Are You Ready?!

I'm often asked, "What motivated you to start The Motley Fool?"

The first answer is simple: the chance to work full-time with my brother. But the second, I've never shared.

That answer begins 25 years ago on a muddy field, in Groton, Mass., in the driving rain. A few dozen high-school athletes are slogging to the end of a football practice, and our coach, Jake Congleton, is howling at us. "The season starts in a week! You're not ready! This is not good enough!"

Not good enough, is all I can think, as the coaches leave the field and we huddle the Groton School varsity team in the endzone.

Growing up, there wasn't anything I loved more than playing tackle football. I fought to keep up with my older brother, David, and his friends. Some of them were twice my size. I threw everything I had at their knees to try to bring them down. I dove for catches in our backyard, even when the odds favored landing on the brickwork that marked out-of-bounds. I dealt with fumbles, missing tackles, and losing most days. I got up from one ferocious hit after another, wondering whether my ribs or shoulders or brains were indefinitely out of place. (Sometimes I still wonder.)

Nothing stopped our games, though. We played in the mud. We played in the swampy summer heat of Washington, D.C. We played with frozen eyebrows through ice storms and the driving snow. We played when it was too dark to see the ball. We played through open wounds, bruises, cursing, cheap shots, late hits, delivery sacks, gang tackles, tears, and endless laughter. Football was more important to me than exams, grades, school applications. Not that it should've been, but it was. It was almost as important to me as my high-school girlfriend, Amy.

I expect many of you have loved the game of football -- or any game -- this much. Maybe the game of beating your best marathon time, or the game of ping pong, or basketball. The game of gymnastics, soccer, rugby. The game of anything that drives you with relentless passion toward mastery. My passion was football.

So, there I was, a senior in high school. Co-captain, standing ankle-deep in muck alongside maybe the greatest player in Groton's history, Dave Archer. Our coaches Congleton, Choate, and Alexander had warned us and left the field. So we brought our team together there and agreed -- this is not good enough. Our efforts weren't good enough. Our playbook mastery, not good enough. Our form tackling wasn't good enough. Our line blocking, not good enough.

Everything was just not good enough.

So at dusk, in the rain, we made a commitment that our coaches tried to shut down when they heard it. But we made it because it was essential and authentic. If our linebacker Sean Delaney was going to play with a back injury all year ... if Gat Caperton and others were going to hold down the offensive line with not a hint of glory the whole damn season ... if Chip McDonald was going to have to take some blindside hits as quarterback ... if we were going to put in all the hours, run all the sprints, take all the beatings, and all the heat, and risk all the injuries, then it was simple: Anything less than an undefeated football season would be failure.

That commitment and fierce desire frames the second answer to why I started The Motley Fool with my brother 17 years ago. Those feelings from the football field inform every important decision I've made at our company. They've helped me through the dramatic turns of our business. And they've guided my investments, too, as I've scoured the markets for companies that have the passion, will, commitment and that make sacrifices equal to ours on the high school football field.

The 1985 Groton School Varsity Football Team has led me to businesses like Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX  ) and Middleby (Nasdaq: MIDD  ) and Dolby Systems (NYSE: DLB  ) , each of which has risen many times in value. For the same reason, I've rallied around Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-B  ) , Whole Foods (Nasdaq: WFMI  ) , and Costco (Nasdaq: COST  ) .

These companies and their leaders know that the greatest commitments are the ones made when you are all in. The greatest days are the ones spent pursuing mastery, through the muck if you must. And the greatest rewards come when you get the best people united around a common goal, defined by something they truly love.

We finished our season undefeated and untied, for what stands today as only one of three undefeated teams in the past 40 years of Groton football. In our final game, against century-old rival St. Marks, we led 35-0 at halftime, having shaved our heads the day before (an act with permanent consequences for me).

This weekend, we'll be celebrating the 25th anniversary of that season. And you can see my love for it all in this 17-second video, in which Josh Karch throws a 50-yard halfback option pass to me in our hard-fought opening-day win. My post-catch reaction in our jailbird uniforms tells the story:

This is the same type of passion that has driven us at The Motley Fool since our founding. It's the secret sauce behind all of our investment decisions. And it's driving the market-beating performance of our Million Dollar Portfolio, a service which we're reopening for the first time in 12 months. (You can read about the service, and get a free report of our favorite investments for the year ahead, in our Motley Fool Top Picks & Portfolio Perspectives 2011. Just enter your email in the box below.)

I hope you find this same sort of passion in your work, in your investing, and in your daily life.

