Lionel Messi is a quite astonishing footballer. He's only 24 and he's just scored his 200th goal for Barcelona. He's won five La Liga titles, three Champions Leagues and is often called the best player of the generation. He is clearly sickeningly good at football.
So, from a mental perspective, why is he so damn good?
Messi is an incredibly calm person. He almost seems serene on the pitch. Officials at Barcelona say he meditates before and after a game. Is that important? I think so.
Some sportsmen believe in pumping themselves up before a big game, but as English football fans know this approach hasn't got the national team very far in recent international tournaments.
Relaxation techniques are scientifically proven to reduce stress. But more importantly, when Messi takes a few moments before a big game to relax, he will be increasing his awareness and his ability to be present. On the pitch, he's not thinking about the pressure of the moment, or what will happen if he misses, or the millions watching at home on TV. He's simply thinking about the present. And that is perhaps what allows him to showcase his skills so effectively.
There is one other factor. Messi's manager is the forward-thinking Pep Guardiola, a man who is very much said to indulge Messi and his genius. Tea-cup-throwing old-school English managers take note.
So how to relax like Messi?
- Messi doesn't need pumping up, and nor do most sportsmen. You need bringing down before a game, to a state where you can perform as well as you do on the training ground. Any golfer who's shanked one wide right on the first tee can confirm this.
- Do a relaxation technique like this or this before your next match, and if you're really serious about it, maybe do this.
- Remember this quote: "The victory can often go to the one who wants it less: the one who can take competition in his stride, with relaxed muscles and mind." (Simon Barnes)
Perhaps before the next major tournament England's footballers should indulge in a bit of Lionel-style zen preparation. But somehow one suspects there'll be more tub-thumping, Winston Churchill-style speeches, and even the fatal, "this is our last big chance as a group at a major tournament."
Which is precisely the opposite of Lionel's way...