Yesterday, I had a chance to talk with Tom Brady, Sr. in his Boston office. Yes, that Tom Brady. Father of New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady.
It was actually the second time I had had a chance to talk with Tom. The first time was at a seminar in Harvard Square a year or two back in which he was on the panel. This time we had a chance to talk at length. I came away with a much better understanding of the "recipe" he used in raising a super hero: not only an elite athlete, but a wonderful person, too.
Because the interview was actually for inclusion in my second book, I will save most of our conversation for later. But, for now, I want to share Tom Senior's thoughts on the question of parents who interfere with their child's coach, a subject on which I written a blog last week. In particular, I wanted to know what a father of one of the best quarterbacks of all time (Joe Montana fans might beg to differ) did when he disagreed with his son's coach (By way of background, although Tom volunteered as an athletic director at his children's school and did his fair share of coaching his kids' teams, especially his daughters in softball, he never coached football).
What I wanted to know was whether he ever lost his cool with one of Tommy's football coaches? Did he ever complain to the coach that he wasn't getting enough playing time or suggest that Tommy be given a chance to play different positions? I wanted to know what he did to keep Tommy motivated, especially during his college days at the University of Michigan.
Tom told me that not once during Tommy's football career - from the time he began as a fourteen-year-old high school freshman, all the way through his college years at Michigan - did he "ever advocate on behalf of Tommy. I never spoke to the coaches when something was bothering him. They would never have taken my advice, so why even bother. They had their own plans, and I was not going to change them, so I let it go. Instead, I provided encouragement. Lots of encouragement."
But what about the Saturdays watching Tommy sit on the bench in Michigan Stadium? Tom said he reminded Tommy that his decision to go to Ann Arbor was his alone (he didn't even go with Tommy on recruiting visits). "It's your decision," he said. "I don't want to have to tell you where you will be happy. Pick a college where, if you end up not playing football, at least you will be proud of the education you received."
So, when Tommy came to his dad in his sophomore year wanting to quit the program and look for another team, his father didn't talk to the coach to complain. He just told Tommy, "I will back your decision. This is up to you." Ultimately, after talking to then-head coach, Lloyd Carr, Tommy ended up staying for all four years. Which is not to say that Tom doesn't have an opinion about the way Tommy was coached, but to this day, he still hasn't "told [Carr] what he thinks about the way he coached his son."
For anyone who hasn't had the pleasure of meeting Tom, the best way I can describe him is as a big teddy bear of a man. It was refreshing to listen to him talk about the different ways he made a difference in his children's lives, lessons I will save for future blogs and for my book.
But for now, the message I want to impart to sports parents is this: many of the most important lessons your kids will learn while playing sports have nothing to do with sports; it is through understanding and appreciating everything else that is happening around them, and in learning and growing as people, and how to make their own way in a very competitive world.
As I have written many times, often times the best thing a sports parent can do is nothing, not to fight their kid's battles for them, not to interfere.
Could it be that Tom Brady, Senior's hands-off attitude towards his son's college football coach played a part in Tommy's success, both on and off the field?
Might it be that a parent who pesters their child's coach for more playing time - the kind of interference that drives coaches, even successful ones, to quit in the middle of a season, like the one I wrote about last week from Michigan, ironically) - is doing exactly the opposite of what actually is best for their child?
In fact, unless it is a matter of their child's physical, emotional or sexual safety, doing nothing may actually end up not only helping your child learn an important life lesson, but perhaps help him punch his ticket to the Super Bowl.
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