As Tom Brady approaches his 40th birthday, senior writer Greg Bishop spoke to the Patriots quarterback and other elite athletes about how they continue to thrive as they get older (hint: it’s all in the preparation). Here are excerpts from his conversation with Brady that took place in June.
BISHOP:What will you do on August 3 when you turn 40?
BRADY: Hopefully it’s just a day of practice. That would be the perfect day. I want the day to just come and go, where I’m enjoying being out there with the guys like any other day in August over the last 25 years of my life.
BISHOP: You think Gronk is going to let 40 go by without some sort of stunt?
BRADY: I doubt it.
BISHOP:You’ve talked about playing until 45, maybe longer, and your wife [Gisele Bündchen] made international news recently when she said you’ve endured concussions. What if she says, Just retire, two years from now?
BRADY: That’s a great question. If your wife is anything like my wife, which I’m sure she is, then they have their own ideas of what they want for their family. The women in our lives are thankfully very protective in nature. But she wants me to live my dreams, and I want her to live hers. We’re all figuring out how to balance those things in our life. It’s all important, all massively important. I’m always searching for the right balance there.
BISHOP:Last time we talked, you said you wanted to “play forever.” Do you still feel that way?
BRADY: I think my mid-40s [is a] place that I know I can get to. Once I’m there, I can evaluate what’s happening in my life and go from there. There’s no question in my mind I’ll be able to do it. I know what to do. I know how efficient I am. I know what it takes. And here’s the biggest thing: I’m willing to make the commitment. That’s important.
BISHOP:If you say 45, someone else could say, well, why not 50?
BRADY: Why not 50? And if you ask that, why not 60? Why not 70? I have to focus on what’s happening right now.
BISHOP:Did you do anything different this off-season with your 40th birthday approaching?
BRADY: We’re always getting more efficient with what we’re doing. For me personally, I review all the offensive plays from the season at least two times. Then I look for how to improve, and that’s with all of it: training, throwing mechanics, communication with my coaches. I want my time with [trainer] Alex [Guerrero] to be so focused that I’m in tune with how my body is feeling, so that when we start training camp, I know what I need to do and I’m prepared.
BISHOP:You’ve watched every offensive play twice? Even the Super Bowl?
BRADY: You want to do that later. It’s a very different look when the emotion of the Super Bowl has worn off. You’re looking at, How did I really play? What was my read? Why didn’t I get that pass where I wanted to? That’s why experience is so good, for things like that. I know exactly what I’m looking for now. I know what works and what doesn’t work.
BISHOP:Did you do that when you were younger?
BRADY: No, because you don’t even know what to watch. You don’t really know what to do. Coaches do a lot your first year. But I’ve had so many quarterback coaches. They’re all really good, but a lot of them haven’t been around for that long. You have to learn how to do that part yourself too. I’m pretty critical on how I play, how I evaluate myself.
BISHOP:How long does that kind of review take?
BRADY: It’s hours and hours and hours. It’s like reading a book for the second time. You’re reading deeper into the lines.
BISHOP:As you approach 40, do you remember watching other quarterbacks at that age, hanging on? Like your idol, Joe Montana.
BRADY: I still remember being at the Pacific Athletic Club in Redwood City and watching that Monday Night Football game when he brought the Chiefs back. I’m still the biggest fan of his. I’d say that it’s hard to allow other people to tell you what you should do in your life. If you love doing something, if you want to keep playing like Joe did or like Jerry Rice did, you should go for it. It’s such a privilege to play this game, and I feel like I’ve worked hard and tried to work smartly so that now I can be the best version of myself.
BISHOP:Did you watch Favre play the way he did at 40 with the Vikings?
BRADY: Oh, yeah. He had an incredible year. I took something from that: his toughness, the confidence he has in himself.
BISHOP: Do you think playing at that level at 40 is more possible now than even when Favre did it eight years ago?
BRADY: I do. It’s evolution. It’s training and equipment. Imagine all these guys who played in old AstroTurf stadiums that felt like cement underneath their feet. Grass is better now. The types of turf have evolved. All those things used to take a toll, and cumulatively they all add up.
BISHOP:What role does technology play there?
BRADY: Technology has changed the game a lot. Like virtual reality. You gotta continue to innovate, too, even as a player. I don’t ever get to a place where I’m like, I’m good.
BISHOP: Have you ever tried virtual reality?
BRADY: I messed around with virtual reality a little bit [two years ago]. It hasn’t taken a big chunk of my time yet. But in the future it will. There’s no stopping technology.
BISHOP:Do you think there’s a trend now, a paradigm shift, for athletes to play longer at the highest levels?
BRADY: Hopefully that is the case. There are probably more tools available for people than there used to be. Better support. Better equipment. More functional things like that. Nutrition. Hydration. Those are very important aspects. It’s a year-round job for athletes now. Not that it wasn’t back then, but it’s so heightened now. There’s no off-season.
BISHOP:How often do athletes in various sports ask you about The TB12 Method and winning a Super Bowl at 39?
BRADY: Every athlete I come in contact with has different questions. But it’s the younger players who see me differently [more so] than guys my age. Most of the guys my age aren’t playing anymore.
BISHOP:We talked to Jimmie Johnson, Didier Drogba, Daniel Cormier, Carlos Beltrán, DeLisha Milton-Jones, and Zdeno Chara for this story—all athletes, like you, who treat turning 40 like a milestone, rather than an end point. What stood out is how none said, My sport doesn’t define me, or I’m not just a football player. Do you feel that way?
BRADY: That’s a good point. It’s hard to separate who I am [off the field] from who I am on the football field. In most ways, I’m very much the same person. When I was younger I never would have said that. I would have said, This is just something I do; it’s not really who I am. But after everything [Guerrero and I] have done the last 13 years, this is who I am. It’s hard to separate the two. My vacations are focused around how prepared I’m going to be physically and mentally for my work life. That’s me.
BISHOP: You’ve said you’ll spread your health gospel after you’re done playing. Do you see yourself working for a specific team or numerous athletes in various sports?
BRADY: [Guerrero] and I are always talking. We both want to make a difference. I think that’s spreading positivity, and I’m [blessed to be] able to be around so many athletes who inspire me—not just football players, but all athletes. They’re asking me the questions. Fortunately, what we do has allowed me to live what my dreams are. I want to help other athletes live their dreams too, and that’s exciting. My favorite thing other than playing football is I love to talk to people about how I play football, but that’s down the road. I’ve got another five or six years playing, at least.
BISHOP:Do you think teams will eventually employ body coaches?
BRADY: 100%. Absolutely. I think teams are coming around to the fact that a holistic lifestyle allows players to reach their full potential.
BISHOP:Why don’t teams do that already?
BRADY: That’s like the debate on climate change. Why haven’t we done anything about it? Well, there’s a lot of money on the other side of it. But I do think more athletes are asking, How can I take care of my body? And we know what to do.