Tom House

337: Inside the Mind of Sport’s Greatest Teaching Guru

This week’s conversation is with Dr. Tom House, a former Major League Baseball pitcher turned world-renowned expert in the biomechanics of throwing.

Often referred to as the “father of modern pitching mechanics” and a “quarterback whisperer”, Tom has coached some of the world’s most elite throwers like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Nolan Ryan, Andrew Luck, Dak Prescott… and the list goes on.

Tom is one of the preeminent pioneers who brought science into the art of coaching – after eight years as a big league pitcher and eight more as a big league pitching coach, he earned a doctorate in sports psychology, and has gone on to write or co-write 22 books on throwing mechanics.

Now, Tom is on a mission to pay it forward to the next generation – his new revolutionary app, Mustard, makes world-class coaching and tactics used by professional athletes accessible to athletes of all ages right from their smartphone.

I can’t wait for you to learn from Tom – not as an elite throwing coach, but as a pioneer, a risk-taker, a visionary, and a master of craft who’s deep commitment, curiosity, and expertise has left a lasting mark in the world of sport – and subsequently the world of human expression and potential.

“If you’re not becoming, you’re a has-been. It’s okay to have been really good at something, but if you’ve locked onto only what you used to be… you might as well throw in the towel.”

In This Episode:

Family values

I grew up with an ex GI who went to school on the GI Bill that was living the dream after World War II and then myself and my brother were brought up. My dad didn’t know a whole lot about sports and my mom didn’t care about sports. She only cared about grades, because she knew that grades would allow you to get to college, and my brother and I were going to go to college no matter what. So I would come home, I’d walk in the door at 5:00 and I’d say, “Hey dad, I threw a no hitter today.” And my dad would say, “that’s great. How did you do that?” And so I’d walk from him to my mom and I say, “Hey mom, I threw no hitter today.” And she said, “That’s really good. Did you get an A in English?” So for both my brother and myself, it was really cool that we were good at sports, but that wasn’t the priority. The priority is, how did it happen and why were you good?

Asking the right questions

It’s a way different sports world now than it was when I was breaking in. We did not have data. We did not have analytics. We didn’t have any of this stuff. And I can remember good games or bad games, winning seasons or bad seasons, there were a lot of times when I said to myself, “Is this really true, what they’re telling me? I mean, I can’t see how this fits in the outcome.” And I was always encouraged by my parents to ask questions. And I asked a lot of questions to a point where I was probably a little bit of a pain in the butt to both teachers and coaches from day one. And it wasn’t that I was malicious. If I didn’t understand it, I was always raising my hand, and that had some good – and some bad – attached to it.

Sport as a vehicle

These are turbulent times that we’re living in right now. And I think sports, in my opinion, are one of the few things left where everybody can collaborate even when their views on the world or things are completely different. And the power of play and the lessons that sports teach, no matter what your political, religion, whatever your beliefs might be, there’s a common denominator there. And so I’m blessed to have sports as the vehicle to deliver what I feel will actually help youngsters.

Keeping kids in sport

The research has shown that if we can get a 14 year old male or female to stay with sports, whatever it might be, through high school, that they are better socially, they’re better health wise, they’re better with self worth. The power of sports are undeniable. And as it turned out, this app we call Mustard, takes virtually everything we give our elite athletes and that they pay a premium price for, it gives to a mom and a dad of a 12 year old for free, so that he or she can help their child in the backyard and have the same efficacy to teach biomechanically, functional strength wise, nutrition and sleep and mental emotionally.

The importance of self-reflection

Insight, hindsight, foresight, all of those things require a little bit of self-evaluation. And when you’re evaluating, when you’re brushing your teeth at night, and you’re looking at yourself in the mirror, if there’s anything that causes you to take a second look, that’s probably what you need to work on the hardest tomorrow. And I kind of got that from my mom. Live your day to its fullest. Be the best you can be every day. But look back when you’re going to bed at night and ask yourself, is there anything I could have done better or anything I should do differently? Then you itemize, prioritize and actualize it tomorrow.


Number one priority for me has got to be fun, or we’re not going to do it. And when an athlete or a person walks into my life, it’s about that person or that athlete first, everything else second. And the support for that is called authenticity. There’s a lot of people out there that are brilliant at what they do. A lot of people that take care of themselves first and everybody else second. A lot of people are altruistic and go the other way. And I don’t care what that person is, as long as they’re authentic.

