Fourth Grade Brain Research Lessons: Moving Beyond Tests Scores to an Appreciation of the Uniqueness of Every Student
Kevin Sheehan: Molloy College,
Rockville Centre, NY
We get only one chance to prepare our students for a future that none of us can
possibly predict. What are we going to do with that one chance?
The Leader in Me
As our week long summer institute on brain research and its implications for struggling learners drew to a close at Molloy College in Rockville Centre, NY, workshop participant, Jessica Kuehn, a fourth grade teacher from a neighboring elementary school, wore an expression of anxiety that was unmistakable. At the break, when I asked her what was troubling her, she shared the worry that some of the profiles of the struggling learners that we had discussed in our seminar dominated her class register for the coming fall were frightening even now in August.
As Dr. Seuss says so eloquently in the Grinch, Then he (we) got an idea…The Grinch got a wonderful, *awful* idea! The idea we had was “awe” “full” and not awful, but it was definitely wonderful. What if Miss Kuehn’s fourth grade students could be provided with the same instruction on brain functions on an elementary level that their teacher had experienced in the weeklong seminar? Would knowledge of how the brain works and insights concerning the wonderful, unique characteristics of each brain make students feel better about their own individual and sometimes struggling brains? Would the knowledge that all brains are good at some things, but struggle with other tasks translate to a greater self-awareness and self-acceptance in fourth graders in a year dominated by state testing? The ending of the college seminar was actually the beginning of an exciting adventure which would reveal to us the impact instruction about brain research might have on our elementary students.
After our plan was hatched, we began with Friday seminars with Miss Kuehn worked in tandem with me to share the lessons of the teacher’s brain research. The modified forty-five minute sessions geared towards the energy and ability of ten year olds. Students, with all of the excitement of a field trip, anticipated the weekly seminars. The class curriculum involved twelve sessions, with each session building on the knowledge of the previous session and moving the children to greater understanding of how their brains worked and how brain functioning translated to their performance as students and functioning members of their families and the community.
We started with a teddy bear possessed with epileptic seizures in a classroom activity with students sending finger touching messages that simulated voluntary and involuntary firing of neurons. When we finally performed an imaginary commissurotomy on our teddy bear, severing the corpus callosum, students were able to draw their own conclusions on hemspheriec functioning by reviewing the neurological tests performed on the split brain teddy bear. These simulations were based on the research revealed in Left Brain, Right Brain, which was now possible because our teddy bear had surgically separated hemispheres. Students were able to arrive at the left-brain, right-brain theories of hemispheric dominance through their own analysis of their split-brain teddy bear.
Although students later learned these early beliefs were overly simplistic when they looked at MRI scans, they had fun as they played with the idea of hemispheric dominance and where they stood on the left-brain, right-brain scales. The insights that students gained from these sessions were informative and sometimes comforting to individual students. Although the left-brain, right-brain research is far from sound neurologically, it is a wonderful metaphor to introduce the differences in brain processing that are reflected in student’s daily habits.
Students now were aware of the fact that some things come naturally to certain students, but can be a struggle for others. The student who struggles with neatness is not miraculously cured by the knowledge that this is a trait does not come naturally to his or her individual brain, but they were comforted in knowing it may merely be a way that their brain processes information rather than a flaw in their character, work ethic or ability.
The next simulation involved each member of the class being labeled and assigned to represent a different part of the brain and connected together with a matrix of strings. The initial focus in this simulation was the interaction between the amygdala and the pre-frontal cortex. Reviewing the work of Daniel Goleman, students learned the concept of the “amygdala hijacking the brain” when danger or a threat to survival is perceived by the brain. Students learned that test anxiety (perceived danger by the brain) can have the same effect of bypassing the pre-frontal cortex and leaving them unable to remember on a test as the amygdala shuts down the pre-frontal cortex In any perceived threat to survival. Students also learned of the effect on emotion on learning and in creating more permanent and episodic memories.
