Reflecting on Messi and Mbappe

I was reflecting on the recent football/soccer World Cup Final in Qatar. Argentina vs. France turned out to be among the best – if not the best – world cup finals ever.

If you didn’t catch it, it went from Argentina leading 2-0 in the 77th minute to France bringing it 2-2 within a space of 6 or so minutes. Argentina then scored 1 in extra-time only for France to equalize right at the end of extra-time. 3-3, then penalties, and then an Argentine victory.

However, a big part of the story was the genius of two players – Lionel Messi for Argentina and Kylian Mbappe for France. In this biggest of games, Messi scored 2 and Mbappe scored 3.

In some ways, it wasn’t surprising to see these two players steal the show. They’re the best in the world for a reason.

In other ways, however, it was still incredible in a game with more pressure and a weight of expectations than any other. Both teams likely had a game plan to deal with them – they had to have. And they still managed to rise above all of that – well above all of that – to bring their best.

I played competitive table tennis for a short period growing up. I learnt the game when I was older – so, my window to play competitively was short. By the time I started (~9th grade), kids who’d grown up playing had many years of practice and competition experience. But I played just enough to learn a few things about competitive sport.

One of the most valuable things I learnt from this experience was the difference between playing well in training and playing well in competition. It takes an absurd amount of practice to play anywhere close to way you’d play in training. Normally, it is not even close.

When you’re inexperienced, 9/10 performances in training show up as 5/10 performances in competition. As you become more experienced, the gap narrows.

I can only begin to imagine how hard it must be to show up the way Messi and Mbappe did in a world cup final.

It made me reflect about how I show up when the going gets tough / when the stakes are high. And it reminded about an idea from NBA All Star Damian Lillard – “If you want to look good in front of thousands, you have to outwork thousands in front of nobody.”

Messi and Mbappe do the work. There’s no doubt about that.

We can too.