Whether you’re a Brady fan or not (and whether you care about sports or not) here are 12 key secrets to Brady’s success, each explained in under 100 words, and ranked more or less by how replicable they are:
1. He controls his emotions.
Losing control of your feelings is the fastest way to lose control of a critical situation. Brady is very emotional — but when it matters, it’s all about controlled emotion.
And when the game is over, he’s effusive. (Here’s what I caught him doing after winning the Super Bowl in 2019.)
2. He adapts to win.
One of the least appreciated reasons why Brady has been able to endure, is that he has adapted the way he plays the game to accommodate his age.
One example: Early in his career, Brady was known for waiting for the perfect moment to make long, hard, accurate passes. In his 40s, however, he changed: faster, shorter passes, and more of them — which means less chance of being hit or injured by defensive players.
3. He works with friends.
Gallup says the most controversial question it asks in its employee engagement research is, “Do you have a best friend at work?“
Brady clearly does — to the point that when he signed with his new team, he convinced one of his best friends, Rob Gronkowski, who is also his most-successful on-field partner, to come out of retirement and play with him.
4. He prioritizes recruitment and retention.
We just saw a prime example of this–the degree to which Brady is able to lead players who are from an entirely different generation, and on the opposing team.
Take a look at what he did after his team beat the Washington Football Team in the first round of the playoffs — forging a relationship with Washington’s Chase Young. Was it instinctive? Or maybe it was strategic calculation: “You never know, I might be on a team at some point that needs a top-tier defensive end.”
5. He displays ostentatious humility.
Brady isn’t humble. In fact, here’s the hilarious thing told Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, the first time they met after the team drafted Brady in 2000: “I’m the best decision this organization has ever made.”
But, he knows now that some of his younger players literally grew up with his poster on their wall. So, he makes the first move. In fact, a number of players have said the first thing they ever heard Brady say was a simple greeting: “Hi, I’m Tom Brady.“
6. He achieves work-life balance.
Brady is maniacal about football, to the exclusion of almost everything except family, at least at least according to journalists who have spent a lot of time with him. It’s balance — but a balance between only two things.
“He would be the first to tell you that there is no more or less to his reality right now than the sport of football and his family,” wrote Ben Court of Men’s Health, after spending days with Brady in the Bahamas, “Whenever Brady talks about his family, which he does easily and without prompting, he comes to life, waving those long arms and breaking into laughter as he describes how each of his kids delights him.”
7. He thinks like an underdog.
How can you call the greatest quarterback in history an underdog? In fact, during the end of his tenure with the Patriots, Brady’s “brand” suffered because the Patriots not only weren’t underdogs; they acted as if they didn’t care what anyone else thought of them.
But having started over in Tampa, he managed to regain some of that. There’s more of an element now of the Brady who in 2000 wasn’t sure he had any chance of playing in the NFL, and was sending resumes for “regular” corporate jobs.
8. He develops more leaders.
If you look at Brady’s jersey, you’ll notice a patch with a gold “C” and four stars under it, representing that he’s a team captain — a role Brady had during 19 straight seasons with his prior team, too.
A great truism about great leaders is that they produce more leaders, not just followers. One legacy of that for Brady is the sheer number of other former Patriots players, who are now captains, too.
9. He makes strategic sacrifices.
During his first 18 in the NFL, Brady made about $197 million. It’s a lot of money, but he was not the highest paid quarterback in the league. In fact, an analysis suggested he left between $60 million and $100 million on the table during negotiations.
Why? According to this analysis, it was so his team could sign other top players, which improved the team’s odds of on-field success, and ultimately increased Brady’s value, too.
10. He sets quantifiable goals.
It’s one thing to say you want to be the greatest quarterback of all time. It’s another entirely to say, I want to be playing at age 45, and I want to win more Super Bowls than anyone else.
When he started with the Bucs this year, he was quoted saying he wanted to “elevate” the team–but also, quantifiably–win at least one Super Bowl with them.
11. He displays extreme dedication.
Beyond his on-the-field performance and his longevity, Brady is known for his intense, idiosyncratic preparation: long hours, extreme diet, and the unusual fitness routine he and his trainer and business partner Alex Guerrero have developed.
Beyond that, Brady recognizes that he has less natural talent than many pro quarterbacks, and so he has to make it up somewhere: “The only thing that I know,” he explained, “is to go out there and work at it. … I’m not buying into any hype or potential. I’m into work.”
12. He believes it will happen.
I saved this for last. It’s not sufficient on its own, but without it, nothing else would have happened. And I think it’s also the hardest key on this list.
Decades ago — when Brady was cut from the varsity team in high school, when he had to fight for playing time in college, when he watched 198 other players get picked ahead of him in the draft — he still seems to have believed it would all work out.
To the extent he’s wavered, he credits his wife, Gisele Bündchen, with restoring his belief: “In her mind, there are no boundaries,” he explained. “And you know what? She’s right. I’m the one that had to go, ‘You’re right!’ And that’s helped me grow.”
(As a reminder, the free ebook is: Tom Brady Always Wins.)