Super Bowl, Super Brain


I’ve got no horse in the race called the Super Bowl coming up this weekend.  My childhood hometown team the Cleveland Brown’s is a pathetic excuse for a franchise right now.   My adulthood hometown, Los Angeles, has no team.  And my adopted team, the Patriots missed making the “Big Game” this year.

Because I am huge sports nut (and because of my fondness for chips and onion dip), I will be watching anyway and have to admit I am a bit torn. I want to root for Richard Sherman’s team (the Seahawks) but am also fascinated with Peyton Manning (the Broncos) after hearing him speak at Media Day earlier this week.

For those who are less familiar with football, Peyton Manning, a future Hall of Famer, will take the field at this Sunday’s Super Bowl for the third time in his career and for the first time as the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos. 

Manning, in his 16th season in the NFL, is league’s only four-time MVP and his 13 career Pro Bowl selections are the most of any quarterback in NFL history.  His statistics are incredible and he holds many records in the NFL.  Additionally, the 6’5” quarterback seems to be a genetically endowed athlete as both his father and brother was/is a NFL quarterback notable in their own rights. 

But it isn’t inherent talent that makes Manning an exceptional athlete or even all that interesting to me.  Rather, it is his growth mindset: the belief that a person’s brains and talents are simply a starting point and that abilities can be developed through hard work and dedication.  This is why I became fascinated with Manning.

Earlier this week, at Super Bowl media day, Manning reflected on his success noting that when it comes to football, learning is a perpetual process. “If you ever stop learning,” he said, “that’s when you are in trouble.” 

This from the man who is central in the debate of who is the greatest quarterback, if not football player, of all time.  Learning.  While others reach the pinnacle of their career and think, therefore, they have little to nothing left to learn, Manning recognizes that it is only through constant education that he remains, literally and figuratively, at the top of his game. 

As an educator, I have to admit, I am in love with him because of this.

It is his commitment to learning that has developed one of Manning’s most effective tools: his agility on the line.  After each of his seasons in the NFL, Manning spends all of March with his offensive coordinator, watching and dissecting each and every of the preceding season’s plays, looking for patterns.  This discipline has led Manning to increase what psychologists call fluid intelligence: the brain’s ability to recognize patterns and solve problems in new, fast-paced environments. 

And it is precisely this fluid intelligence that allows Manning to do some of the things that make him such an exceptional player: to call his own plays, to change those plays on the line if he senses a defensive response that requires him to do so, to make rapid decisions as to who to pass to, or to prance around the backfield assessing his options and to pump fake if needed.  Manning’s fluid intelligence is what elevates him from being an excellent athlete to an elite one.  It is the super-brain that leads to the Super Bowl. 

Cultivating a growth mindset in ourselves, our students and our children is the most essential thing we must do in teaching, parenting and coaching.  As teachers/parents/coaches, we owe it to our students to constantly better ourselves.  In turn, we must seek to foster a growth mind-set in our students.  Talent is simply a baseline that measures our natural proclivities, and it squandered when we don’t multiply it by lifelong learning. 

So, if you are watching the Big Game this Sunday, make sure to tell your kiddos about having a growth mindset and continue to check out this blog as I will be writing more about how to develop a growth mindset in yourself and the kids with whom you work.

Go (insert your favorite team here)!  And pass the chips and dip, please.