I was watching the Champions League match last week between Manchester United and Aalborg, and was desperately wishing for United’s new striker Dimitar Berbatov to break his goal-scoring duck. As such, I was watching him closely throughout the match (and had been watching him closely since he signed). What disappointed me at first, was that unlike his team-mate Wayne Rooney (who was running all over the place trying to chase the ball down), Berbatov looked like he was having a casual Sunday stroll around the pitch. But when the ball came near him, he would spring into action with quite an amazing turn of speed. He went on to score two goals in the match – both of which required a high degree of alertness to pull off.
This got me thinking of other sportsmen I’ve seen succeed, and also those that have not lived up to their potential.
Roger Federer is another who looks like he’s tired and heavy headed as he walks between points. Like Berbatov, he springs into action as soon as the ball is served, and shows tremendous athleticism during his points. Even Cristiano Ronaldo, who darts around the pitch, walks away very gingerly after a passage of play.
On the other hand, there have been many sportsmen who have faded quickly from the top, or not achieved the heights that many thought they would. One of the reasons a sportsperson looks impressive in the first place is the high level of energy that they display from an early stage. But these athletes seem to suffer from burn-out and injuries more often.
From this, I have a theory (albeit not very revolutionary), that in order to be successful, a sportsperson needs to be able to pace themselves carefully in order to conserve as much energy as possible until they absolutely need it. There are parallels to this phenomenon in the natural world (from which I believe we can learn so much from). Looking at predatory animals such as lions, snakes, crocodiles and so on; we see that the last thing they do is to chase down their prey. Rather, it’s more of a tactical process in which they get themselves in to such a position that they have the highest probability possible of catching their prey before they commit to using up their energy in one burst.
There are things that all of us can draw from this too. As a civilisation where it has no longer become a struggle to find food every day (at least, for most of the developed world), we often become inefficient with our use of energy. The fact still remains however (and I have noticed this in myself), that we work best in bursts, taking regular rests and breaks in order to avoid over-exertion.