This past weekend, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots continued the most incredible run of dominance in the history of American professional sports. Unlike other sports, the National Football League is designed for parity, striving to give each team a chance to compete for a championship. The salary cap, contract regulations, draft order, everything is designed to prevent one team from continuously dominating the rest of the league. Clearly, the Patriots don’t know the meaning of “parity,” as they’ll play the LA Rams in the the Super Bowl – their 3rd straight appearance, fourth in the last five years, and their 9th trip to the big game under Head Coach Bill Belichick and Quarterback Tom Brady.
Let’s discuss the aspect of these performances game after game, year after year, that is not up for conjecture – the mental fortitude of Tom Brady, and what goes into his ability to execute at such a high level with great consistency.
Brady is not the biggest, strongest, or fastest quarterback. He’s not, on average, the most accurate nor does he have the best arm strength. So how is he 207-60 in his career? How has he thrown 517 Touchdowns with just 171 Interceptions? How is he going to his 9th Super Bowl?
In a recent interview, Brady was asked if he still gets nervous before games. His answer was different from what we usually hear. He said he does get nervous, but not on gameday. He’s most nervous on Tuesday and Wednesday during the week when the team first starts practicing. As the week goes on, and he learns about his opponent, and knows what to expect, his nerves dissipate. Preparation equals confidence. Brady’s ability to prepare and know what he’s going to see, what his opponent is going to try to do, and his capacity for visualizing probable outcomes allows him to have supreme confidence in big situations.
2. Motivation/Emotional Regulation
Tom Brady is an emotional person. We’ve seen it throughout his career. In moments like last night, when he lets his guard down, we know some of the things that motivate him. On the field after the win, Brady hugged Chris Hogan and yelled, “Just remember, I’m too old, you’re too slow, we have no skill-position players. We’ve got no defense. We’ve got nothing. F – that!” The former backup QB at Michigan and 6th round draft pick plays with the largest chip on his shoulder of all time. Brady’s motivation, both external (being over-looked, being doubted, wanting to win a championship), and internal (wanting to be the best quarterback for his team, striving to get better, his love for competing), leads to a great deal of emotion for him. Tom is proficient at channeling that motivation into useful emotions that propel his performance. His fire and energy are palpable, and his teammates feed off of it.
3. Decision Making/Situational Awareness
We’ve discussed many times the three aspects of sport: Physical (how big, strong and fast you are), Tactical (Executing a scheme that gives you a competitive advantage), and Mental (confidence, emotional regulation, performing under pressure). But in all sports, maybe football in particular, it’s important to execute in a manner that the situation in the game calls for. For example, there’s completing an 8 yard pass, and then there’s completing an 8 yard pass on 3rd and 7. And then there’s completing an 8 yard pass on 3rd and 7 while down 4 points with one minute remaining. As the game goes on, executing in certain situations requires more than just physical or mental proficiency. It requires an incredible understanding about the nuances of the game. It’s not a coincidence that the Patriots always seem to have the ball last. It’s not a coincidence that they don’t make the mistakes that other teams do late in games. Even when they’ve been outplayed like they were in the Super Bowls against the Seahawks and Falcons, their superior execution of situational football, led by their coach and quarterback, is a huge reason for their consistent success.
While we don’t know what will happen when the Patriots play the Rams in the Super Bowl, we know that Tom Brady will be extremely prepared, and therefore confident. We know that he will channel his emotions in a productive way that allows him to handle the pressure of the game and perform at a high level. And we know the Patriots will be well-versed and ready to handle all of the situations that can arise during a football game, and execute their game-plan accordingly. And that’s quite a start.