By Gino Blefari
This week my travels find me first in Northern California and next in Phoenix, where I’m preparing for the upcoming Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices 2017 Sales Convention. Our theme for convention is “Unleashing Your Potential,” and the topic was very much on my mind as I watched the NFL Combine this week.
The event, this year held Feb. 28 – March 6, brings together more than 300 of the best college football players from across the nation to participate in the National Invitational Camp in Indiananapolis, IN. Top executives, coaching staffs, player personnel departments and medical personnel from all 32 NFL teams are in attendance and evaluate the players ahead of the upcoming NFL Draft. The NFL Combine is basically an intense, physical and mental grind, a four-day job interview for these hopeful athletes and a critical step in helping them achieve their dream of playing in the NFL.
Over the course of four days, players are measured on very specific tasks: How long their vertical jump is, how far they can broad jump, the speed at which they run a 40-yard dash, how much they can bench press. For instance, this year, NFL hopeful John Ross, wide receiver for the Washington Huskies, was the top-performer at the 40-yard dash, clocking in at an astounding 4.22 seconds. His incredible run broke the previous record in the 40, held by Arizona Cardinal’s running back Chris Johnson, who ran it in 4.24 seconds nine years ago. Another standout performer, Obi Melifonwu, (defensive back from University of Connecticut) practically defied gravity by jumping 11’9” in the broad jump.
When I think about the NFL Combine, I’m reminded of the concept of meritocracy, a word Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Tony Romo himself used in his now-famous November 2016 speech when he addressed the injury that kept him sidelined for the season. “Football is a meritocracy,” Romo said. “You aren’t handed anything.” In other words, your accomplishments are based purely on merit; not who you know, not what your background or experience is; you play because you deserve to be in the game.
Malcolm Gladwell is another famous proponent of meritocracies. In his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, he defines success as the end result of individuals—outliers who become the best in their industry, whether it be sports, science, business, music—because they put in incredible amounts of time and effort to achieve extraordinary results.
So, what’s the message? The idea that we achieve success not because of our innate talent but because we have talent yet keep working to improve gets us back to the NFL Combine. Yes, those athletes achieved astounding results and their athletic prowess is undeniable; however, the NFL Combine is just the start of their journey to the NFL. Next comes the real work; they have to prove they deserve to be on the field. Tom Brady, arguably the greatest quarterback of all time, put up miserable numbers in his combine. His 40 time stands as one of the slowest among active NFL starting quarterbacks at 5.28 seconds and he also struggled with his vertical jump reaching only 24.5 inches. Today, he’s a five-time Super Bowl Champion. Why? Because despite his dismal combine numbers, he prepared harder than anyone and worked every single day since he was drafted in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft to prove that it’s not just about how far you can jump or how fast you can run, it’s about how much heart you put into what you do to unleash your potential and win. The concept is reiterated by Gladwell who wrote, “To become an expert in something it takes 10,000 hours of practice. The closer psychologists look at the careers of outliers, the less important is innate talent and the more important is preparation.”