I am not especially in to football, but I am in to the lessons we can all learn from football and I was fascinated by an article in The Guardian that covered the announcement of the retirement of footballer Frank Lampard. Critical to this I noted that the article revealed:
“When Frank was a youngster, I can remember a lot of people saying: ‘What’s all the fuss? He’s a good player but he isn’t that good,” says Tony Carr, the former West Ham academy director, under whom Lampard developed.
Yet now Lampard is considered to be one of the all time greats. So how do you go from good to properly great? The answer seems to be practice.
From Tiger Woods to Michael Jordan to, well, Frank Lampard, it is all too easy to 'write off' their success as god given talent, yet interview after interview with top sports stars and their close circle reveals the same thing again and again, that is, they are where they are today because of their hours, and hours, and hours of practice. Dedicated, focused practice. Returning to Lampard's case, John Terry talks of Frank's work ethic:
You were the best trainer by a million miles every single day, inspiring me and everyone at the club... You stayed out [after training] working on your finishing – 20 goals a year wasn’t good enough for you; you wanted 25, 30 goals. I will miss you getting four cones and doing sprints after training – setting the example for the academy kids.
The interesting thing here is that we have the question: what did Frank Lampard do after training? The answer is more training. In turn, that inspired everyone. The article suggests:
Lampard goes down as a Premier League great and he owes it all to his phenomenal work ethic and mental toughness; the desire that he has always had to prove his worth – and others wrong.
No mention of talent.
The same is true of legendary Formula 1 driver Michael Schumacher. Ross Brawn in his book Total Competition recalls:
Michael was relentless in the effort and capacity he had to work with the team. If we suddenly had a tyre test to do,.. I would ring Michael up and say, 'Can you be here tomorrow?' 'Yep. What time?' Never any hesitation. One or two others I would ring up and it would be. 'Oh, well, I want to see my kids tomorrow, it's a birthday party' and all the rest of it. You never had those discussions with Michael.
Schumacher embraced every opportunity to be in the car. He likewise embraced every opportunity to be in the gym and was considered by far the fittest driver in the paddock. Schumacher understood that race days represented 5% of the year and the race could be won or lost depending on how you spent the remaining 95%.
Michael Jordan on the issue of practice quips:
I'm not out there sweating for three hours every day just to find out what it feels like to sweat.
But he further notes:
In order to be the best, you simply have to outwork others and that’s especially true when it comes to sports. Putting up the hours when no one is watching you – this is what separates the bad from the good and the good from the great. It doesn’t matter if you are talented or not, you will have to work hard if you want to achieve anything in life. It all comes to that – how many hours are you working towards your goals?
In Michael Jordan's 10 Rules to Success, this is first on his list. Last on his list is:
You want to be better? Practice, practice, practice. End of story.
Author Matthew Syed explores the idea in great detail in his book Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice where he argues that 'purposeful practice' is everything in achievement. He notes for example that Tiger Woods was given his first golf club as a Christmas present five days before his first birthday and was entered into his first golf tournament aged two. In other words, Woods is so good at golf because he's been practicing since he was a one year old.
On David Beckham, Syed quotes Beckham and Beckham's dad, remembering back to when he was a boy:
David Beckham, for example, would take a football to the local park in east London as a young child and kick it from precisely the same spot for hour upon hour. ‘His dedication was breathtaking,’ his father has said. ‘It sometimes seemed that he lived on the local field.’ [David] Beckham concurs. ‘My secret is practice,’ he said. ‘I have always believed that if you want to achieve anything special in life you have to work, work, and then work some more.’
But even on reaching the pinnacle of the sport, that dedication to practice never ceased. Alex Ferguson noted of Beckham:
David Beckham was extraordinary. [He] would not just train in the mornings and afternoons, but would show up in the evening to train with the schoolboys. When at the start of the season we gave players what is called the 'bleep test', to get a sense of their level of aerobic fitness. Beckham would always be off the scales.
I used to joke that I no matter how much I practiced, I could never 'bend it like Beckham,' I believed in the 'talent myth'. But of Beckham's trade mark free kick, Dyer quotes Matt Carre, a director of the sport engineering group at the University of Sheffield:
It may look completely natural, but it is, in fact, a very deliberate technique. He kicks to one side of the ball to create the bend and is also able to effectively wrap his foot around the ball to give it topspin to make it dip. He practiced this over and over when he was a young footballer, the same way Tiger Woods practiced putting back spin on a golf ball.'
I am increasingly convinced that if you purposefully practiced in sufficient quantity (read years not months), you could indeed bend it like Beckham. Whatever your chosen field, practice, it would seem, is everything.