After three seasons of a 7-9 losing record, the New Orleans Saints are heading to the 2018-19 NFC Conference Championship. It has been nine long years since quarterback Drew Brees led the Saints to their only championship while earning himself an Most Valuable Player honor in the process. This means that Brees is also nine years older, which for some professional athletes is an entire career in itself. But, most athletes do not train like Brees.
His “unshakeable confidence” comes from the fact that he is well prepared, focuses on fundamentals, and works on every detail of his technique. This means he is in the top physical condition of his career AND has over 15 years of experience in the most elite arenas of competition. For most athletes and performers, they are preparing to retire just when they can visualize the game best because their body (and mental fire) begins to fail them. Being the best requires a constant rededication to perfecting your craft and your ability to perform based on TODAY’S reality, not the glory days of yesteryear.
Practice how you play
Brees does not just watch a few films or hits the gym a few days a week for maintenance. He is constantly practicing and challenging himself by using dynamic simulations. Even though he has thrown almost 7,000 game-day passes in the last 12 years, his preparation routine includes working with his teammates in realistic scenarios of what could happen in a game. Many performers begin to think after so many real life applications that their need to practice goes away. It is the opposite if you want to keep improving when the competition is constantly trying to beat you.
Despite the fact that Brees is heading to a certain Hall of Fame induction as one of the greatest QBs of all time, he works with a trainer constantly. One of the big areas his trainer watches is the placement of his feet, not his hands. Specifically, he is watching to make sure his back foot stays planted during his throws since that is where all of his throwing power comes from. A failure of form would not only lead to decreased effectiveness, but it also could lead to injury due to making his aging, right shoulder do more of the work than it should.
Stoke the competitive fire
By constantly changing his training, goals, and routine, he stays mentally and physically fresh. Focus comes from having to be mentally alert and avoiding the autonomous phase that cause many performers to believe they can do their job in their sleep. Brees has the luxury of having very defined measurements for winning: games, records, and trophies. However, with a little thought, we can all quantify how we can judge our performance. There is always someone or something chasing us.
For those of us (a.k.a., all of us) not going to the Super Bowl this year, how do you apply these principles to your profession? Here are some simple ideas to try immediately:
- PRACTICE THE WAY YOU PLAY. Identify the top 3-4 scenarios you are most likely to face in your day to day duties and build simulations for them. Don’t start with your entire playbook or permutation of what could happen. Start with the most likely, most probable, and most important. Rehearse them with your teammates. And, then do it again.
- Simulation performance will identify which fundamentals need some work. Use a coach or other observers to offer feedback by reflecting on the performance and going back to skills training to work on the details. Do you pause during price negotiations? Are you too defensive when talking about competitors? These are all skills that can be learned with deliberate practice.
- Make commitments, compete with your teammates, and keep score. Set up managed competitions where the goal is for everyone to improve. There will always be superstars, but even your best performers need the entire team to get better. Constantly change the game and metrics for success to keep people on their toes.
“If you’re not practicing the way you’re going to play, it’s a waste of time. In fact, I think it’s counterproductive,” Brees says. “You’re visualizing the defense, visualizing a look, visualizing the clock in your head. You play the game in your head, so when the real game comes around, you’ve already been there. You’ve already done it.”