Lessons In Leadership: One On One With Bart Oates

I spoke to five-time Pro Bowler and three-time Super Bowl champion Bart Oates about his best lessons from his career in football

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Adam: What is something about you that your fans don’t know?

Bart: Many of my fans know that I was born and raised in Georgia. In the South, smoking meats is a way of life. I’ve spent many years learning and practicing the craft. This month, I got to live out one of my bucket-list items by joining the Traeger Grills BBQ team at the ‘Memphis in May’ festival.

Adam: What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your development and success?

Bart: Enduring three football practices per day during my freshman year of high school in Albany, Georgia was one challenge that had lasting impact. We’d be out there practicing in the Southwest Georgia heat and humidity in the middle of August. I knew then that if I could make it through those practices and not only survive but still give my best, I could make it through anything.

Adam: In your experience, other than natural talent, what are the defining qualities of a superstar athlete?

Bart: There are three defining qualities of a superstar: confidence, patience, and hard work. A superstar is someone who always has confidence in themselves— even in the face of defeat. They know that today’s loss is not indicative of their overall capabilities. A superstar also has the ability to display a great deal of patience. He/she can endure the difficult and stay composed and consistent in any situation. Finally, a superstar never underestimates the value of hard work—and is always the first one in and the last one out.

Adam: What players and coaches have you learned the most from? What did you learn from them?

Bart: Like many who have played at the professional level, I could name so many players and coaches who have taught me lessons. Two people that immediately come to mind are my high school football coach, Carden Daly, and my former teammate, Jim Burt.

Coach Daly was extremely demanding, but he was fair. He truly taught me what it meant to be accountable.

Jim and I began our relationship as rivals. He was a nose tackle and I was a center, so naturally we would always come head-to-head in practice. Through our wives who had become friends, our relationship off-the-field began to develop as well. One day in the off-season, Jim called and asked if I wanted to practice some drills. I obliged and our friendship really grew from there. Through this relationship, it reinforced the need for trust, camaraderie, and the importance of working together to make each other better.

Adam: Who are the greatest leaders you have played with, and what do you believe are the defining qualities of a great leader?

Bart: Having been part of three Super Bowl teams, I know the importance of having a strong quarterback. Phil Simms stands out to me as a great leader because he would always do whatever it took to win. Phil never wanted the spotlight or special recognition. He just wanted to do his job. What I really appreciated about him was his moxie. He was just a very determined player.

Another person who comes to mind is Jeff Hostetler. Here’s a guy who sat on the bench for many years. Talk about patience and endurance. Jeff stayed focused when a lot of other guys would have checked out. Due to his preparation, he was able to succeed during some very clutch moments.

The defining qualities of a leader is someone who leads by example, knows how to motivate others, and is willing to put in the work to get, and remain, at the top.

Adam: What are the best lessons you have learned through your career in sports that are applicable to those of us who will never earn a living playing pro ball?

Bart: There will always be losses. But those losses don’t have to define you. As long as you get up one more time than you get knocked down, you’ll be successful. It’s your willingness to stay focused, persevere and stay dedicated to your vision that dictates your success.

Adam: What is the most surprising thing about life in professional sports? What is something that would shock fans?

Bart: How mundane it can be. People think it’s exciting all of the time. Being in professional sports is just like any other job. It’s not all glamorous. And just like any job, you really need to like what you do and the people you work with. Look at it this way: I’ve played in three Super Bowls. So, in essence, I’ve had nine hours of what people perceive professional sports to be like. But in contrast, my teammates and I dedicated tens of thousands of hours of practices, conditioning, weight lifting, meetings, film watching, etc. just to earn the privilege to play in those games.

Adam: What is the most surprising thing about life after professional sports?

Bart: How fulfilling it can be. I always knew that professional sports would be a short-term opportunity. There’s nothing better than playing football. It really is a wonderful life. When I got out, I discovered that there were so many other things that I am passionate about—areas where I could find fulfillment. That doesn’t minimize my love for the game. The same disciplines, lessons, and character traits you learn in football can help you be successful in other pursuits.

Adam: How have you been trying to make a positive impact for former players?

Bart: I’m a lineman. And a lineman relishes in the success of the team. Helping former players get connected to the business opportunities and wellness resources available to them through the NFLA is how I’m currently helping to make a positive impact for my team. 

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