Once our season began in 1985, we started every football practice with a simple call-and-response:

Are you ready!?

Ready!

Are you ready!?

Ready!

ARE YOU READY!?

So, are you?

Fool co-founder and CEO Tom Gardner does not own shares of any of the stocks mentioned. Berkshire Hathaway and Costco Wholesale are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Berkshire Hathaway, Costco Wholesale, Dolby Laboratories, Netflix, and Whole Foods Market are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. The Fool owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and Costco Wholesale. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (27) | Recommend This Article (183)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2010, at 3:51 PM, TMFWizard wrote:

    And the uniforms.....amazing. It's like a remake of "The Longest Yard" only it's at a juvenile detention center.

  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2010, at 3:56 PM, tosatti1 wrote:

    It's like Knute Rockne -- but with P&L statements. I'll see you tomorrow Tommy G. -- TOES

  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2010, at 4:00 PM, XMFConnor wrote:

    Awesome article

  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2010, at 4:08 PM, ElleRB wrote:

    Brilliant!

  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2010, at 4:10 PM, chomp20x wrote:

    Inspirational read and priceless video!

  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2010, at 4:25 PM, bhessel wrote:

    Sheesh. I can’t believe you waited this long to write this post. What if you’d been hit by a truck five years ago?! And usually you are so responsible!

    This reminds me a bit of the Steve Jobs story about taking a calligraphy class at college (before dropping out)…you just never know what will prove useful, so the best strategy is to commit yourself to doing stuff you love to do, and always keep an eye open for interesting opportunities.

    And yes, the video mos def enhances the post and yes, I am aware that the Fool publishing technology has had limitations until recently, but no, I don’t agree that the James Cameron/no-Avatar-before-its-time excuse serves here.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF8uR6Z6KLc

  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2010, at 7:50 PM, zymok wrote:

    Well done, Tom.

  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2010, at 8:09 PM, brooks1980 wrote:

    Nice catch Dave. That was awesome. Definitely the best Fool article ever.

  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2010, at 10:00 PM, penchy1 wrote:

    Tom

    Terrific! Very cool background to TMF. Let's have more stuff like that.

    Thanks.

    Mark

  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2010, at 10:02 PM, penchy1 wrote:

    I just realized my previous comment's first two words. After that catch you were probably called that!

  • Report this Comment On November 13, 2010, at 2:39 AM, Kiffit wrote:

    That was one hell of a play and an absolutely iconic moment; but it is absolutely nothing compared to an Australian rules pack mark (catch) that can involve as many as half dozen people going for the ball, and someone uses them as a leaping platform to take it at 14 to 15 feet off the ground.

  • Report this Comment On November 13, 2010, at 11:21 PM, henryking54 wrote:

    It was Tom Gardner's decision to put 80% of Million Dollar Portfolio into SPY at the outset, overruling other members of the team. Was he "ready" then? No, he failed miserably based on his fear of falling behind the S&P 500 index.

    It was Tom Gardner who recommended Select Comfort four times in Stock Advisor, only to see the stock fall below $1 per share. Was he "ready" then? No, he failed miserably.

    Catching one pass in high school is no preparation for successful investing as the previous two examples of Tom Gardner's failed investment decisions demonstrate.

    See definition #4 of Groton:

    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Groton

  • Report this Comment On November 14, 2010, at 8:06 AM, TMFTomGardner wrote:

    Thanks to all for the great comments. I loved writing this article, and we had an outstanding reunion weekend. Bhessel, you're very right -- I should've written this a long time ago. I loved Steve Jobs' commencement address -- and couldn't agree with him more... Stay hungry, stay Foolish. Kiffit, I do agree with you, Australian rules football is an amazingly demanding sport. Henry, I'm sorry you had such a bad reaction to it all. Your points are reminders that you can still win big even when you make some bad calls. Your link to urbandictionary just points to the profound bias in your thinking. So be it.

    We watched films of our season and spent the evening together with our coaches and teammates. It's amazing how the passage of 25 years hasn't weakened the bonds of friendship -- rather they've grown stronger.

    Thanks again for reading my article, Fools.

  • Report this Comment On November 14, 2010, at 1:50 PM, accurateeye wrote:

    Clearly not a 50 yard play. A nice play, but not a 50 yard play. Exaggeration in a financial adviser is frightening.

  • Report this Comment On November 14, 2010, at 2:59 PM, hiddenflem wrote:

    Awesome article. The uniforms? Hideous!

