For those of you who know me, it should be obvious that this post isn’t coming from a big Patriots fan.
In fact, despite being from New England I’m actually quite indifferent to all the success the Pats have had in the last 15 years.
But in watching this year’s Super Bowl, I couldn’t help but be amazed at the comeback this team made at a time when very few athletes at any level would have been able to pull off. As the chart below shows, they statistically had about a 1% chance of winning the game.
Something very special had to happen within that group of players and coaches, something that goes well beyond talent.
And within that there are, I think, some amazing lessons that younger athletes in any sport can learn about how to best approach athletic competition.
Specifically, many of those lessons come from team leader Tom Brady.
Of course, not being on the team or even being present at the game, the following conclusions have a decent amount of speculation attached to them. But the a series of direct quotes combined with what the field of sports psychology teaches makes it quite likely the following are all more likely true than false.
Lesson #1 – Stay In The Present
“I wasn’t thinking much; I was thinking – we’ve just got to score the touchdown,” the 39-year-old Brady added of trailing by such a big margin.
Coaches who teach the mental side of athletic performance to elite athletes, like DC Gonzalez, say the #1 key to achieving peak performance is to stay in the present moment. To be aware of your surroundings and to shut out all outside influences.
In his book “The Art Of Mental Training”, Gonzalez repeatedly encourages athletes not to think of anything other than what is taking place in the present moment. He encourages those who struggle with this, which is essentially every young athlete, to learn deep breathing techniques to re-center you on the here and now.
Brady kept his team in the moment. Athletes at all levels must learn to let go of a previous play, good or bad, and especially if that play may cause an emoitional reaction.
Lesson #2 – Play As If You Have Nothing To Lose
“Down 25 points, it’s hard to imagine us winning,” admitted Brady.
It’s almost like, in watching that game, that as soon as the score hit 28-3 a burden had been lifted on the Patriots sideline.
The burden of great expectations.
Everyone talked about dynasty, about being the greatest of all time, and a host of other things that would have been hard to believe if the Patriots lost.
Talk about having something to lose.
But once it got to the point where the lead was nearly insurmountable a funny thing happened, the Pats started playing better.
Athletes who are worried about losing the big game, playing time, or respect from coaches, parents and teammates are never going to be at their best.
The only true way to play at your best is to stay connected to your love of the game, and the joy of competition. Doing this allows you once again to stay tied to the present moment, where you can best get into the flow of the game.
Coaches and parents who see a drop in play from their team or child should be fully aware that it may be caused by an increase in pressure and should take steps to address this as soon as possible.
Lesson #3 – Treat Teammates Like Family
“James White is like my oldest son. He just does everything right and you can never get mad at him,” Brady said. “… I’m so proud of him.”
In a previous blog post we mentioned the power of feeling respected within a group. This is certainly on display with the Patriots organization, and this quote sums it up perfectly.
Talking about playing as a team is one thing, but players interact both on and off the field at all levels.
In those times off the field, does your team truly have a sense of family when it gets together? Does everyone feel respected within the group for their contributions?
When that is 100% true, everyone plays to a higher level because they are not just in it for themselves, they are in it for each other. And we all push a heck of a lot harder to help those we respect than we ever would for ourselves alone.
Lesson #4 – Whypower Is Stronger Than Willpower
Tom Brady Sr. said, “Tom puts everything he can into every single game. But this one, I heard he just said, ‘I’m winning this one for my mom.’
In anything you do, whether it is athletics, academics, or something else, when you have a strong reason for WHY you do something it makes it far easier to dig deep down to accomplish what some would consider impossible.
Author Darren Hardy coined the term WHYpower and states that those who try to accomplish something using willpower typically fail, because they’re not focused on why they are trying to accomplish it.
He uses an example of offering someone $20 to walk across a plank placed between the roofs of two skyscrapers. Most people would not take the risk for that reward, but if your child was trapped in a fire on the other rooftop the risk would now seem far less important. The difference is that your WHY just changed, so you can tap into a deeper power to do something you might otherwise shy away from.
There is so much power in having a strong reason to accomplish something. Teams who tap into that can do amazing things together.
Lesson #5 – Hard Work Makes Great Moments Possible
Bill Belichick: “This team worked harder than any other team I’ve coached.”
All coaches preach the value of hard work, and get frustrated when they don’t see their players working to their full potential.
But perhaps we should be honest with kids and tell them one simple truth – hard work doesn’t GUARANTEE success, but it does make great moments possible.
Kids should work hard without any expectations, but rather in knowing it gives them the chance to be great.
The truth is lots of people have worked hard and come up short. I’ll bet the Atlanta Falcons worked awfully hard this season too, but they did not get the great moment from their hard work.
Nothing diminishes hope for a brighter future than feeling you were denied something you earned. Hard work does not earn you anything more than a chance.
But when you combine hard work with a strong sense of team, a powerful why, and approach that revolves around the present moment and the love of the game, great things are far more likely to happen.