Long-term adaptive learning

We learn to learn, we learn, and we learn to relearn. And what happens to most people when they learn how to learn and they learn X, whatever amount of learn that is, they put a ceiling on it. I think what my brother and I and people that I surround myself with do is we continue to learn because we’re not afraid to relearn. We’re not so set in concrete that we only will allow our thought processes to be the centerpiece of any conversation. So when you talked about insight. When we first came on this call right here, I always play this little game for myself. If I was you looking at me, what would make this something positive between the two of us? And do I represent anything or do I do anything that would jeopardize an interaction to where at the end of our conversation today, we both didn’t walk away feeling better for the experience?

Fail fast, fail forward

It hasn’t all been peaches and cream. There’s times that you have doubt, times you get your butt kicked. And one of our tenants with the people I hang onto, life is about failing as much as it is about succeeding, and we encourage people to fail fast forward. The guys that move ahead, the gals that move ahead are the ones that are willing to fail and learn from your failures to move forward. We live in an outcome world right now, and parents don’t like to see their kids fail. And my mom used to say, “If it doesn’t kill you, it’s been a good experience.” And you can talk about experience, but the individual you’re talking to has to experience it to turn it into knowledge and wisdom.

More on failure

It’s as simple as this. I never looked at failure the way other people did. It wasn’t life and death. It was like, “Well, I know that doesn’t work, so we’ll avoid that next time through.” And that caused me issues also, because people thought early on that I took failing or losing too lightly. And I would feel bad just like everybody did, but I didn’t dwell on it. And the research shows today that if you dwell on failure, you never get to get moving forward to get out of the failure mode. So what happened 20 minutes ago doesn’t really have anything to do with what’s going on right now.

Developing empathy, through sport

That home run that I gave up to Chris Chambliss in Yankee Stadium, that pretty much cost me my career in Boston. The game’s over, I’m sitting on the bench, the ground crew’s finishing up, the stadium crew’s finishing up. I do not want to go in the clubhouse because I know that I there’s writers waiting there. I probably cost every one of my teammates. I think playoff money at that time was $11,000 grand. I’m going, “Ugh, this is just not something I want to do.” And Carl Yastrzemski walks out, has a couple of tall cool ones, sits down next to me on the bench and says, “Was it the right pitch?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Was it the wrong location?” I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “Screw it. It’s only chips. It’s not like losing friends. You got 24 guys in there that know exactly what you’re going through. Come on, let’s go.” Now if it had to been anybody but Carl Yastrzemski, I probably would’ve blown it off. But here’s the captain of their Red Sox, Hall of Fame superstar telling me you got 24 guys in there that know exactly what you’re going through. Now, where in today’s world can you find something like that, that would explain the concept of empathy?

You’re either becoming, or you’re a has-been

If you’re not becoming, you’re a has-been. That’s something that people don’t realize. It’s okay to have been really good at something. But if you’ve locked onto what you used to be, you’re a has-been. If you’re not becoming, if you’re not waking up every morning saying, “Somehow, some way I’m going to go with this. I’m going to get something new and add it to my equation.” If you’re not becoming, you might as well throw in the towel.

His Parkinson’s diagnosis

When I was first being diagnosed, nobody could tell me what was wrong with me. I thought I had a brain tumor. There were things that were really, really easy in the past that I couldn’t do anymore. Then you get the diagnosis of Parkinson’s, and I can remember thinking to myself, “My life is over.” It’s a kick in the gut. And then I said, “Maybe not, let’s find out what Parkinson’s, we know what the diagnosis is, but what do people that have Parkinson’s do?” And I couldn’t find answers anywhere. Ride the bike, I heard that. Beat on a big bag, that was another thing. Get used to being tired, get used to being unmotivated. And I said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a second. How can you say that just because you have Parkinson’s?” Well, now I understand that sometimes waking up in the morning and just thinking about brushing your teeth seems like you’re talking to yourself about running a marathon. But then there’s a different set of parameters and you say, “Okay, is this what I’m dealing with? Well, I can get around that.” So it’s been a constant, even with the kick in the gut called Parkinson’s. I think we’ve continued to move forward in all aspects of what we do, and we’re making the Parkinson’s room smarter for the experience.

Finding and attracting community

You never know who your partners are going to end up being. But if you’re trying to become, if you’re continuing, and looking at things in a positive way, people that should find you, find you, and that’s kind of what I’m seeing right now. And everything that we touch, the cool thing about getting older is that you develop relationships that some are pretty impactful.

