February 4, 2019
Tom Popomaronis

Not a big Tom Brady fan? That’s okay. We can’t all be. But after yesterday’s win in Super Bowl LIII, it’s hard to argue that he isn’t one of the greatest players of all time. After all, the New England Patriots quarterback just became the first player in NFL history to win six Super Bowls.

Instead of detailing every record Brady holds, let’s bypass all controversies and agree that winning NFL games at 41-years-old is simply impressive.

As I watched Brady calmly thread pass after pass through the Rams’ secondary, a one-word question wouldn’t stop echoing through my mind. How? How does he keep his team winning? How does he stay so infuriatingly calm under pressure? How does he even keep playing at his age, with over 250 games under his belt?

How is a simple question with a complicated answer.

Rigorous (and kind of quirky) brain games
In a Sports Illustrated profile from 2017, Brady showcases his routine to staying sharp. As you’d expect, it has much to do with adopting a healthy diet, taking care of your muscles and getting back to basics with things like staying properly hydrated and well-rested. (All of this is part of the “TB12 Method,” an exercise and nutrition program that Brady developed with the help of his close friend and body coach, Alex Guerrero.)

But one detail that particularly stood out was how he plays brain games on his laptop or iPad to sharpen his mind.

The games, as described in the profile, go like this: “Three balls appear; they start to move around, and then more balls are introduced; you have to point out the original balls. Another game: Twelve birds flash on the screen, one with dark wings, and you have to click on the quadrant of the screen where the dark-winged bird was located when the birds disappear.”

Brady powers through over two dozen brain games on a daily basis. He claims that it helps him sharpen everything from attention and brain speed to memory and emotional intelligence.

Are brain games the key to peak performance?
While most quarterbacks would have crumbled under pressure, Brady’s mental strength became most apparent in the second half of last night’s game, when he seamlessly drove the ball 69 yards in five plays, setting up his running back teammate Sony Michel’s two-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

There’s no doubt that superior athletes to Brady exist, and many of them are likely younger. Science has argued that most athletes hit their peak performance at the age of 30. According to a systematic review published in the journal Sports Medicine, hockey players perform best between the ages of 27 and 28. For sprints, jumps and throws, men and women hit their peak around 25. Male and female marathoners are at their best at ages 30 and 29, respectively.

Brady is 41. Could it be that the weirdest, seemingly most unrelated aspect of Brady’s training is actually giving him a massive edge? Not long ago, most of us believed that the brain you’re born with is the brain you live with. That’s changed, and today there are entire communities and fields (think “microdosing” and “nootropics”) devoted to capitalizing on more of the brain’s potential.

Are games the way to do it? The jury is still out on that, although some science points to no. Still, lots of highly successful people — not just Brady — put stock into activities designed to sharpen their brains. Various world-class leaders agree, too: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates play bridge. Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk play video games.

And if Tom Brady ends up winning another Super Bowl, I’ll be signing up for TB12.