As part of the simulation, students also discovered the relationship between short term, active working memory and long-term memory as they went about the business of filling the brain’s filing cabinets. Students learned that learning breaks down in math when the times tables are not in the filing cabinets of long term memory. They also learned that when we asked to solve math problems with numerous steps, the learner holds the problem in active working memory while the brain searches the long term filing cabinets for the needed to pieces of information. They learned that the failure to do a problem can be in the ability of active working memory to hold all the information in place as it moves through the steps of the problem or in other cases, the failure can be the result of the fact that the information required is not in long term memory.
This simulation, borrowed and adapted from David Sousa in How We Think, was by far the most revealing for students about their own unique brains. With specific students simulating and playing the role of the filing cabinets of long-term memory, and another student simulating active working memory searching through those student filing cabinets, students had a real world picture of what happens when they are unable to answer a question.
The schema that this simulation created was the idea that students could now begin to metacognitively think about where their individual brain breakdown occurs with an incorrect answer. Was the failure to correctly answer a problem the result of the information or process not being firmly in long-term memory or was the problem the failure of active working memory to correctly hold all the information or steps of the problem? On a practical level, students could now realize that a failure to study for a test could leave the desired facts out of long-term memory. Other students who could not remember the steps of a problem could now identify a specific failure in their active working memory and that they may need some temporary help, such as a list of steps in a problem to compensate for this brain functioning weakness. Serving as an antidote to our national preoccupation with testing, knowledge of brain functioning made failure on a test seem more understandable by relating the failure to an inability of the brain to accomplish a desired task rather than the test score measuring the worth as a student.
The other truly powerful result of the simulation was that students who had trouble with emotional control were able to identify with the idea that their particular amygdala was too easily stimulated and too often hijacked the reasoning center of the prefrontal cortex when they were emotionally aroused. This knowledge gave a name and an explanation to what had always been labeled simply as out of control behavior or bad temper. Applying Daniel Goleman’s research from Emotional Intelligence, students could identify those situations, which cause this loss of control and amygdala hijacking, and develop strategies and responses before the event occur. This knowledge allows students to make decisions, when they are in their right minds and not in a survival mode. What was powerful was that giving a name to these incidents involving a loss of emotional control, as well an awareness of the brain activity that was occurring, was a powerful deterrent to these type outbursts in general.
The final portion of the course work had to do with the eight neurological constructs developed by Mel Levine in A Mind at a Time. These constructs included memory, attention, higher order cognition, temporal- sequential ordering, spatial ordering, neuromotor skills and social cognition. The class was divided into teams and each group was assigned one of the eight constructs, provided with a simplified description of the construct, and charged with creating a skit to demonstrate to the class that construct in action. In addition to the constructs, students were also assigned elements of brain functioning that had made up the instruction throughout the year.
As students presented skits, their classmates were given a worksheet which asked for self-analysis of the construct or function by a checking a box which described exemplary performance of the construct (this is easy for me) or problematic functioning in the construct area (this is hard for me). The skits ranged from Neuromotor skits involving the simple throwing of a ball (Large Motor Skills), writing a sentence (Graphomotor), tying their shoes (Small Motor Skills) and even to more complicated skits such as a hilarious one involving active working memory in which students depicted their teacher forgetting that she had given them permission to go to the bathroom, while she taught a math lesson. This skit was drawn from actual experience and brought to life a real world connection between what they had learned and their lives in the classroom. What was really on display was the fact that students were coming to understand that they had varying levels of competence in each of the constructs. More important than the specific knowledge of the functioning in each construct was the bigger understanding that it was not only ok to have a brain that could do some things better than others. In fact, it was normal.
In the end, the problem of being assigned a class where some children in that class came to Miss Kuehn with the baggage of a tainted reputation turned out to be a gift. After the brain research seminars, and throughout the year, the class demonstrated a better and growing understanding of their brain functioning and the reasons behind the breakdowns in behavior. The perceived issues of the class never quite lived up to the reputations that had preceded them. The idea of how to incorporate the learning from the summer seminar became even more strikingly clear.
It is essential that we strive to make our students smarter than our educational policy makers, if we are to infuse a sense of hope and optimism in the face of a national educational agenda that demonstrates an increasing preoccupation to define students by their tests scores. In this age of testing accountability, where we make so many decisions on our test score data and simplistically created labels for students, it is vital that we teach even our youngest students of the mystery and miracle that is their own unique and special brain. That miracle can never be reduced to a simplistic test score. Mrs. Kuehn’s students have powerfully demonstrated that fact to all of us.
