While I’m not a big football fan, come winter, I can get schlepped into the excitement. I’m fascinated by the talent, the small details that can determine the entire season, and, of course, the Super Bowl hype.

But I also try to look out for spiritual lessons in sports. This year, the “light bulb” went off as I read an article about Tom Brady, the quarterback of the New England Patriots. Love him or hate him, you must acknowledge that he is one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. Perhaps most remarkable is his ability to keep playing on an extraordinary level well past the age most quarterbacks begin to decline.

While there is certainly some mazal in athletes staying healthy, the articles I have read highlighted what he does to remain at the top of the game.As I read about his intense schedule, diet and mindset, I couldn’t help but imagine living life so focused on goals, applying these same principles to something far more important—our spiritual lives.

Here are a few snippets from various articles, with spiritual parallels added by yours truly:

Adapting to Change

Photo: Brad Muckenthaler/Flickr
Photo: Brad Muckenthaler/Flickr

“Several years ago, Brady wanted to guard against the diminishing arm strength that dooms most quarterbacks as they age, so he devised a plan with his trainer to rebuild his motion and emphasize using more of his torso to drive the ball down the field. It revitalized his ability to throw deep.”

Kevin Van Valkenburg, ESPN

Is our Jewish journey stagnant? Do we adapt to new challenges or opportunities? When we notice our prayers become too robotic, do we strategize how to make davening more meaningful? If a pocket of time opens up, do we fill it with a new mitzvah or study? When we find our relationships weakening, do we take note and figure out what character traits need some fine-tuning? Do we have a “spiritual trainer” we feel comfortable talking to?

We Are What We Eat

“Brady keeps to an incredibly strict diet that includes a lot of vegetables and lean meats. If it’s not organic, I don’t use it. And whole grains: brown rice, quinoa, millet, beans . . . No white sugar. No white flour. I use Himalayan pink salt as the sodium. I never use iodized salt. No coffee. No caffeine. No fungus. No dairy.”

Personal Chef Allen Campbell in an interview with Boston.com

Observing kashrut, reciting blessings before and after we eat, family Shabbat meals, avoiding chametz on Passover, eating healthfully, eating for the right reasons: So many mitzvahs relate to mindful eating. It’s a way to bring sanctity to what is typically such a mundane part of life. And with all of these mitzvahs, the details really matter. Not only for the health of our body, but also for our soul.

Know Your Opponent

“Tom Brady helped the New England Patriots beat the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday to advance to his seventh Super Bowl, but he spent no time reveling in the glory. In fact, just hours after winning the AFC, Brady was right back to work, up until 1:30 a.m. studying the Falcons’ roster in preparation for the Super Bowl. On other occasions, security guards would be called in the middle of the night as Brady was trying to get into the building to watch film.”

Scott Davis, Business Insider Sports

Torah tells us we have two forces inside of us: Our G‑dly soul, and its opponent, our animal soul. Life is the tale of two souls. There are times that we operate from best selves, and there are moments when we fall prey to our flaws and weak spots.

How well do we really know this opponent? Do we understand ourselves well? Know how to respond when we feel anger or jealous? Recognize the tools that lift us out from sadness? Have the clarity to know which situation to avoid?

The Chabad classic work, the Tanya, is all about understanding the struggle within and using that knowledge to win the game of life.

Never Stop Growing!

“We don’t train with the idea he is already the starting quarterback. Every year, he’s working to be the starting quarterback, and he’s got to work hard to do that. He always talks about it. Every year there is going to be somebody there that is going to outwork me if I don’t continue to work hard. So in his mind, he has to keep working hard in order to continue to perform at the level he has or to improve.”

Body Coach Alex Guerrero in an interview with Bleacher Report

A famous Chassidic quote:

“In material matters, a person who is content with his lot is an individual of the highest quality. In spiritual matters, however, to be complacent is the worst deficiency, and makes one regress and fall, G‑d forbid.”

Just like someone trying to swim against the tide, if you’re not moving forward, you’re probably going backwards. The determination to never feel that “you have arrived,” but rather, that you always keep growing in Torah and mitzvahs is central to the life of a Jew.