It’s funny how some words can take on a completely different meaning in the course of one generation. When I was a kid, if you spoke about a sports player who did something completely unforgivable that cost his team, he was a goat. Think Bill Buckner.
But today GOAT means the exact opposite – Greatest Of All Time. If you google “GOAT Sports” the image of Tom Brady shows up more than anyone else. More than Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Serena Williams or Wayne Gretzky – all GOATs in their own right.
Brady returns to the Super Bowl for the tenth time this year – nobody has ever come even close to that – and for a chance to win a seventh Super Bowl ring. So what can we learn from the GOAT among GOATs? Probably a lot, but here are four lessons:
Learn to Adapt. After spending 20 years with the New England Patriots, for the first time in his career Brady is playing on a different team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Brady epitomizes the truth that if you are good at something and have the flexibility to adjust, it doesn’t make a difference what setting you are in. Here is a man with a different team and, along with it, a different front-line protecting him, different receivers, different running backs, and different playing conditions – the heat of Tampa versus the frigid cold of New England – and yet he still succeeds. Somehow all these changes have not stopped him from rising to the top once again.
How often do we attribute our lack of success to being in an environment that we are not used to? Of blaming exterior factors to our inability to achieve? Brady had every excuse in the world to fail to reach the Super Bowl, especially missing Coach Bill Belichik, but he didn’t take them. All he did was continue his leadership and skill in a completely new setting and team. He worked with a whole new collection of mates to produce the same result – winning.
Poise: When I was watching the NFC championship game between the Green Bay Packers and Tampa, I was amazed at how calm, cool and collected Brady is. Even when so many players are flailing about and so much activity swirls around him – he stands in the pocket completely composed. His perfect passes that float through the air seem effortless in their delivery.
The Talmud says that, כל הדוחק את השעה השעה דוחקתו וכל הנדחה מפני השעה השעה עומדת לו Anyone who tries to force time, time forces him. But anyone who yields to time, time stands still for him. Ever notice how this is true with all great sports figures? They seem to operate, not at a faster pace than everyone else, but actually at a slower one. Brady, Gretzky, Federer – they are always so unruffled and their movements are so even, graceful and elegant.
We might not be superstar athletes but sometimes we experience this when we get in a “zone” and reach a state of flow where time seems to stand still. Everything slows down when we don’t force time but instead “be in the moment” as they say.
Family: Some very successful people achieve their huge accomplishments at the expense of having no personal or family life. Their family is often sacrificed on the altar of getting ahead in their field, or in this case on the field. Not so with Brady.
After spending days with Tom Brady in the Bahamas, Ben Court wrote in Men’s Health magazine: “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. 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.”
Judaism has always recognized that the most important institution to society’s well being is the family. We have mechanisms not to fall into the trap of forgetting family for career. Shabbat, the Jewish holidays and lifecycle events ensure that we not lose sight of the supreme importance of our loved ones. I am not sure if Brady makes Kiddush every week, but maybe his old boss, Robert Kraft conveyed to him this basic Jewish tenet.
Never stop believing in yourself – or in another. I know this sounds like a cliché, but it is all too true in Brady’s case. Brady was not born into greatness, he earned it. He was cut from the varsity team in high school, he had to fight for playing time in college, and 198 other players were picked ahead of him in the draft, six of whom were quarterbacks. (Those other six teams kick themselves till this day.) He had ample opportunity to mope or feel sorry for himself and pack it all in. But he didn’t.
How often do we see this in life – that someone who is overlooked ends up becoming super successful? Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) states, “Do not look down upon anyone for everybody has their hour.” Everyone has their time, it’s just that for some it arrives later, and usually when no one else is noticing.
King Saul, the first king of Israel, was described in Tanach as handsome and tall and looks like a total winner. But he ended up a dud and was impeached by God himself who, via His prophet, tells him to step aside and step down. On the other hand his successor, David was overlooked by everyone and not thought of as anything, yet ended up becoming the definitive King of Israel who we still sing about today at every happy occasion and who Jewish tradition teaches will give rise to the Mashiach/Messiah.
And so it goes, the underdog, the overlooked, the dark horse – in life so often they become the heroes and winners and take center stage. If quiet, composed, unobtrusive Tom Brady can become the GOAT at what he does, so can we. All we have to do is embody the same principles in life Brady has and we too can hold our trophy high when the Almighty helps us succeed.
I’ve taken my bows
And my curtain calls
You brought me fame and fortune, and everything that goes with it
I thank you all
But it’s been no bed of roses
No pleasure cruise
I consider it a challenge before the whole human race,
And I ain’t gonna lose
We are the champions, my friends
And we’ll keep on fighting ’til the end
We are the champions
We are the champions