Author’s Note: One of Ms. Kuehn’s student was recently honored as valedictorian of the high school, eight years later. In a recent note to her, the student recalled his fond memories of the secrets of the amygdala and brain research revealed eight years earlier in fourth grade. This is a powerful example of the permanence of episodic memories. When teachers, such a Ms. Kuehn, now Mrs. Ryan, create experiences, and not just lessons, these lessons last a lifetime.
Tom Brady and the NFL Draft
As much as talent counts, effort counts twice.
Angela Lee Duckworth
What I really like about 'Grit' - especially being the guy who goes on TV every week and says 'Never Give Up' and who truly tries to live his life to that credo - we recruited 16 people who said, 'I will never give up.' And the only way they can leave the contest is by doing the one thing they said they never would.
While it’s true someone can impede our actions, they can’t impede our intentions and attitudes, which have the power of being conditional and adaptable. For the mind adapts and converts any obstacle to its actions into a means of achieving it. That which is an impediment to action is turned to advance action. The obstacle on the path becomes the way.
Marcus Aurelius: Meditations 5.20
(Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way)
NFL Draft Day: You Are on the Clock
For those of you who may not be football fans, the ultimate success of a football team in the National Football League depends heavily on the skill and ability of that team to draft a special quarterback, who has the ability to lead the team to a championship. Highly paid scouts relentlessly search out and evaluate emerging talent in the collegiate ranks, knowing the fate of their team often resides on the franchise’s ability to select that truly special quarterback.
To say that selecting and developing the quarterback has become an obsession for NFL football would be an understatement. The search for quarterbacks measures a good number of variables, but prime among the attributes is physical ability. Success in college does not guarantee success in the NFL. The barrier to entry is often athletic ability as the speed and power of the game increases dramatically at the professional level.
Despite all of the variables that are analyzed and the intense college scouting of prospects, the prime test for entry into the NFL is a gathering of the top candidates for an evaluation of physical talent, the Combine. Combines run prospective players through a series of physical challenges and tests to measure overall athletic prowess as well as
arm strength as a passer, character, and football intelligence and acumen. In the end, athleticism seems to be the deal breaker. The rule is that a candidate’s overall athleticism is the prerequisite for moving forward in a team’s selection process.
The chart below shares the actual combine scores of present and past NFL quarterbacks from the Combine. To simulate and better understand the nature of the process, we are putting you on the clock as a “general manager” at selection time. Although it is difficult to pick one player based on these scores, for fun, pick the two that you would consider were you made an NFL team’s general manager for the day. Write down the candidates’ numbers’ and save it until the end of the chapter. You will then find out the current and past quarterbacks that you drafted.
Players are generally not selected on the combine scores alone, but they are certainly eliminated on these scores. Looking at the scores below, although it might be difficult for you to choose that great quarterback on scores alone, it is definitely required for you as a general manager to eliminate that quarterback that lacks the basic athleticism to compete. This is the one player that your team will not consider.
We are putting you back on the clock, analyze the data and eliminate the quarterback that you would reject for your organization. Without cheating or looking in the pages ahead, select the one quarterback from the seven candidates below that you would eliminate from consideration based on your evaluation of their athletic performance. We will then compare your choice and thinking to the NFL’s actual decision.
The Quarterback Eliminated Decision: How Did You Do?
If the candidate that you chose to eliminate was Candidate 6, you did a good job. Statistically, this candidate had the lowest score on nearly every measure. The NFL agreed with your selection and chose six quarterbacks in the draft before this quarterback. In fact, this quarterback was not chosen until the seventh round. It has been written that the main reason that the team chose him was because they could not believe that they could still get a potential back up quarterback this late in the draft.
The quarterback you eliminated had some noteworthy and stellar performances in college. His performance led his team to dramatic and impressive victories in his junior and senior years, but in his senior year, his college coaches decided that he would split the first half of the season with a more highly recruited freshman quarterback, in their judgment, a better athlete with a higher upside.
