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The Inner Game

And the Books of Champions

On January 19, 3 days before the AFC Championships and a few weeks before the Super Bowl, Tom Brady posted an expert from this book on his Instagram.

A book about tennis???

Not exactly, here's what the book is really about...

"In every human endeavor there are two arenas of engagement: the outer and the inner. The outer game is played on an external arena to overcome external obstacles to reach an external goal. The inner game takes place within the mind of the player and is played against such obstacles as fear, self-doubt, lapses in focus, and limiting concepts or assumptions. The Inner Game is a proven method to overcome the self-imposed obstacles that prevent an individual or team from accessing their full potential." -Tim Gallwey

I ran a business training the weekend after the Super Bowl, and thought that with the epic comeback fresh in everyone's mind, working Tom Brady and some Inner Game advice into my speeches would be fun. Brady after all is now the "greatest QB of all-time." I didn't really know anything about Brady or the Patriots, so I did a deep dive, and learned some pretty interesting stuff...

Brady Fun Facts

  • He’s from San Mateo, CA.
  • As a freshman at Michigan, he was seventh in the depth chart, and hired a sports psychologist to help him cope with frustration and anxiety.
  • As a senior at Michigan, he led multiple 4th quarter comebacks, including a last minute winning drive against rival Ohio State, and an overtime win in the Orange Bowl against Alabama, earning him the the moniker of "Comeback Kid”.
  • Brady was selected with the #199 overall pick, in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft. He and his family had believed that Brady would be drafted in the second or third round; they watched the draft on TV, stunned as six other quarterbacks were drafted before him. Brady was so embarrassed that he briefly left the family home during the sixth round, and cried when recalling the experience for an interview 11 years later.
  • Scout reports said he couldn’t throw a tight spiral, he was slow and wasn’t nimble in the pocket, and overall scored horrible on most tests...

It's easy to see in retrospect, but the one big thing that every team missed was “heart.” Tom was the "Comeback Kid" in college, but comebacks didn’t matter in the scout’s reports, and there is no category for “heart.”

Tom Brady now has the #1 most post-season comebacks, and the #1 most game-winning drives of all-time, 2 categories that in my opinion require “heart” much more than skill.

After a post-midnight viewing of the "Do Your Job" documentary about the Patriots 2014 season (I highly recommend you watch it), I realized that there are just so many gems here, not just with Brady, but with Belichick too and the whole Patriots organization.

The 2014 season ended with the Patriots winning the Super Bowl against the Seahawks... you guessed it... in a dramatic 4th quarter comeback. The entire 2014 Patriots season was interesting... this was the year of Deflategate. The season started super rough with a 2-2 record, and getting absolutely killed by the Chiefs 41-14 in game 4. The media dramatically reacted with headlines like "The End of the Brady-Belichick Era." Bill Belichick had a very different reaction to their loss to the Chiefs...

The Book on Stoicism that is taking the NFL by storm

Sport Illustrated released an article at the end of 2015 called The Book on Stoicism that is taking the NFL by storm. It's about a book by Ryan Holiday called The Obstacle is the Way. I read the book in the summer of 2015, and had since then heard that it was popular with NFL teams like the Patriots and the Seahawks. But after watching the most recent Super Bowl, and the "Do Your Job" documentary, and the "On To Cincinnati" clip, it started to make a lot more sense how stoicism fits in..

Here are a few lines from the SI article...

Athletes and the people who coach them may be unfamiliar with stoicism, but they are stoics. They endure pain or hardship without feeling or complaint. They control what they can control. They talk ad nauseam about controlling only what they can control. They’re on to Cincinnati. They stay in the moment, and take things one game at a time. And by doing that, they are voicing a philosophy—living a philosophy, training under a philosophy—without knowing of or understanding it.

“Stoicism as a philosophy is really about the mental game,” Holiday said. “It’s not a set of ethics or principles. It’s a collection of spiritual exercises designed to help people through the difficulty of life. To focus on managing emotion; specifically, non-helpful emotion.

“Stoicism is the distinction between what you can control and what you can’t,” Holiday said. “That’s probably the hardest idea of pro sports—that you have to detach yourself from the results and focus exclusively on what you do and do it well. You can’t get mad about missing the shot, or losing a game, or calls that went against you. You have to focus on what you were supposed to do and whether you did it right.”

That’s why the book spread so far throughout the sports world. It applied, even, to the team that won the Super Bowl last February (the Patriots) and the team that lost it (the Seahawks). Those teams approach football in vastly different ways. Pete Carroll, the Seahawks’ coach, encourages his players to speak out and speak up, while Belichick preaches conformity; Carroll listens to hip hop and chews gum and preaches to his players; Belichick is so dour that he when he smiles, it’s news. But both center the way they coach on their approach and the consistency of whatever approach they use. In that way, they’re the same. -They’re both stoics.

The Little-known Book that Shaped the Minds of Steve Kerr and Pete Carroll

So back to the book that Brady quoted before the AFC Championship, The Inner Game of Tennis. An article was written about it in mid-2016, also from Sports Illustrated, and is titled The little-known book that shaped the minds of Steve Kerr and Pete Carroll. Pete Carroll read this book back in the 70s and it has been a part of his coaching philosophy ever since. Steve Kerr has hit some of the most clutch 3 pointers of all-time as a basketball player, so it shouldn't be a surprise he re-read this book through his years as a player, and consistently gives it out now as Warrior's coach.

It's like Brady was reading this book, mentally preparing himself for the 2 biggest games of the year, maybe of his career.

Brady played a solid inner game. One of the concepts in the book is "Performance = Potential - Interference." It's about limiting the self-interference, and getting out of your own way. Forget about what happened in the first quarter, forget about the last 2 plays, and don't think what will happen if you make a mistake on the next play. To silence the chatter in your mind, you need to be in the present moment, be mindful. Brady was in the zone.

It was like Brady hit the delete button after this interception and missed tackle. Having an effective delete button is part of the inner game.

All of this applies to business as well. Business also has 2 games. The external game, which deals with clients and involves the ability to market and sell and solve problems. And the inner game, which involves overcoming self-doubt and getting out of your own way.

And if coaches and athletes are reading books like The Obstacle is the Way and The Inner Game of Tennis, and making the mental side of performance a focus, then business people should do the same.

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