Working Smarter and Focusing on Fundamentals: Lessons from Tom Brady

From yesterday’s profile of Tom Brady on

“There’s nobody like this guy in the league,” [Rex] Ryan once said of [Peyton] Manning. “Nobody studies like him. I know Brady thinks he does. I think there’s probably a little more help with [Bill] Belichick with Brady than there is with Peyton Manning.”

Told another time by reporters that Brady attended a Broadway show instead of watching the Jets-Colts playoff game that would determine New England’s next opponent, Ryan quipped, “Peyton Manning would have been watching our game.”

What Ryan and others have never seemed to grasp, one of Brady’s former teammates explains, is that Brady has always been smart enough to accept that it’s impossible to know everything. That’s why he’s the best postseason quarterback of all time. (Brady holds the record for most playoff wins, yards and touchdowns.) That’s why he obsesses over the simple fundamentals of playing catch, drilling for hours and hours in the offseason with guys like Edelman and former teammate Wes Welker on stuff as basic as ball position and splits. A player can study film and look at 10,000 formations on an iPad for as many hours as the eyes and the brain will allow. But ultimately, the human mind is not a computer. Overthinking in tense moments, trying to decode a defense like it’s a sudoku puzzle, is the perfect recipe for hesitation and panic.

“You know, Brady probably doesn’t watch as much film as Manning, and that’s OK,” said Brady’s former teammate. “You know why? Because he’s got coaches that are watching just as much film as [Manning] is. What Brady gets is that he’s the only guy who understands exactly what’s going on down on the field. So when Josh McDaniels calls a certain play, Brady is thinking: ‘I know exactly why he called that play. I know exactly what my read is on this.’ Brady’s genius is that he understands delegation. He trusts the people around him.”

2 replies to “Working Smarter and Focusing on Fundamentals: Lessons from Tom Brady”

  1. It's an interesting point about delegating up or sideways that doesn't get made very often. I like the idea that it's the coach's job to try to analyze and predict the game, while the QB has to act on moment to moment changes. Trying to make up for someone else's role on a team doesn't help the team nearly as much as excelling at your specific responsibilities, especially when those other team members learn to rely on your pitching in rather than being fully accountable for their parts. Of course, it's hard not to jump in when you see something that needs doing. I find myself not walking the walk in this respect all the time.

    1. I generally agree, but I think there's a balance. On my teams, we have the principle (stolen from restaurant kitchens) of, "Everyone works the line." It means that everybody understands all the roles in the "kitchen" and is capable of filling them if necessary. This isn't just useful from a versatility standpoint, it's also important from a "mindmeld" standpoint. In other words, I can better complement if I understand your role deeply and if I can get into your head a bit.

      The challenge, as always, is striking the right balance. This article suggests that Tom Brady strikes a better balance than Peyton Manning does in this regard, but if we're using those two as case studies to decide this, we're truly grasping at straws. Both approaches are great if either of those two is your quarterback.

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