In essence, it might be concluded that although this candidate had superior statistics and record, for a good deal of his collegiate career, including his senior year, he was not considered good enough to start at his own college. Despite displaying a uncanny knack for leading his collegiate team to success in big games, it was generally agreed that his athletic deficits were too great to indicate success in the NFL.
The quarterbacks drafted before Candidate 6 included Chad Pennington (#18-First Round, Marshall University), Giovanni Carmazzi (#65-Third Round, Hofstra University), Chris Redmond (#75-Third Round, Louisville University), Tee Martin (#163-Fifth Round, Tennessee University), Marc Bulger (#18-Sixth Round, West Virginia, University), and Spergon Wynn (#183-Sixth Round, University of North Texas State). This list is now legendary, but it has deeper implications, if we look beneath the surface.
The Patriots chose the quarterback that you probably eliminated. By now, you have probably figured out that the quarterback you eliminated was Tom Brady, pictured above before his TB12 program. He was chosen in the sixth round as the 199th player selected in the draft. After five Superbowl championships, it is argued by many that Brady may be the greatest quarterback of all time.
In clear comparison with the NFL’s all time greats, Sean Glennon in the The Case for Football Greatest Quarterback: Tom Brady vs. The NFL, offers powerful statistical evidence that Brady is the greatest of all time. Those statistics continue to mount as this book is developed and on the eve of this Superbowl. How could the entire National Football League have gotten it so wrong?
In a record breaking educational TED talk, Sir Ken Robinson, an knighted learning theorist, in analyzing today’s directions in school assessment practices and the data that we collect in our testing suggests that educators might be mining the wrong data. Robinson believes that creativity, not pure aptitude or academic achievements are what our tests should seek to measure, if they sought to identify the real predictors of greatness in life. The draft placement of Tom Brady suggests that in looking for individuals who will lead teams to greatness, the NFL may be also be mining the wrong data.
The next section will attempt to explain how the NFL got this quarterback selection all wrong and will reveal some of the psychology that may share how Tom Brady kept his hopes and dreams alive in the face of doubt. As inspiring as the Tom Brady success is to all of us, it is not unattainable on some level by all of us facing doubt and detractors.
The Tom Brady Pyramid: Mining the Right Data
Whatever your feelings about Tom Brady, love him or hate him, and feelings about Tom Brady do tend to generate strong emotional reactions, there is no doubt that his story demonstrates that intrinsic athletic ability may not be the key factor that predicts quarterback excellence. Brady’s rise to prominence makes the case that effort, unshakeable belief and grit perseverance trump innate natural talents.
It may surprise you to learn that the success of Tom Brady, although difficult to fathom at first, has been documented in positive psychology research on belief and goal motivation that has emerged in the last two decades. In order to present this research symbolically and visually, we have taken the liberty to construct a pyramid to explain Tom Brady’s amazing success.
This model will be reverentially referred to as The Tom Brady Pyramid in this chapter. The hope is that this pyramid will visually help to clarify the question of how the NFL got it so wrong on Tom Brady. More importantly, our hope is that this Tom Brady draft exercise has the power to inspire you to defy the experts in your own life, who continually underestimate the value of effort, belief and grit.
The purpose of the pyramid is to demystify the psychology that explains how Tom Brady survived the tests to his belief that he had to endure at the University of Michigan and in the draft process. To begin to understand the strengths of his belief, this follow up story demonstrates why Brady should be revered by every parent who has ever taken a child home after being cut from a team.
Even when drafted later than could be imagined based on his success in his senior year at Michigan, although angered, Tom Brady never lost belief in his ability. This ability to maintain belief when all others doubt you, is the key element in so many success stories in America. It was the key element for Brady and can be the key element in your success story.
When Brady ran into Patriot’s owner, Bob Kraft at training camp after the draft, he is rumored to have said, “Mr. Kraft, I’m Tom Brady, you don’t know me, but I am the best decision that this franchise has ever made.” The confidence behind his belief in his own abilities is echoed in that statement begins to explain Tom Brady’s success. Brady’s story is a story of unshakeable belief has truly deep implications for anyone that has ever been underestimated, overlooked or rejected because they were believed to lack natural talent.