Changing his communication style

When you’re a small man with a big mouth, and you have strong opinions, it equals ass kicking. So I learned early on that it was okay to have a very strong opinion, but to become confrontational was not the way it was supposed to go. So remember when we talked earlier, where it hasn’t all been easy, and it’s taken me probably most of my adult life to, even though I know I’m right, it does you no good to fight with someone about what they think is right. But if you can collaborate with them, both people will walk away better for the experience. So early on, I knew my stuff was pretty good. And if you and I were talking, and you said something that I knew wasn’t correct, I would call you on it or make fun of you because of it, and it didn’t work. There wasn’t any learning going on. What I have figured out in the last 10, 15 years is I really respect your belief, and I really respect your commitment to that belief. But I’ve been where you’re at, where I’ve proven to myself that where you’re at isn’t where I want to be. Is there a way we can both still hang out together without confrontation? And if we do that, we’re both going to be better for the experience.

Framing and reframing

When it comes to the human mind, the human mind learns by framing things. You learn to learn, you learn, you learn to relearn. We talked about that. And when it comes to input from the senses going into the brain, you frame a thought process, or you frame a way to learn. And that’s pretty much how you approach the world. Well, when the way you frame and think and try to teach doesn’t match up with the individual you’re trying to help, someone has to reframe. And I think that’s with the people I work with, we show them how to reframe to fit the athlete or the person that we’re dealing with. We know that there’s three ways that people learn. They learn by hearing, seeing, and feeling. And with that… Nolan Ryan was one of the few athletes that learned all three ways. He could learn by listening, he could learn by seeing, and he could learn by feeling. Randy Johnson, talking to him, he could not learn anything auditorily by just hearing it. He had to see it and feel it. So you figure out early on with your kids or whoever you’re dealing with what way does this person learn, and then you have to reframe your approach to the information exchange to fit.

Parenting in sport

I don’t think athletes understand that it’s harder on a parent to sit and watch the game than it is for the athlete to play the game. There’s a disconnect there. As a parent, you have to realize that even if it’s delivered with love, trying to be a coach from the stands doesn’t work. And post-game is not about the parent and the coach. It’s about the kid. And the rule of thumb working backwards in the car ride home, conversation should not be about the game. When lose or draw whether your son or daughter did really well or not, the conversation should be generated from the athlete. And there should be no teaching moments until 24 hours later. You’ve got to let stuff settle in. And kids that are too invested in the feeling of winning and losing probably burn out of sports before age 14 or 15 because quite simply, sports are games of failure coached by negative people in a misinformation environment.

Four levels of confidence

There are four levels of confidence on the elite athlete level. There’s unconscious incompetence, there’s conscious incompetence, there’s unconscious confidence, and there’s conscious confidence. They all fit somewhere in there. Most elite athletes are unconsciously competent. They’re really, really good and they’re not quite sure why. So that is the easy, that’s the low hanging fruit because when they show up and they present themselves as being that individual, we obviously test, it’s called stat screening, screen test assess for training. We can identify from our four legs of the health and performance table what needs to be fixed and that’s an easy lesson.

How he started working with Tom Brady

I was at USC with Matt Cassel, a Trojan who played with Tom in New England when Tom was hurt that first year, that year he was hurt? And we’re going through our normal… There’s other quarterbacks there. I think Brees was there. I can’t remember. There were five or six quarterbacks and here comes Tom Brady. And he said, “You mind if I hang out, maybe work out with you?” And that was the start. The reason he came by, he had a long term quarterback coach that passed away from cancer. And he was looking for someone that might fill that void. And because of people like Drew Brees that seem to be thriving in our environment, the word got out, and that quarterback fraternity is a pretty small little group, so one thing leads to another and pretty soon I’m working with them all. So that’s where he showed up the first time, about 12 years ago now.

Investment in the process

When you run across someone like Brady, who shows up, he’s trying to get 1% better at something every day of his life. And his commitment to that 1% is breathtaking. He does it to a point where every throw he makes, he’ll look at you to figure out if you were watching and he’ll actually do something wrong to make sure you’re paying attention. And if you don’t tell him, “Come on, you’re messing with me. You know that was wrong.” In other words, he is so invested in the learning process. When you’re done working with him, you’re drained, because if he throws 60 balls, it’s a master’s thesis on 60 balls. And they’ll take notes. The way he learns is that we do it on the field. He’ll take a notebook and he’ll make notes. And then that night before he goes to bed, he’ll text me on the two or three things that he thought he learned new and two or three things that he needs to work on tomorrow.

Imagination and risk

A three year old in a sandbox has an imagination. You ask that three year old, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” He’ll look you in the face and say, “I want to be a fire truck.” Well, you and I know he can’t be a fire truck, but his imagination allows him. And what happens when you go from imagination out of the sandbox when you’re learning and moving forward, you start assessing behavior and belief, and the more your behaviors cause something to happen, the more you understand the value or the need for risk management. So risk, when tolerable, is good for you. Risk with uncertainty is bad for you. Risk without the understanding of consequences is devastating.

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