Tackle Financial Literacy Like A Pro Linebacker

By Brandon Copeland

“You can’t stress what you can’t control.”

This quote has stuck with me since I was a rookie. I can’t control who makes it on the field when the team’s roster gets cut from 90 players to 53, but I can be the first to show up, practice with intention, and be the last to leave. This “no days off” mentality has helped me build the resilience I need to excel at football, and it’s helped me off the field as well, especially when it comes to my personal finances.

I have been blessed to live my dream as a professional football player and come home to my beautiful wife and son. But just like football, life is always going to throw unexpected plays my way. To protect my family’s financial well-being, I try to stay focused on my financial fitness and keep my eyes on our future goals.

But this wasn’t always my approach. Growing up, I didn’t have much financial education, and honestly it led to a few mistakes early on. And I know I’m not the only one who’s experienced financial challenges without having the knowledge and skills to cope and navigate to the other side. I’ve seen firsthand what can happen when people are only thinking about the now — and not future goals or life after football. These mistakes don’t only impact people financially — they have an impact on mental health too. 

Making financial education more accessible and relatable inspired me to begin teaching ‘Life 101’ at my alma mater, University of Pennsylvania, and what excites me about my partnership with Capital One. Together, we’re raising awareness about the impact of stress on financial decision making through findings from the 2019 Mind Over Money study. While the study took place before COVID-19, its findings and practical tips for building a smarter money mindset, even under stressful conditions, are incredibly relevant as we all navigate our new financial circumstances.

And as it turns out, shifting your financial perspective and cultivating resilience is a lot like training to be a professional athlete. Each training session or financial experience provides an opportunity for learning and growth. Here are four lessons that I keep top of mind as I train for peak fitness, both on and off the field. 

Prepare for Your Financial Future Like You Would Prepare for The Big Game

Generally, the game is won or lost before you step on the field. The team that puts in the most work will be more prepared to deal with the unexpected. There’s no such thing as a “set it and forget it” mentality for professional athletes. When it comes to finances, it’s the same thing. You need to dedicate the time and energy toward educating yourself, setting a plan, sticking to it, and continuing to check-in and celebrate progress along the way. Even in challenging times, train your financial mindset like you would during times of low-stress. The difficult times will test your resilience and keep you honest about the financial path you really want to achieve. 

Establish a Game Plan to Put Points On The Board

In football and in finance, you need a plan to get from where you are today to where you want to go tomorrow. There is nothing more thrilling than winning a big game or reaching an established financial goal, but let’s face it, you can’t reach those accomplishments without a game plan that breaks down your end-goal into component parts. When you concentrate on tackling the right plays to reach your goal, fighting through obstacles and celebrating the points on the board along the way, you are building your resilience. Celebrating your small wins and the obstacles you have overcome reinforces your resilience and helps sustain your motivation to make it through to your end goal.

Focus on A Resilient Mentality

Both on and off the field, when people are met with opposition, it sets off a domino effect of bad decisions. If there’s a financial decision you’re unhappy about, accept it, learn from it, and move on. I like to compare past purchases I regret to football plays that didn’t pan out the way I wanted. Instead of dwelling on it, I acknowledge the mistake, assess the new reality, and form a plan to keep moving. A resilient mindset is all about flexibility – the ability to adapt with courage, a.k.a. the game-face you need to keep playing.

Choose to Win for You AND Your Team

When people ask me how I find the strength to persevere through the exhaustion in the third and fourth quarters, I always have the same answer: I think about my family and my teammates. Studies show that your motivation increases when you are doing something for others, even more than traditional incentives like money or reputation. When it comes to accomplishing financial goals, you are more likely to endure obstacles when you have a purpose greater than yourself. 

There is so much to be learned through the process of training that can be applied to financial resilience. Both on and off the field, I am amazed at the human capacity to overcome challenges in order to become more mentally and physically fit. Remember to keep your head up and rely on the tips and tools available to educate yourself and support your journey.

Brandon Copeland

Brandon Copeland is a husband, father, son, and brother, a believer in Christ, an entrepreneur and a professional athlete. He is from Baltimore, MD and lives in New Jersey when he is not at work as a linebacker for the New England Patriots. He graduated from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in May 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in Management and Entrepreneurship. He is entering his second year as an Ivy League professor at his alma mater. His course, called "Life 101" focuses on financial literacy and teaches the constants of life (budgeting, credit, how to purchase a home, etc.) that he felt our education system left undiscussed upon graduating. His goal is to use the college classroom and platform as a launch point to get the information to everyone, ultimately arming everyone with the tools needed to make confident money decisions and over time help shrink the wealth gap! (Lofty goals, he knows!). In his free time, Brandon enjoys getting out of his comfort zone by traveling to experience different cultures around the world. Wings are his favorite food (blue cheese, NEVER ranch) and J. Cole is his favorite rapper.

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