The Psychology Behind the Tom Brady Pyramid: Growth Mindset Base
The first building block at the base of the pyramid that made the general managers who participated in NFL Draft of 1991 look foolish is a framework for thinking, a growth mindset. Researcher Carol Dweck, after a lifetime of research, concluded that individuals generally believe that success is either fixed, derived from inborn capacity or is more incremental, based not on innate capacity, but more determined by effort. Those who believe that their success is directly and profoundly linked to their effort and that skill increases with more effort are said to have a growth mindset.
Tom Brady is the poster child for the idea of growth mindset and should be a role model for every struggling student in America. In stark contrast to Tom Brady, the NFL draft system operates generally on the premise of a fixed mindset, a belief that ability is based more on our inborn talent and is relatively unchangeable.
Dweck’s groundbreaking research is shared in the best seller, Mindset: the New Psychology of Success, and this resource should be required reading for all parents and any of us who feel we are doomed by a lack of natural talent. Dweck’s research is applicable, not just in academic settings, but in every arena of life. The research dictates that the achievement of those with a fixed mindset levels off and plateaus, early in life.
In contrast, those with a growth mindset, experience levels of achievement and accomplishment that continue to spiral upward throughout life. No example that a growth mindset and the belief that success is a product of effort is a more powerful than that of the growth mindset journey of effort and improvement of Tom Brady.
Dweck maintains those who believe that effort is the key factor in success tend to continually improve throughout their lives. The results summarized on the chart below on academic achievement in core academic courses has been replicated in study after study on the results of growth versus fixed mindset thinking in nearly every arena that it has been measured.
Tom Brady, despite what everybody else in the NFL Draft may have believed, continued to understand that the key to success was built on his ability to outwork everyone else. This belief was the secret of his success at the University of Michigan and he had no reason to believe that it would not be the same in the NFL. This core belief, effort trumps ability, has made all the difference.
Newly traded lineman have arrived at Patriots training camp to lift weights at 5am and have been shocked to hear the clank of weights and discover that the Patriot’s Hall of Fame quarterback has been there since 4:30am. Not too many quarterbacks can be found in the weight room at this hour. Even more hours were spent in film and rehearsing throws after formal practice.
“Nobody’s worked harder than Tom, says his coach, Bill Bellichek. “He’s trained hard. He’s worked on throwing mechanics, on his mental understanding of the game. He’s earned everything that he has achieved.” Bellichek warns young Millennials to be mindful of the fact that a talent deficit can be overcome with hard work and self awareness.” In an interview with Susan Welch, Bellichek urges young people to “Take heart from the example of Tom Brady, who to put it plainly, is not a great natural athlete… not even close.”
Brady’s effort in working to improve athletically, learn the Patriot’s system, analyze film to prepare for opponents can perhaps only be matched by that of his legendary coach, Bill Bellichek. These same attributes that Bellichek uses to describe Brady can be applied to the level of effort by this Hall of Fame coach. This coach and quarterback marriage will undoubtedly be the most successful in the history of the league. The base of the Tom Brady Pyramid is a growth mindset that has as its core value the unshakeable belief in one guiding mantra, effort trumps ability. The opening quote is this chapter, shares Duckworth’s perception on the role of effort in relation to talent in achieving success. In her own words describing this equation, she states, “As much as talent counts, effort counts twice.” Her belief is that both talent and effort are necessary to attain skill, but in that pursuit, effort counts twice as much as talent. Tom Brady knows better than any of us the math of that equation.
The Psychology Behind the Tom Brady Pyramid: The Way and the Will of Hope
The second level of the Tom Brady’s pyramid of unshakable belief, psychologists would refer to this as his “hope” or belief in his ability to achieve his goals. “Hope” is the super power that has enabled Brady to lead his team and his life in ways that make the quality that seem almost supernatural.
In researching those who do not find excuses but find their way around problems, C. R. Snyder came upon the much-researched psychological construct of hope. Snyder found that some do not make excuses, but find their way around obstacles. Hope, as formulated by Snyder, consisted of two key building blocks that combine to determine the success of individuals in meeting goals in every aspect of life. To measure an individual’s belief about their ability to attain goals, Snyder developed a measurement tool.
