I had to do it…
Here are are the top seven lessons about college planning we can learn from Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s Super Bowl win for the ages last night (Best game EVA!). If you’re a non-sports fan, I apologize, but this piece is more about college planning than football. Here are my lessons from last night:
1. Incredible challenges. The Patriots season, and Superbowl game, was laden with all kinds of obstacles: suspension of superstar quarterbackTom Brady, injuries to key players, a 25 point deficit last night, caused by a fumble, interception and a ridiculously fast and well-prepared Falcons defense. Not to mention history: no quarterback or coach had ever won five Superbowls.
The college process is also full of obstacles: rejections, deferrals, parent-child drama, peer-to-peer drama, less than stellar grades and standardized test scores, bad interviews, missed deadlines, poor guidance and so forth. Junior year to first half of senior year is flat out the MOST challenging time in most middle class kids’ lives.
2.Detractors. The Pats, Brady and Coach Belichick are hated by millions of fans. Pats supporters believe, with some justification, that the commissioner of the NFL also had some kind of weird vendetta against them. Even some of Patriot Nation turned their backs when they learned of Brady, Belichick and owner Robert Kraft’s friendships with President Trump!
College-bound teens face detractors in the form of their fellow teens, and, yes, parents of other teens who root against them. Shocking, I know, but I calls ‘em like I sees ‘em. You may not like or believe this, but many parents and teens are ultra-competitive and a little sneaky or secretive about their tutors, college list and plans. And yes, there’s a lot trash talking, behind the back and, occasionally, in front of the faces (or smart phones) of fellow competitor-applicants.
3. Excuses. The Pats had every reason in the world to have a mediocre season, let alone lose last night: the aforementioned injuries, including the season-ender to the undefendable Rob Gronkowski, the four game suspension, which led to games featuring their 2nd string and 3rd string quarterbacks substituting for Brady.
Even if you hate the Pats, you have to admit that they never made excuses for not performing up to the standards they hoped to achieve. They won three of their four Brady-less games and pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in all sports, ever.
It’s too easy for kids and parents to make excuses in the college planning process: ACT or SAT scores not as high as they should have been because the room was too hot or too cold. Or their tutor didn’t do a good job. Or teachers giving bad grades because they “suck” or dislike the child for some reason. Even when kids or parents miss deadlines to apply or file financial aid forms, because “No one told them.” It may feel good, temporarily, to blame someone else for underperforming, but it’s not going to get you anywhere.
4. Game Plan. The Pats had a plan for last night’s game. It didn’t look so great when they were down by 25. But they believed in it, were flexible enough to made adjustments, and, most importantly, executed it, little by little, possession by possession.
Here’s a big issue in the college process: It is highly unusual for college-bound teens and their parents to have any semblance of a strategy, or plan. Instead, they focus on tactics, such as loading up on APs, taking the ACT 12 times, haphazardly coming up with a big project to fill up their activity sheet to “look good” on their college applications. These types of tactics are arguably necessary, but lack an overarching, cohesive plan because they ignore fundamental questions such as “What is the goal beyond ‘Getting into a good school,” The definition of a “good school,” applying to a set of schools that compete with one another for the type of student your kid presents, “positioning” your child to enhance his/her candidacy, positioning yourself for the maximum amount of scholarships and financial aid, and more. College-bound families would be smart to stop, take a breath, and do some serious THINKING about what they’re doing, and why.
5. Work ethic. Sports writers have chronicled the insane work ethics of Brady and Belichick over the years. But my guess is that Belichick does not work harder than his peers, I’ve had three or four NFL coaches as clients over the years, and have always been struck by how much time they put in at the office. I’m taking 14-18 hour days, six days a week for nine months.
But I marvel at Brady, whose motivation level is off the charts and unexplainable to a guy like me, considering how much he’s accomplished already and what he has going for him – the championships, the supermodel wife, more money than he can spend, the looks. If anyone should feel entitled to slack off a little, it’s Tommy. Yet he still, at age 39 (!), works as hard as any player in the NFL and has a mind blowing off-season routine of diet (green shakes, avocado ice cream) and exercise for hours per day. Even if you can’t stand him, you have to respect his burning desire to be the best he can be.
Many kids have far more work to do than we parents did, growing up. But if you’re applying to a bunch of competitive colleges, your competition is working at least as hard as you. So if it means taking the AP class instead of honors, or doing one more practice ACT instead of messing around on Instagram or Snapchat, make that “sacrifice.” (Incidentally, Brady was a terrific student at U Michigan, as was his Falcons counterpart Matt Ryan at Boston College.)
6. Faith. Reportedly, there wasn’t any panic in the Patriots’ locker room at halftime, when they were down 18 and Atlanta’s defense appeared impregnable. Disappointment, to be certain, but no yelling, crying or suicide attempts. Instead, they had faith in themselves, which was the backbone of their resilience and victory.
Many kids today are not resilient. Frankly, a lot of us parents coddle them and try to shield them from adversity, to give them “the best.” It’s not just parents, at least directly, grade inflation in most high schools is rampant, for example. Everyone has a 92 average an is in National Honor Society.
But this is counter-productive. Predictably, this leads to kids having a lack of confidence, and faith, in themselves, because they’ve never overcome any meaningful obstacles. Even the slightest bit of negative feedback throws them for a loop. My message to kids, and families, is that it’s ok to feel like sh*t if something doesn’t go your way, but trust yourself and keep working. EVERYTHING will work out, so have faith.
7. Coaching. Yes, the Patriots work hard in practice, but I doubt that they work harder than most NFL teams. To win, it’s about working hard AND smart – i.e. under the eyes of an experienced coach.
The most successful college applicants get coached through the process, too. Lest you think this is a plug for me and our firm, it’s not. Coaching can come in all sorts of sizes and shapes – guidance counselors (there are plenty of great ones), parents, even college consultants who are not named Andy and didn’t attend the same college as the greatest NFL coach of all time, “Bells,” as we referred to him back at Wesleyan. Just kidding, he’s a wee bit older than I (but you just KNOW that someone must have called him that!).
The bigger point is that if you work hard, but dumb, you’ll fail. Get help from someone with a track record of success that is qualified.
If you are interested in talking to us about our college coaching or other services, we are filling up with Class of 2018 families but still have availability. You can book a free College Strategy Session here (regularly $249) because I’m all giddy about the Patriots and am in a celebratory mood.
Have a great day, God knows I am!
– Andy “Not Too Old To Be Immature About Sports” Lockwood
P.S. The link for non-clients to book a chat is: