One of the most hotly contested arguments in football circles centres on the relative abilities of players Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Both men are extraordinarily talented; Ronaldo has scored 602 goals in 856 appearances for club and country while Messi delivered 565 in 701. These are remarkable statistics and mark the two out as the best players in the world today.
The difference between the two, however, is where that skill comes from. Messi is considered a ‘natural’ talent in that he was born to play the game. Ronaldo, while clearly born with a gift, needed to work at it, improving and honing his style over many seasons.
How successful a person is depends on finding their talent, working on it, pushing boundaries and refusing to accept limitations. Few of us are as fortunate as Messi to be so talented that we can sit at the top of a profession without really breaking a sweat. The people who reach the highest levels are those who push themselves the most. They accept that skills are hard to achieve and are willing to work hard to not only achieve them, but to be the best.
Skill: An ability and capacity acquired through deliberate, systematic, and sustained effort to smoothly and adaptively carryout complex activities or job functions involving cognitive, technical and interpersonal ability.
Step one: Short-term pain for long term gain
Often, the single greatest predictor of success, in any aspect of life, is the greater amount of initial pain one can tolerate the greater level of success one will have later. Missing out on social engagements, losing sleep, bearing metaphorical and physical pain; these are all part and parcel of going beyond mediocrity and achieving greatness.
Step two: Master one skill at a time
There are many skillsets that one needs to master in the world and these takes time. There is often a propensity to rush through learning one skill to get the next, but this can mean never achieving total competence in anything. A jack of all trades and master of none.
Relationships, for example, often fail because participants do not take the time to apply all the necessary skills to make them work. Listening, empathy, sympathy are all critical components in a successful relationship yet these often fall short.
For example when learning to drive one moves from conscious incompetence – not able to drive; to consciously competent – able to drive but having to think about turning the wheel and changing gear; to unconsciously competent – able to drive without really thinking about it because it has become natural. For many people when learning skills this final stage – unconscious competence – is never quite attained.
Step three: Mastering a skill takes time.
In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell argues that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. Based on a study by Swedish psychologist Anders Ericsson, Gladwell builds on the theory that only once an individual has practised a skill for at least 10,000 hours can they be a true master. He uses examples of the Beatles and Bill Gates, arguing that they only achieved greatness because of the time and dedication they committed to their respective skills.
Step four: Focus on the future
A proverb says that a wise person’s eyes are in the front of their head; in other words the smart person knows they have to keep looking to the future if they are to reach their target. It can be easy to be distracted by the time, effort and expense of mastering a skill but achieving the long-term goal needs to be the primary focus.
Step five: Don’t go it alone
It can be hard to ask for help since it may feel like admitting defeat but we need others to understand our strengths and weaknesses. Even Messi, with his abundant natural talent, needed to be coached to reach the top level. Humans achieve much more when they cooperate. Involving others in mastering a skill provides important, impartial feedback.
Step six: Analyse the outcome
Mastering a skill is ultimately about one thing: the outcome. This means making an honest assessment of whether you have achieved what you wanted. If you are not getting it right, have the humility – without attacking yourself – to recognise what could have been done better. This means separating the behaviour from the sense of self and working to positively improve the outcome.
For example, if you want to know how skilful you are in your relationship with your spouse, ask them and act on their feedback.
Acquiring a skill is one thing but mastering it is another. This takes time, dedication and persistence. Whether Messi or Ronaldo is the best player in the world cannot be determined on goal tallies alone; the excitement, beauty, drama they bring to the game is subjective and immeasurable.
One thing that is for certain, however, is the level of commitment they bring to the sport. Like all the greats, they recognise what it takes to be top of their game.