The first component in his measure is known as the way, the pathway, to be more scientific. Pathways are a measurement of the knowledge possessed by an individual on what needs to done in order to achieve success. You have to know what is required to get where you want to go.
The second, more pivotal building component, in the hope measure is known as the will or agency. This construct is the measurement of an individual’s will to execute the identified pathways in the face of obstacles and diversions. Although most know the pathways to success, the will to execute those pathways is the more pivotal part of the measure. As Tom Brady defies all of the odds in maintaining an unparalleled level of success as he moves into 40’s, we can only assume that any measurement of his hope score would be off the charts.
The most enticing aspect of hope is that it is not an inborn capacity, but a reflection of our thinking about the future. Researcher C. R. Snyder measured this construct shared at the end of the chapter and found that the power of hope resulted in greater success in every arena of life and referred to those with high hope, such as Tom Brady, as having a rainbow in the mind.
This combination of the way and the will to achieve our goals, hope, has been measured in thousands of research studies and been overwhelmingly correlated with successful outcomes. Research has documented the power of hope that we will achieve our goals creates pathway to success that outperforms nearly every other factor.
Hope scores, in the 1990 Gallop Poll, were found to be a better predictors of success in college than high school than high school GPA, SAT scores, ACT scores and any other measure that we have been able to derive to measure academic success.
Belief in our ability to create our future, or hope, is not only a predictor of success in the academic classrooms, but in every domain of life including dealing with cancer, aging, athletics and most certainly, in the case of Tom Brady, football.
The research that supports hope theory can be found in the seminal work of C. R. Snyder, in The Handbook of Hope: Theories, Studies, and Applications. This compilation shares research studies documenting the power of belief or hope in every context of life. More recent, applied research sharing practical application of hope theory to enrich our lives is presented in, Making Hope Happen, by the late, Shane Lopez
The most intriguing aspect of hope is that it is not a fixed asset is that it varies continuously as a reflection of minute-to-minute changes in our thinking. Hope truly does float. It might be accurately said that hope actually does float as we move through the challenges we face in life. As you might guess, our thinking and therefore, our hope or our belief about future events, is drastically affected by the positive or negative events in our lives.
Generally, when we experience disappointment and failure, our hope tends to lessen. For most of us, belief tends to be dramatically reduced by disappointment. What makes Tom Brady so unique is that his belief was not diminished in the face of setbacks. Brady’s powerful belief was no more in evidence than when the Patriots feel behind by 25 points in the third quarter of the 2017 Superbowl, and were led to victory with a level of hope that will go down in history. Although watching the game, many of the Patriots most ardent fans had lost belief; Brady was the one person in the room whose belief remained constant.
Hope is not a solo undertaking in our lives that we construct on our own but is strengthened by those in our lives who support us when we need it most. Those that keep hope alive in the face of our disasters might be thought of as our hope creators. These are the key players in our lives who are there for us when our belief in ourselves might be shaken.
For Brady, his most powerful hope creator most certainly has been his family, particularly his father, whose belief in his son never wavered in the face of a football experiences that seemed to overlooked Tom’s achievements for many years. This is a lesson for all of us on the power we have to influence the hope of others in our lives. The best thing we can all be for our family, friends and colleagues is that person who is there to keep hope alive, a hope creator, when belief is shaken by setbacks or disappointment.
The Psychology Behind the Tom Brady Pyramid: Growth: The Passion and Perseverance of Grit
The final piece of the Tom Brady pyramid completes our window into the character that has defined Tom Brady is his passion and perseverance for long-term goals. Grit, as portrayed in chapter two, might be thought of as hope on steroids. When our hope is truly tested and challenged, those with grit never lose hope.
Our knowledge of Brady’s remarkable success presents a clear argument that grit, does not arrive supernaturally, out of thin air, but is built on building block beliefs that first needed to be in place. Brady first needed to possess a growth mindset, the belief that effort was the key to success and not natural athletic ability. Without this growth mindset in place, Brady would be watching football today and not playing it.
