Over the course of his 20 years in the NFL, Tom Brady has appeared in 274 regular season games and an all-time best 40 playoff contests. Needless to say that the New England Patriots’ quarterback has a level of experience that is almost unparalleled in the league’s annals: Brady has seen it all, and along the way developed a routine that has allowed him to stay on the top of his game for the better part of two decades now.
How has he been able to do that? A key word he mentioned during a press conference on Tuesday when discussing his experience and the impact it has on his preparation was efficiency: “I’m pretty efficient with my time. Any time you have experience doing things like I do [...] you know what works, you know what doesn’t work. You just try to get to the things that work and that you know are going to be successful.”
Getting work done efficiently is arguably one of Brady’s most important skills, and it has allowed him to bring his preparatory process to perfection. No practice rep — either mentally or physically — is being wasted by the 42-year-old, something that becomes especially important during a week like this: the six-time world champion and his team will go up against the New York Giants on only three days of rest.
“I think there’s always a balance for a player between your mental preparation, your physical preparation, your emotional preparation and how you try to be at the peak for all three of those phases for the particular game that you’re playing,” said Brady. “You don’t have the physical time to practice, so mentally, you’ve got to take advantage of that, get your body right, be prepared and then go out and execute at a high level.”
Not every player has been through this process as often as Brady, of course, and he acknowledged that his vast experience certainly contributes to him being able to take this approach to preparing for a season and a game: “I’ve had a lot of practices. I mean, if I think probably 100 practices a year on average over the course — maybe more than that, 120 — times 20 years just professional, and all through high school, college.”
“Football, I would say, is very much like riding a bike for me now. I know what to do, I know where to look,” he continued when talking about his practice routine. “The practice is very important for me because it gives me confidence in what we’re doing. It helps me anticipate things with the players that I’m playing with. So, even though I maybe have done things, I still recognize that a lot of other players haven’t done those things.”
The 2019 Patriots are a good example of that. While Brady is the team’s most experienced player, only a handful of his offensive teammates have been with him for an extended period of time — including wide receivers Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater, running back James White, and offensive linemen Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney and Marcus Cannon. The rest of the group is mostly inexperienced when it comes to playing with the quarterback.
“My connection with [a player] is very important. Even though I’ve been doing it, the two of us need to do it together,” Brady pointed out. “You know, football is a very coordinated game. Everybody needs to be thinking the same thing, reacting the same way, anticipating in the same way, in order for it to be successful. That’s why us being out there as a unit is very important — practicing, executing in practice so you can build confidence.”
Over the years, he has gone through this process with a lot of teammates to a point where players such as Troy Brown, Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski have entered the so-called “circle of trust” — something not all Patriots pass catchers have been able to do effectively. The aforementioned Julian Edelman and James White certainly also belong in this group of players Brady has had a well-established connection with.
“Confidence builds trust and the trust leads to good execution when you’re out on the field,” he said. So even in year 20, the greatest quarterback of all time knows he needs to put the necessary work in to keep building relationships with his teammates and to find similar success like the one he has enjoyed with the Troy Browns and Rob Gronkowskis.