By Gino Blefari
“The best investment you can make is an investment in yourself.” – Warren Buffett
This week my travels found me first in Minneapolis for the Berkshire Hathaway Energy tech review meeting then on Tuesday night through Thursday morning with HomeServices of Nebraska speaking to the leadership team about the West Coast Offense for running a real estate brokerage. I also presented to employees and agents on creating a positive mindset and routine for success.
Today I write to you on my way to Florida, preparing to meet in Coral Gables with the leadership team at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices EWM Realty, led by president and CEO Ron Shuffield. During our meeting, we’ll be joined via Skype by the leadership team at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Network Realty, including Christy Budnick, brokerage president and CEO, and Chairman Linda Sherrer. From Coral Gables I’ll head to Ft. Lauderdale, to speak with Rei Mesa, president and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Realty, and his leadership team.
From the official opening weekend of football to the closing matches of the U.S. Open, news this week has been filled with exciting sports highlights. I’ve been an avid sports fan my entire life, and I believe the lessons learned from sports, and in particular, from world-class athletes can teach us so much about life and leadership.
Sports also turns on the idea of meritocracy, a word former Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Tony Romo used in a now-famous November 2016 speech about an injury that kept him sidelined for the season: “Football is a meritocracy,” he said. “You aren’t handed anything.” In sports, your accomplishments are based purely on merit; not who you know, not what your background or experience might be. You play because you deserve to be in the game.
As one example of an inspiring sports champion, let’s examine Rafael Nadal, who used every bit of his athletic prowess Sunday afternoon to defeat Daniil Medvedev in an intense, unforgettable five-set stunner to secure the 2019 U.S. Open title; a win that marked his 19th Grand Slam.
From Nadal we learn to push past the impossible, and the value of intense preparation to succeed. The 33-year-old is arguably playing stronger and with more focus than he ever has in his entire career. Yet on paper, the odds are firmly against Nadal. SB Nation reports men peak in their tennis performance just after age 23, and Nadal is ten years past his alleged prime. He went pro in 2001 at the age of 15, winning his first ATP Tour-level match just a few months before his 16th birthday. Typically for players who experience such early success, the curve toward burnout is much more dramatic. In Nadal’s case, his teenage triumphs only fueled his drive to improve. And if all that wasn’t enough stacked against him, over the course of his long career Nadal has had to overcome serious injuries to his wrist, hips, back and knees. Even with these debilitating setbacks, after each injury, he not only came back stronger, but also came back and continued to win. Tennis longevity seems to be firmly entrenched in his legacy, and much of it is because he continues to put in the work and evolve.
Writing for The New York Times, sports reporter Kurt Streeter said this about Nadal’s winning ways: “Take in enough sessions [at the U.S. Open’s practice courts] and it quickly becomes clear that nobody else treats practice with Nadal’s unquenchable seriousness.” While many competitors run through the routines at half speed or three quarters of their capacity, Nadal plays full out even when it doesn’t count, even on the practice court. As Streeter described, “It takes just two or three minutes of easy hitting before his groundstrokes begin catapulting off his Babolat racket with a remarkable urgency.”
His routine is uncomplicated but unrelenting in its regularity. Nadal practices groundstrokes, serves and volleys no matter what, and views each ball as a chance to better his game … and himself. This type of mindset, marked by the concept that we should exist in a state of continuous improvement, is what differentiates a could-be champion from an against-all-odds winner like Nadal.
And on the exact day Nadal was hard at work claiming his U.S. Open title, another superior athlete, Tom Brady, quarterback for the New England Patriots and six-time Super Bowl Champion, was breaking records of his own. This past Sunday, for the first time in his 20-year career, Brady could say he played a regular-season game against both a father and a son. In 2001, during Brady’s first year as a starter, the Patriots beat the Cleveland Browns 27-16 in a December game that saw Devin Bush Sr. as the Browns’ starting safety. On Sunday, Brady and his Patriots faced – and defeated – the Steelers in a 33-3 season-opening victory. Playing for the Steelers was first-round pick and son of Devin Bush Sr., linebacker Devin Bush Jr.
Brady’s 2019 season was recently described as “uncharted territory” by ESPN. No other 42-year-old position player has ever started all 16 games in the NFL. According to the NFL Players Association, the average career length in the NFL is 3.3 years; Brady is going on his 20th season. And like Nadal, the odds were against him. Brady’s rise to greatness had a not-so-great start. His career with the Patriots began in 2000 as the NFL’s 199th draft pick. If you do the math, this means he was passed over by every other team in the NFL at least four, five or even six times. In fact, NFL Network sportscaster and my friend Steve Mariucci would probably still be coaching my beloved San Francisco 49ers had they not passed over Brady. When the Patriots won Super Bowl LIII this year, Brady earned his sixth Super Bowl title and became the first player in the history of the NFL to have won six Super Bowls.
While there is no one reason to account for the superstar’s permanence, there are many aspects of his lifestyle and mindset that collectively contribute to an incredible career. His diet consists of eating organic, locally grown, seasonal food over anything processed. During the off-season, he trains in the Bahamas and starts every morning at 5:30 with a berry-and-banana smoothie. (This early start reminds me of my own ritual, waking up and walking to Starbucks with my dog, Kona, for the Berkshire Hathaway Energy Presidents’ Meeting Call, which happens at 4:30 a.m. PT every Tuesday, or if schedules conflict, on Monday.)
During his off-season days, Brady improves his speed, agility and core stability with workouts that consist of movement drills like squats, lunges, planks and shoulder exercises. He’s an advocate for mindful living, reading and re-reading The Four Agreements: A Guide to Personal Freedom by don Miguel Ruiz. Like Nadal, he’s a staunch advocate for intense preparation. He also understands preparation is not just physical and a positive mindset is crucial for peak performance.
So, what’s the message? In his documentary, “Tom vs. Time,” Brady said: “If you want to perform at the highest level, you have to prepare at the highest level mentally.” He labelled his lifelong mindset as a matter of “will over skill,” an apt description both for his career and the career of anyone who rises to greatness in any sport or any industry. Brady and Nadal are living proof that success does not come easy and it certainly can’t last without an uncompromising personal and professional commitment to becoming better, even for those who are already the best.