March 13, 2017

Executive function lessons from the New England Patriots

A month later, we are all still reeling from Super Bowl LI’s unprecedented outcome. With the game-winning touchdown still fresh in our memories, let’s talk about what it takes to achieve Bill Belichick’s famous directive, “Do Your Job.”

Brady Lombardi

Using an executive function skills approach, the first step to getting the job done is to understand what tasks need doing. With about 25 minutes left to play, the Patriots needed to make up a 25-point deficit. That amounted to earning two touchdowns, two two-point conversions, and a field goal to force overtime. Talk about overwhelming! For your child, she may need to complete a five-paragraph essay that includes a strong thesis statement, at least two quotations and a conclusion. Regardless of the task, knowing what needs to be done is the first step involved in planning a successful problem-solving approach.

The next step is to determine the resources that are needed to complete the task. For Tom Brady, he needed the support of Julian Edelman, James White, and especially his defense (to hold Atlanta at bay). For her paper, your child may need her course reading, annotations, a graphic organizer, and ample time to brainstorm, plan, write, edit and revise. She may also need a quiet study space or the help of a teacher or executive function skills coach.

With resources at the ready, it’s time to select the right plays, the ones that will efficiently and effectively complete the task. Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels and Brady worked together to direct the charge down the field toward the endzone, using plays the team has practiced and “football intelligence” to make the correct in-game decisions. Similarly, your child needs to set a plan for her writing, deciding which strategies she can use to organize her essay, how she will explain her supporting evidence, and more.

Once she has written up her playbook, in the form of an outline or graphic organizer, your child is ready to aim for the endzone. However, she may also encounter some obstacles and need to flexibly change her plan along the way. On the field, McDaniel sends in the plays and Brady executes them as closely as possible, based on the movement of the opposing team’s defense. He may make last minute decisions to change the play, based on what he sees from his teammates and opponents. Likewise, your child may need to scrap or adjust parts of her plan that no longer make sense in her essay once she has begun really digging into the material.

The next step is to solve the problem, to write the essay or to throw the ball for a touchdown. This step can feel hardest, because it requires precision, focus and determination. But, even after having to throw the ball away or take a knee to avoid a sack, Brady still kept working and playing, staying focused on the task and demonstrating the executive function skill “follow-through” that many students aim to master.

Even though the work may feel done, the task is not over until all parts of it are complete. Brady didn’t give up after his first touchdown, but instead followed through with the second, the two-point conversions, and the field goal to send the game to overtime. Your child can follow through the same way by checking her finished product against her assignment requirements (often times a rubric from the teacher) and making adjustments to improve her draft.

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are heroes in New England for their craft, but they can also be shining examples for your child in school. Next time your child sits down to complete a tough assignment, remind her to “do her job,” and explain what getting the job done truly means. The odds may feel stacked against her, but challenges will never be impossible, even record-breaking Super Bowl wins, when she has the right approach.