The next layer of the pyramid, hope, the combination of knowing what to do to achieve his goals and having the will to do what needed to be done in the face of obstacles that might deter others, needed to be in place. When that hope was tested, when his ability was doubted, when others might have quit, it was Brady’s unshakeable hold on that belief, his grit that has made him the most successful quarterback in NFL history.
Grit, seems so simple and romantic, even sexy, when we put words to paper that America seems to have fallen in love with the word itself. In real life, grit involves struggles, failures and pain that few can or will endure. What makes it sexy is that most of know that we would not, or have not endured, in the face of such challenge.
Tom’s most revelation about his 8:30 bedtime in the Business Insider could be used as a description of the grit that arises from passion for a goal. “Strength training and conditioning and how I really treat my body are important to me, because there is really nothing else that I enjoy like playing football, I want to do this as long as I can.” Brady affirms that the decisions that he makes all center on performance enhancement.
Putting in the effort beyond comprehension, facing down the critics and disappointments, constantly climbing back up after getting knocked down, can only be fueled by a passion for a goal that is so great that an individual perseveres when others would not. Tom Brady personifies grit. What all of us need to know is that this is not a magical power endowed from above, but a pyramid built on belief (hope), effort, finally, grit, the willingness to persevere when others would not.
The NFL Draft: Why How Did You Do?
The other candidates’ scores that you did not eliminate in our NFL draft elimination exercise became pretty good quarterbacks in their own right. You can check below to see which quarterback you would have selected with your first pick as a general manager in the draft exercise. These quarterbacks displayed athletic ability, but know that they also displayed the beliefs and goal motivation depicted in the Tom Brady pyramid. Without those qualities, no one ever becomes an NFL quarterback.
The lesson of Tom Brady should make us think the candidate’s time in the forty-yard dash might not be the best predictor of NFL success. Stronger predictors might be a candidate’s scores on tests measuring growth mindset, hope and grit. We share those tests at the end of this chapter. On those tests, we are sure that Brady has no peer.
Through the Lens of Charles Sullivan and Springfield College Volleyball: Tom Brady’s Are Part of Every Athletic Program
Tom Brady’s make up every athletic program and are a big part of why we coach. One of the Tom Bradys of Springfield College Volleyball is Greg Falcone. Greg played for us for four years, but truthfully, we recruited Greg mostly because he was a very tall, very physical player. To most recruiters, it was obvious that he lacked the skill, movement patterns or coordination to be looked at by Division I programs. But in every aspect, physically and size wise, Greg measured up to the standard that recruits need to play at the highest level in college volleyball.
The thing that is most difficult to measure when recruiting prospective student athlete and is probably the most important determinant in predicting future success is self-belief and work ethic. Greg came from a great family who instilled the principles of respect, discipline, and hard work. That foundation enabled Greg to perform at a level higher than anyone could have predicted when he was coming out of high school.
The good thing for us was that as Greg became a better volleyball player, he also matured, grew and got stronger at the same time. He entered Springfield at 6’ 8” and left almost close to 6’10”. In addition, his long arms provided Greg with a nearly 7' wingspan. These attributes, however, were not Greg’s greatest advantages.
The thing that no one could measure about Greg was how badly he wanted to be good and improve. No one considered how persistent Greg would be in in not giving up in reaching his goals. Greg's freshman year, we had low expectations for him, really just hoping he would get good on the defensive side, blocking the ball and getting his big frame in front of attackers. We had no idea that he was to become our franchise player.
Honestly, Springfield College had no offensive or attacking expectations for Greg when he was recruited. What Greg did really well was to come to practice every day with one major objective, to get better that day. Whether it was taking a big first step on his blocking move or pressing his hand across the net faster, Greg focused on getting better at that one thing and then moving onto the next.
The other thing that was noteworthy was the time Greg devoted to watching video. There has never been a player at Springfield, before or since, who reviewed more video. At one point, when we stopped videotaping practice for a couple days, we soon realized that Greg was more than a little upset at the lack of video to evaluate. That response, derived from his personality and his will to win and improve, was something that no coach could have evaluated during his high school career in the recruiting process.
