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2014 FIFA World Cup Soccer Fitness Preview: Argentina – Maradona vs. Messi and the 10,000 Hour Rule in Action

Because this is a World Cup year, I have decided to countdown to the tournament by providing a short soccer/fitness related preview of each of the 32 participating nations. In this installment, I will look at Argentina, 2-time World Cup champions, who finished first in their CONMEBOL (South American) qualification tournament. Argentina have drawn in a group that includes Nigeria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Iran, and they play their first match against Bosnia-Herzegovina on June 15th.

Much of the media coverage of the Argentinian National team in the past 8 years has centred around Leo Messi, the star of the team and generally considered one of the best and most talented players in the world. Messi is frequently compared to another Argentinian star from 30 years ago, Diego Maradona, who some soccer fans and critics still consider to be the greatest player of all time (the attached video shows a great comparison of the two players’ best highlights). Messi and Maradona have much more in common than just being star players for the Argentinian team; they are physically similar (short in stature but exceptionally fast and agile); they have the same unique skill set (including world class dribbling, passing and ball striking ability); and they even play in the same position (striker/attacking midfielder) and wear the same number (10) on the pitch.

One other attribute shared by both Messi and Maradona (and the main reason they developed into the players they are) is the amount of time they spent practicing and training as youth players. In Maradona’s autobiography (“Maradona”) he discusses spending “5-6 hours per day playing on the streets with los cebolitos” (his youth team). Similarly, Messi has spoken in several different interviews about how he practiced (and still practices) every day, for hours at a time. All of these hours have, over time, accumulated to over 10,000 total practice hours, which several leading authors and sports science researchers have suggested is the threshold number of practice hours required to become an expert in a given field, including sports.

The one accolade that has eluded Messi thus far in his career has been the title of World Cup Champion (his counterpart, Maradona, was the key player in Argentina’s last World Cup triumph in 1986). This year, with the team playing close to home on South American soil, could be the year that Messi’s 10,000 hours of dedicated practice finally pay off at the World Cup. We will have to wait and see what happens in 1 month’s time.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

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