  • Report this Comment On November 14, 2010, at 5:33 PM, MazonCreekRich wrote:

    Tom,

    Great moment, great catch -- more-than-great article.

    I asked my five childen to read it in the hopes that they will see its most important message: do something -- anything -- but do it with passion and total commitment.

    Best,

    Rich

    BITB

  • Report this Comment On November 15, 2010, at 4:52 AM, FreethinkerKW wrote:

    <b>Work should be love made visible.</b>

    Khalil Gibran from "The Prophet"

    This was one of my favorite stories ever posted on Fool. Thanks, Tom!

    Rock in Key West

  • Report this Comment On November 15, 2010, at 12:07 PM, GW1000 wrote:

    I am amazed that HenryKing54 above was so critical of Mr. Gardner and the Stock Advisor. He must have broken the diversification rule and loaded up on Select Comfort. There are risks associated with any stock. That is why you should limit your ownership percentage for any holding to about 5%. The Stock Advisor newsletter is one of the most successfull advisement/stockpicking services ever and includes many multibaggers. The Stock Advisor newsletter actually recommended Netfix, Priceline, Marvel, Quality Systems, Amazon, etc. before they skyrocketed. That is amazing! We are talking over 1000% gains in most of these. Henry quit complaining and start buying the Fool recommendations.

  • Report this Comment On November 15, 2010, at 1:23 PM, henryking54 wrote:

    Another thing: why did Gardner fall down catching the ball? The pass was nicely thrown and there was nobody around him. Any decent wide receiver would have caught the ball and kept running. This klutz trips and falls. If I were the coach, I would have benched the sucker for not scoring.

    Henry

  • Report this Comment On November 15, 2010, at 1:35 PM, pinw wrote:

    Yeah. Henry, don't let the perfect become the enemy of the good, because perfect doesn't exist. Good does, and you'll find it here.

  • Report this Comment On November 15, 2010, at 4:08 PM, Manifest wrote:

    In football and investing, "Pain is merely weakness leaving the body." -- Coach Jack Beal, Rochester (Michigan) Adams Highlanders.

    Nicely done, Tom. Mitch Albom wrote an article about our son's high school football team that I'll have to send your way.

    But my favorite memory was the speech you delivered in Chicago (and the subsequent article) about the Beardstown Ladies one week after the controversy erupted and you were a lone voice in the wilderness -- defending their honor, commitment and message -- believing that it really could be simple mistake. (It was)

    Touchdown!

  • Report this Comment On November 16, 2010, at 9:20 PM, MarionContrarian wrote:

    Great advert!

  • Report this Comment On November 17, 2010, at 5:01 AM, Mary953 wrote:

    Great article, Fantastic clip! And for a bunch of kids to show that commitment to excellence (Yes, Henry, Excellence!) is inspiring.

    The comments simply reinforce something that I have realized over the last couple of years. There are some truly enjoyable people at CAPS, and always just a couple who feel the need to find something to criticize. Enjoy the first group. Ignore the second..

  • Report this Comment On November 18, 2010, at 9:46 AM, kstrick62 wrote:

    Henry, how were the games you starred in at halftime with your trombone?

  • Report this Comment On November 18, 2010, at 10:00 PM, none0such wrote:

    @ TMFTomG

    Kinda looks like you trapped the ball, but football is not really my game. Inspirational article but it needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Perhaps that is why the comments are polarized.

    @ henryking52 and acurateeye

    Interesting read in the Economist last week (Nov.13th). http://www.economist.com/node/17460702?story_id=17460702

    How one analyzes risks and social contracts determine if you are a psychopath, which is why you find such individuals in the prison and in the echelons on business. Apparently, lack of shame or guilt for not playing by the rules may actually provide a socially beneficial service.

  • Report this Comment On December 17, 2010, at 1:05 PM, stmmmd99 wrote:

    henryking54, the ball was underthrown. Anybody with eyes can see that. Nothing you say is worth anything because you clearly have a bug up your can.

  • Report this Comment On December 21, 2010, at 3:47 PM, DigbyDaddy wrote:

    Great article Tom:

    Unfortunate that the only people who enjoyed it and said so were the ones who seem able to share

    your excitement and sense of fulfillment with a recollection of a significant event from your past.

    You should be proud (and you seemed so) to share something so special with your readers.

    For those naysayers I can only hope that when

    and if their children do something special they don't

    rain on their parade. If they do they will probably live to regret it.

    As the Aussie's would say "Good On Ya" Tom

    DigbyDaddy

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