A week ago, I knew Tom Brady was a National Football League quarterback with a supermodel wife and an ambiguous affinity for Donald Trump. Now? I’m adopting his whole life philosophy.
At 6:30pm EST, Brady will compete with the New England Patriots, and against the Philadelphia Eagles, in the 52nd Super Bowl. If the Patriots are victorious, Brady would break his own Super Bowl records—he’s already won five of them, and been named MVP of four. Even if they lose, he could get another shot: Brady, 40, intends to play in the NFL for at least another five years. He’s pinning that confidence on a physical and mental performance plan devised with his his “body coach,” Alex Guerrero. It’s known as the TB12 method.
Success wasn’t always such a foregone conclusion. In The TB12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance, published in September, Brady describes himself as a mediocre high school football player, and says he was told early and often that he didn’t have the right body for the game. When drafted to the Patriots in 2000, he was the 199th pick. ”[If] you do the math,” he writes, “that means that I was passed over by every team in the NFL somewhere between four and six times.”
Brady credits his career longevity to the TB12 method, which in one word constitutes pliability (truly; this word appears 472 times in The TB12 Method). Defined as ”targeted, deep-force muscle work that lengthens and softens muscles at the same time those muscles are rhythmically contracted and relaxed,” pliability is the central thesis around which TB12 is built. But it’s not the only thesis. Here are a few less physical life lessons to take from one of football’s greatest.
Today, rumors abound of tension between Guerrero and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. When Brady was first introduced to Guerrero, he too was skeptical. He couldn’t imagine that the traditional cycle of play football, feel pain, ice the trouble spot, rest and repeat might be improved upon, especially by a guy combining eastern and western approaches (Guerrero studied traditional Chinese medicine in college). “Today, I look back and think, Thank God I did it differently,” Brady writes. “Thank God I had the courage to step outside the conventional wisdom. Thank God I followed what my heart, mind, and body were always telling me—that the things we were working on would allow me to do things that I always wanted to accomplish in my sports.”
Contrary to what one might expect, Brady talks more about being bad at football than good at it. He describes himself as an athletic “late bloomer” and says what he remembers most about playing in high school is “how so many of the teammates I played alongside were just plain better than I was—faster, stronger, with supernatural physical abilities.” Even when the Patriots drafted Brady in 2000, it was in the sixth round, and after a scouting report that included conclusions like “a system-type player who’s not what you’re looking for in terms of physical stature, strength, arm strength, and mobility.” Seventeen years later, Brady owns just about every Super Bowl record. He says he tackled those obstacles with drive, desire, and a ton of hard work.
Guerrero is just one of Brady’s mentors; throughout The TB1 Method, he mentions people who gave him new ideas or approaches, or were simply there to support him. “[I] would seek out every last bit of extra help I could get,” he writes, “from coaches, trainers, and basically anyone who pushed me to push myself to the next level.”
Even after he made it onto the University of Michigan team, and later the Patriots, Brady knew that game play wasn’t guaranteed: He’d have to fight for every minute on the field. That starts with going as hard during practice as you would for the real thing. “I thought: If I don’t treat practice like a game, there’s no way the coaches will let me play in an actual game,” Brady writes. “So I’m always going to treat practice like a game. It’s a rule I still live by today.” (This, by the way, also applies for victory dances. Celebrate practice touchdowns like they’re the real thing, too.)
At one point in The TB12 Method, Brady reflects on a conversation he witnessed between University of Michigan sports psychologist Greg Harden and former tailback Desmond Howard (who would go on to play for the Washington Redskins and Green Bay Packers).
“One time Desmond came into Greg’s office and said, ‘Greg, I’m never getting the ball thrown to the right place. I’m always breaking my routes, the ball is all over the place, and I’m being forced to make all these diving catches.’ Greg’s response was ‘You know what, Desmond? That’s why you’re Desmond Howard. Desmond Howard can make all those diving, one-handed catches no one else can make. If the quarterback was on the money all day long, every single play, no one would have a chance to see what you can really do.’ Those words have always stayed with me. And the lesson was, when things don’t go your way—or rather, what you don’t think is your way—there can be a variety of opportunities that may not be obvious in the moment but that through hard work, preparation, and persistence can present themselves over time and make you better.”
During his final season at Michigan, there was a lot of public pressure for Brady to share or even cede the starting QB position to Drew Henson, a high-rated recruit who had passed on playing baseball with the Yankees to play college football. Henson hadn’t seen much game time in the previous season, his first on the team, so this time around, then head coach Lloyd Carr came up with a solution: He would rotate the two quarterbacks, often by having Brady play the first quarter, Henson take the second, and deciding at halftime who would play the second half. Of that season, Brady writes now: “Learning how to fight for what I wanted was a great experience.”
The TB12 Method isn’t all motivational talking points and exhortations to care for your muscles. Brady is also a firm believer in bioenergetic apparel and sleepwear. “To me, tech-enabled apparel and sleepwear isn’t all that different from virtual reality,” he writes, ” meaning that what seemed far-fetched a few years ago will soon become part of the mainstream.” (Naturally, TB12 sells such apparel through Under Armour.)
There are, of course, a slew of physical tenets of the TB12 method that I’m glossing over here, all of which seem quite logical and sound. Stretch more, prepare for injury instead of just reacting to it, eat better, drink water, use moderation and good judgment, focus on how you feel (versus how you look), limit the load you put on your joints, do things that promote blood flow, take vitamins, try some brain exercises, and rest. I just consider myself a connoisseur of life advice—and sleepwear—over athletic guidance. Regardless of your relationship with exercise, Brady’s philosophy of physical and mental wellness, hard work, and humility seems a recipe for success.
Because victory isn’t securing your sixth Super Bowl win (though, it is also that). In The TB12 Method, Brady quotes a definition of success shared by legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden: It’s “the peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best of which you are capable.” By that metric, Brady already has Super Bowl 52 all sewn up.