Cristiano Ronaldo: Finding the ingredients to be a top performer

Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo (Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro): transferred from Manchester United to Real Madrid for 80 million pounds in 2009, making him the most expensive player in the world at that time. Winner of 3 Fifa World Player and 16 professional competitions with 500 goals to his name, history will remember him as one the greatest football players to have ever lived.

But it wasn’t always that way.

Football is full of exciting young players given all the opportunities to excel but squander it away. An English player who was once an exciting young prospect recently signed to play for the S-League. What makes a one athlete a top performer and another an also-ran?

The key it seems is a professional, scientific approach to self-improvement. Cristiano is my favorite player because you can see the incredible work he did to improve all aspects of his game..

Analyzing what a “top performer” means

Football emphasizes being able to score and create goals far more than preventing goals from being scored. To become a player that is worth 80 million pounds, you have to be someone who can score and create goals.

I remember when Ronaldo was regarded as a cocky, preening teenager at Manchester United. He was thin, weak looking and tumbled like a ballerina at the slightest touch. He had some promise but he was still a longggg way off the player we see today.

Ronaldo understood that being able to score more goals was what mattered in a low scoring game like football. So, he dedicated himself to improving every aspect of goal scoring. It seemed like he could do something new to score goals every time he took to the pitch in his formative years..

From a rather simple show-boating merchant that fell over every he was touched, he quickly learnt that you couldn’t score if you’re on the floor all the time. He took that into account and bulked up considerably so he could hold off defenders and get more time to shoot at goal.

He went from this:

18 year old Ronaldo

To this:


And he didn’t just stop there.

He mastered shooting at goal with both feet and taking long range shots.

He worked on his jumping and heading capabilities to the point that he could jump higher than a professional NBA player to gain an edge when heading a ball into the net. It doesn’t matter if you score with your feet or head, a goal is a goal.

He mastered scoring from all sorts of different situations, and it’s down to understanding what was needed and working scientifically to improve his abilities. It’s most evident from the way he scores from free-kicks.

Look at this video, as he paces off the exact number of steps to take before smashing the ball. This is something that nobody did before him. He’s eliminating as many variables in striking a ball as possible, memorizing the same exact number of steps he needs to take to score a a free-kick.

What are our take-aways?

For Ronaldo, he understood that to become the best football player in the world, he needed to master scoring goals with every waking moment. He didn’t waste them on other skills not focused around scoring goals.

How much time do dedicate to finding out what matters in our careers?

Becoming a top performer is based around find high leverage activities. These are activities that will yield the most results when polished. Like goal scoring in football. To do that, we have to find out what those activities are first. Too many self-improvement books emphasize on getting started but they never focus on what to get started on.

If you spend time working on the wrong things, hard work alone won’t get you anywhere. If Ronaldo had worked on any other skills not dedicated to scoring and creating goals, he never would have been an 80 million pound player.

Imagine if tomorrow you had an idea about starting a business around lawn mowing in Singapore, you built your website, worked on your conversion funnels and used the best, tested marketing techniques. You worked hard on all the skills you need to build a successful Internet business but your business will probably fail as there aren’t any lawns to mow in Singapore.

I’m a 9-6 employee like you, and I understand it’s hard to quantify your contributions to your company but you need to find out the hidden language that your company uses to evaluate top performers. It’s different for every company and position.

It might not be what you think

Cal Newport, described in a post in 2013, on what matters and what doesn’t in achieving tenure. He had just joined the faculty at Georgetown and wanted to know how people excelled in academic positions.

His experiment had a clear result: paper citations rule all.

Before he did this, he though that things like the quantity of publications you are featured in and the originality of the problems studied were important. It turned out that they didn’t matter at all.

Speaking with the other top performers is not enough

One of the first things you should do is talking to other top performers around your firm. Bring them out to coffee. Ask them what they view as important in the company. But this is not enough. Because more likely than not, you’ll hear answers like “set goals with your manager and have regular check-ins blah blah.”

Vague and rather generic sounding. It’s not that they don’t want to help. It’s just that top performers often don’t know what makes them great. You need to make your own observations and study a large enough sample that you start to hear the same phrases.

The Hidden Language of your company

At my company, I’ve recently uncovered the language that top performers use. They talk about the value they’ve created for the company. This comes from the projects they have undertaken. It’s not too shocking that a for-profit company talks about creating value. But I work in technology, not sales, so how do I quantify value?

Fairly easy in fact. Technology projects should only be undertaken when it a) saves time or money, b) creates additional sales. I’ve undertaken projects which helps my company comply with financial regulations. My value created can be expressed in terms of what it would cost the company not to comply to these regulations. Will they be fined? Will there be an embargo?

I can quantify my value based on the savings I am generating.

What’s your company’s hidden language?

The language of success varies from company to company. So it’s hard to just copy what I’ve told you. The language can vary according your company culture and demographic make-up. That’s why you have to do your own research.

Take your fellow top performers out to coffee. You will be joining their ranks soon!

What words are used more by these people? Watch out for the words they use to describe their work. This will give you insight far beyond what they are saying on the surface.

What’s the hidden language in your field?

PS: For more analysis of top performers:

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