Lionel Messi: How the worst runner scores the most goals

Adidas got Lionel Messi to wear shoes with a micoach tracking chip inside it during a Argentina vs Germany football match in 2012. And the results were astounding. Messi had scored a goal as Argentina beat Germany 3-to-1 in that match. 

But the astounding part was that Messi played the entire 90 minutes and covered a distance of 8.49km. Why is that astounding? Because most other players except the goalkeeper cover a distance of 12 to 15km per match! Messi didn’t even come close in terms of ground covered, and yet, he was the most impactful player for that match!

On closer inspection, it was observed that Messi walked 70% of the match. Not running and not even jogging. Merely walking on the field. One of the greatest football players the world has ever seen hardly runs on the field!

In other matches, Messi has performed even worse when it comes to covering ground. In one Barcelona vs Madrid match, he walked 83% of the time! Ran just about 5% of the time and sprinted for about 1.15%! And yet, Messi scored and won the match for Barcelona!

Messi saves his energy for most of the game so that he can sprint and perform magic when it matters the most!

The optimal energy to output ratio

When author and podcaster Tim Ferriss interviewed Hugh Jackman the actor, Jackman made a similar observation. Jackman noticed that athletes like Carl Lewis are relaxed when they are running. 

Carl Lewis was a notoriously bad starter – often languishing behind his competitors at half way mark in 100m races. And most people would think that he would push himself and double his effort to win. But instead, Lewis would actually look relaxed. And yet cruise to victory.

That’s how Carl Lewis became a 9 time Olympic gold medalist. Not by pushing all the time. But by finding his optimal form by not pushing too hard. Even when Lewis was behind, his breathing or form would not change. 

When Lewis himself was asked about his pacing in races, he said that his not huffing and puffing was not lack of effort. Instead, it was controlled effort.

A sprint coach later studied Lewis and called it the 85% rule. When you are working at 85% capacity, your mind and body are relaxed, and you can achieve better results.

And that’s what Hugh Jackman does while training for his action hero roles. Find his 85% – his balance between intensity and relaxation. Aim for 85% of expenditure of energy. 

Because if you are putting in 100% of your energy all the time, you will burn out. You will face injuries. And your overall output will suffer. 

Does your company have slack?

This 85% rule works for businesses too. If all your employees are working at 100% of their limit, how will you grow? You need to create room for growth. And to do that, you actually need to slack off.

You need to have people with not enough work to do – at least some of the time. Or else, how can your company work on new things?

Just like how you produce better when your mind is relaxed, your company will produce better output when the atmosphere is relaxed and unhurried too.

Action Summary:

  • Aim for 85% of energy expenditure. Not 100%. Build some inefficiencies. Some slack. So that you can focus on form and improve output. So that you can expand and say yes to new things.