At Springfield, Greg won three national championships and lost one national championship in the final game. Greg’s junior year he led the country (Division I, Division II and Division 3) in blocks per game. Greg also became offensively proficient due to his hard work in the gym and his intense desire to get better all the time period. Greg led the team in hitting percentage as well as blocks. Greg ended up being a four time All- American, leading our Division III team to the Division I EIVA Conference Final, one win away from the Division I Final Four.
Division I coaches later in his career all asked the same question. How do we miss him? They missed him because they failed to evaluate his determination and work ethic, how he responded to failure and how he was able to turn weaknesses into strengths. All of Greg’s success can be attributed to his approach to being great. As much we marvel at Tom Brady’s success, which seemed to come out of nowhere, we need to remember that there are Tom Bradys in every program. There are also Greg Falcones. They are why we coach.
Who Cares and So What? Why This All Should Matter to You
The story of Tom Brady and Greg Falcone are part of the story of American underdogs who triumph in the face of rejection. The list of Famous Failures below should be shared with all as these famous failures demonstrates the power of our beliefs and goal motivation in every context of life. To view some of these extraordinary examples of people who triumphed when others doubted them, use the QR code and prepare to be inspired.
Tom Brady is an example of the power of effort, unshakeable belief and grit perseverance. Although Brady’s success is the stuff of legends, it is not mystical and psychology today is revealing the power of these belief-driven in study after study.
Tom Brady’s success, as is the success of all the Famous Failures above, is built on a formula for belief that we have documented in our Tom Brady pyramid of a growth mindset, hope and grit. Without a growth mindset, there can be no hope. Without a strong level of hope, grit is not a factor. Where are you, your family, or your team or your organization in regard to these beliefs?
The good news is that psychologists have constructed and field tests measuring each of these belief constructs. They are included at the end of this chapter for you to use to gauge the level of belief that dominates the your thinking and the thinking of those in your world. The great part about belief is that it is malleable. You can change your belief by changing your thinking. Positive psychology has documented the power of these belief theories in success in life and now you can unleash the power of belief in your life.
The Tom Brady story should inspire, not only those of us with children, but anyone us reading this book. Tom Brady’s, grit pyramid, is not a magical, unattainable paradigm for life, but a way of thinking that should inspire all of us to go fearlessly after our dreams.
Tom Brady is an extraordinary example for all of us. Be advised that the pursuit of our goals in face of adversity and challenge as an individual is one that is difficult to achieve. It is the stuff of legends. Those individuals who achieve in the face of all odds are deserving of our admiration.
It is for this reason, no what team that you support, Tom Brady is the quarterback we should never forget, not solely because of his greatness on the field, but because of the greatness of his heart and mind. He is an example for all of us on the ultimate power of belief. In the next chapter, we will explore how the core values of the Tom Brady pyramid are more attainable for all of us when they are embedded in a culture that nurtures those values.
Five Take Aways From Chapter 4
#1 – Growth mindset belief is that our success in life is based more on our effort than our natural talent. Those with a growth mindset tend to continue to rise throughout life, while those who believe our talent is innate and fixed tend to level off and plateau. Those, who possess a growth mindset, see failing as a first step on the path to success. They fail well and continue to develop throughout their lives..
#2 – Hope is a measured psychological construct that is consists of our knowing the way we can achieve our goals, the way or pathways and having the will or agency to actually achieve pursue those pathways. Hope is the best predictor of success in every area of our life.
#3 – Hope is a way of thinking that generally rises or falls, based on successes and failures in life. However, in some extraordinary individuals, such as Tom Brady, hope never falters of over temporary setbacks.
#4– Hope is not an individual undertaking, but is supported by the collective network of those in our lives who support us when we need it, our hope creators. In less positive situations, others can equally effectively tear us down when things go wrong, our hope crushers.
#5 – Grit is a magical and romantic construct that has captured the American imagination. However, it does not arise out of the air. It is built on a growth mindset (the belief that effort trumps ability) and powerful levels of hope (knowing the way to success and having the will to endure that path). Grit, the passion and perseverance to achieve long-term goals, can arise when these foundational beliefs are in place.
Kevin Sheehan Ed.D