consuming game, and you can get very focused on what you do, so it's great to meet people from different backgrounds and talk to them about their lives. Then as your career progresses you try and broaden your horizons and that's what I tried to do. About halfway through my career I had a bit of a wake-up call, thinking my career is not going to last forever and I have to do something about it.
RYG: How did you deal with going from county to international level cricket?
JS: I had a good education behind me and I did well in county cricket to be picked for England. But it took a lot of hard work, a lot of blood, sweat and tears, a lot of highs and a lot of lows. I noticed that I learnt more from the failures than the successes. It was finding out about yourself through those failures, how to cope and how to survive. Obviously the successes were a bonus. The peaks and troughs that life brings you, teaches you to be tough and take every opportunity that you have in life.
RYG: To be successful it's generally all about preparation. If you fail to prepare you prepare to fail, but how important is that in cricket?
JS: It's the most vital thing. When I was coming through county cricket we were still very amateurish in our approach. You'd relax at night, have a few beers, maybe have a late night, and try and get away with it. But I quickly realised I couldn't perform without preparing properly. I was very keen on the fitness side of things, so I used to make sure that I went through all the visual and physical preparation. Every morning I would go through a routine and make sure I was as fit as possible and mentally prepared to give the best that I could.
RYG: How important is discipline?
JS: It's extremely important in life in general. Not just for cricket or any other sport. Being professional at your job is the most important thing, and being ready to face any challenge. You can't do that unless you're prepared, whether it's for a meeting, a presentation, or batting against Curtly Ambrose. You've got to visualise it, you've got to prepare and then you can give the best account of yourself.
RYG: Going back to university you obviously had to balance your studies with your cricket career, how important is time management?
JS: At school you're given a timetable, but at university you have freedom to do what you want when you want. You'll have some lectures you have to go to, and some courses are more onerous than others, but generally speaking you're given that freedom. At university you have to discipline yourself to go to the lectures, have your social life, do your work, and play your sport, so you have to compartmentalise all those factors. You will be successful if you are effective at doing that. So time management is a huge issue.
RYG: What skills have you taken from cricket that enable you to be successful in this job?
JS: I think, first and foremost, being able to communicate with people. In cricket you're in a dressing room and you're on top of each other all day long for six months of the year, if not more. You have to get on with people. Secondly, it's the discipline aspect. Being disciplined in your life and getting the best out of yourself.
On the cricket pitch it's high pressure - people are watching you, people are reading your averages in the paper and you want to give a good account of yourself. Also, projecting your image to other people, that's very important I think. In cricket, being in front of the media, in front of someone who's come to pay to watch you play, being nice to them, presenting yourself well and being in the box afterwards talking to clients, that's all part of the skills you learn when you play cricket.
RYG: Being an international cricketer you've played on the world stage, and the pressure that affects you is similar to the pressure you might find if you're a student going into an exam. How do you deal with the pressure?
JS: I think if I could have used what I know now when I was 24-years-old, I would have been a far better cricketer. I think it's all about the process. When I talk to young cricketers I tell them 'If you get the process right, the end result will look after itself,' and I think that takes the pressure away. In life it's going through that process and getting to the result you want to get.
RYG: You've had to deal with a lot of lowlights but also a lot of highlights in your career. How do you use the highlights to overcome the lowlights and difficult times?
JS: It's really important to enjoy your success, but that's got to be tempered by the fact that you know you're going to have bad times as well. You've got to treat success and failure the same way somehow. I think throughout my life I suffered from getting too down about failure and then getting too elated by success.
RYG: So to someone looking at you as a positive role model, and taking your sporting career to the next level, what advice would you give them?
JS: To make the step up to the next level you have to understand what you have to put yourself through. You will have success and you will have failures, and it's about treating success and failure equally. Learning from your failures is the most important thing. I went through a lot of failure in my life and I probably took it too hard, and I probably enjoyed the success too much. It's getting a balance that is so important, and I think the earlier you learn it in life, the more successful you'll be.
RYG: An important part of cricket, and also a job, is to evaluate your performance. How important did you find that throughout your career.
JS: Throughout my career I was probably guilty of not evaluating enough. At the moment there's a lot of analysis that goes on in dressing rooms. It's almost instant evaluation, and I think that sometimes you need to sit back and reflect because the hard facts of analysis sometimes can cloud the issue. You might have done something that has got you out, or you bowl badly for a reason and no-one can actually put their finger on what went wrong, so when you go in and evaluate in the cold light of today it can give you the wrong results. I think you need to reflect before you evaluate.
RYG: How do you motivate yourself to keep cricket fresh in your mind every day when you come to work?
JS: I'm very lucky because I'm at Lords. When I walk into the Grace gate entrance every morning a tingle goes down my spine. It's the home of cricket. I realise how lucky I am to come here but, as with anything in life, if you do it every day, it can jade the pallet. The challenge is to keep that spark going, and that's really up to the individual. Keep challenging yourself, keep looking for other areas of your job to explore, help other people in other departments and get interested in what other people are doing. That really enriches your own life.
RYG: How important is it to have the right attitude?
JS: As soon as you meet someone you know whether they've got a good attitude or not. You're immediately drawn to people who are positive, enthusiastic, smiling and looking you in the eye. That all demonstrates a very good attitude in life. I can't over emphasise what attitude can do for you, because if you're very positive, people are positive towards you.
RYG: What's the key to being a successful team player?
JS: I think the key to being a successful team player is showing great interest in what other people are doing and being selfless. You need a good attitude and you've got to always think of the other individuals within your team and make sure that you're doing your best for them as well as yourself.
RYG: What advice would you give to young people looking to follow in your footsteps?
JS: Stick with what you think is right as you will get a lot of advice from a lot of people. Sometimes it's very easy to take on too much advice and you've got to be true to yourself, true to what makes you good and what makes you tick. You can never fake anything in life and be successful, so you've got to stick by your convictions and what you believe.
It's all out there, you just need to find it!
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