Visiting Professor who helped cricketer Steve Smith’s on path to Ashes glory shares his knowledge

Visiting Professor Maurice Duffy

Published on 18 September 2019

Dr Maurice Duffy, a University of Sunderland Visiting Professor and PhD graduate, is the Chairman of Blackswan – a business transformation consultancy, based in Tynemouth, operating in over 20 countries. While he has worked for the last 25 years with elite athletes, leading politicians and FTSE100 board members – it is his recent work with cricketer Steve Smith, which is attracting attention.

Former captain Smith was banned for a year from the sport after the ball-tampering scandal during a Test against South Africa in March 2018. Stripped of his captaincy, Smith broke down and admitted he felt so desperate he considered walking away from the sport.

However, he served his suspension and returned to help Australia retained the Ashes last week with an unbeatable 2-1 lead in the series. Smith is now considered by many judges as the world’s best batsman, and credits his return to the sport to his family and Dr Duffy.

Talking about working with Dr Duffy, Smith said: “He has helped me think about my mind and where my thinking’s at…things like that which really helped me go out and focus on what I need to do. For me, batting is 95 per cent mental and fortunately, I have been able to concentrate for long periods of time over here and that’s a big reason that I have had the success over here.”

Dr Duffy, who has a PhD in Change and Transformation, has strong ties with our University and also coaches other members of the Australian Cricket Team to improve their mental toughness and create a winning mind-set. He is also assisting high-profile political figures in Westminster to develop resilience and presence.

He said: “I have worked with Steve for three years now and he’s had a fantastic summer. He is a fantastic individual, a very smart guy and one of the nicest human beings you could meet.

“He was an absolute pleasure to work with - an individual who is hugely inquisitive of what needs to improve and is dedicated to his art. He and I went on a life experience together when I was coaching him, it was obvious the impact the ball- tampering scandal had on his life and I walked those steps with him and walked those steps back.

“It’s been important for Steve and me, and I was there at the moment it occurred, we spent days together just dealing with the aftermath of that particular trauma and we have been working on it since.

“I would not want to take credit for his success because this is a serious talent with a great brain, right now the best batsman in the world and he will make history.

“But it’s nice he has kindly referenced that the work I am doing with him has significantly helped him through that process and I really appreciate that.”

Dr Duffy frequently travels the world and is recognised as one of the top coaches on mind-set and change. He explains some of the methods he uses.

“I have got the grey hair and walked a tough journey, so I think I can relate to individual experiences and can share the learnings I have had,” he says. “I have run business big and small, I have worked and run teams in different countries, and think the knowledge and experience I bring to the coaching is drawing upon the things I have done well and poorly. Also I am a tough and demanding coach, I have spent the last 25 years understanding and learning behaviour.

“I try to talk to clients about the importance of resilience and mental agility, how to build that muscle memory both in their brain and in the physical aspects of what they do.

“I have a model I have built based upon a lot of learning and research over the years around mental reflection, redirection, mental imagery, and mental visualisation.”

Dr Duffy says he has coached “some of the world’s best” including his first elite athlete American gymnast and Olympic medallist Peter Vidmar.

However, he adds: “While I have shared the stage and worked with some very big names – it’s nothing to be intimidated about, they are just human beings, they have their insecurities, problems and challenges like the rest of us – what we try to do is understand them. Most are very smart people and know the answer, I am just putting them on the journey to help put it all together.”

For the last six years Dr Duffy has run a five-day programme (Executive Master Business Administration) at Sunderland for a mix of PhD and MBA students focussing on change and innovation.

Asked what advice he gives to students beginning their own journey, he says: “The difficulty most people have is when it comes to change, fear is something that is normal, so you have to normalise the change. As an individual you have to step into the change you want to see. Be the change you want to see, then work on how you sustain it and keep it going.

“Most people start with ‘I want to be this ... or I’m not able to do this yet’, the energy and passion has got to be taking that step, understand that it’s a step and it’s going to be a journey.

“The difference between the stars and those individuals who don’t succeed - those who make it prepare to finish – most of us prepare to start, so they see the finish line. It’s all about finishing.”

Dr Duffy is continuing to work with Steve Smith and will begin working with another member of the Australian Cricket Team and Durham County Cricket Club – Cameron Bancroft.