When I was younger, I sought out ways to excel in many things I loved - football, basketball and mathematics being the chief pleasures. I, however, did them a lot more out of love than out of the true passion that is required of a true professional. I always seemed to hit a ceiling that refused to rise. I then asked myself how I could could get better at these things. Being tech-savvy, I
Googled it (this was more than 5 years back, when I was still a 9th-grader). That, was when I came across what the world now knows as the Ten-Thousand hour theory.
Mozart, Picasso, Michelangelo, Einstein, Pele, Jordan, Ravi Shankar - the list can go on. But there's one thing each one of these individuals got in - the hard yards, the tough practice, the training of the mind. As Messi puts it so succintly - 'I start early and I stay late, day after day, year after year. It took me 17 years and 114 days to become an overnight success.'
I don't know how much work Messi put in because I never bothered finding out. I was too busy worshipping my idol, Cristiano Ronaldo, to think about others. This is what I found out at that time.
Mike Clegg was Manchester United's fitness and conditioning coach in the 2000s. The following are his words: 'From the day he walked through the door at Carrington to the day he left, Cristiano Ronaldo was the greatest trainer I ever worked with. He took on a new level of total dedication to his training because he wanted to be the best footballer in the world. He filled his time with football, his whole life was dedicated to it. He even had his own cook so that he was eating well all the time, he made sure he bought a house with a swimming pool so that he could do more training.'
“Some players over-do it,” he says. “I’ve seen players train themselves into the ground because of insufficient knowledge, but Ronaldo was more intelligent than that. He’d train hard, but he’d listen to the specialists around him, the coaches, the manager, the other players like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. He took their advice in pursuit of personal excellence.”
Ronaldo would arrive early so he could prepare properly.
“He’d be in the gym with me doing core work, then he’d do activation, then his actual football training.”
Training done, that was the point at which most footballers went home.
“Cristiano would come back into the gym and do some power work for his legs,” recalls Mike. “Then he would go home, eat the right food, swim, sleep, where I’m sure he dreamed about football, and come back in the next morning. He did that for five or six years and, knitted together, that made him become the player who was sold for £80 million.”
“They say you need to put 10,000 hours in before you can become great at something, be it painting or playing the guitar. Ronaldo did that – and more.
“He arrived at 18, the perfect time. Some players at that age go through a funny phase where they doubt themselves or think they are better than what they are. They curtail training. Had they done what Ronaldo did, they could have been far better.
“Some of the other United players are excellent trainers, but they didn’t quite do as much as Ronaldo. He was a really nice person too.”
Jese Rodriguez was promoted to Madrid's first team last season.
"I remember the first time when I went to Real Madrid's training. I got there 2 hours earlier to impress my coach, but when I got there, I saw Cristiano was already there, training."
My eyes welled up as I read this. I'm no crying person, but what I read about Ronaldo had a powerful effect on me deep inside. It made me look at my potential, and then have a laugh at the 'efforts' I thought I'd put in, and expected myself to be great. I realized then and there why a select few people leave a permanent imprint on millions, sometimes billions of people, and why sometimes these billions of people can only leave a shadow of a memory on a few, select people.
There's an age-old adage that many people have been told when they were kids: 'Great people don't do different things. They do things differently.' I'd make a modification on it. 'Great people don't do different things. They do the same things all over again till they can't go wrong.'