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Optimum performance: A 5-step program to fix the New Orleans Saints

The Saints and their fans react in disbelief after the Ravens’ final score during the game between the Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints at the Superdome on Monday, November 24, 2014. (Michael DeMocker, / The Times-Picayune)

New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton has words with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan during the game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, September 28, 2014. (David Grunfeld, | The Times-Picayune)

Have your heard the expression “cream rises to the top, but sometimes it’s impersonated by skim milk”? That could sum up the Saints, a mediocre 4-7 team in a very mediocre NFC South division. I might suggest the Saints’ coaching staff read Jim Collins’ book – Good to Great – to at least finish the season as a consistently good team.

Monday night’s 34-27 loss to the Ravens completed a three-game losing streak at home, yet the Saints are still atop the division with the Falcons (hold tiebreaker) in the “Gone South” division.

After the Monday night debacle, coach Sean Payton was asked why the Saints still have so many issues to figure out? “We’re not trying to figure it out; we’re trying to correct it,” said Payton.

So let me try to help by optimizing the Saints’ performance for the remainder of the season. It all starts with setting realistic goals and finding the path to achieve them. It’s not about what has happened, it’s about the response.

Taken from my third book, Maximum Energy For Life, here are my top five strategies to help the Saints achieve their goal of winning on a consistent basis.

1. Evaluate Where You Are Now

Each player, and for that matter, each coach needs to re-evaluate themselves, their talents and desires as thoroughly as possible. This self-audit will help achieve the goal and also avoid wasting energy pursuing a goal one’s truly not suited for. If in doubt, sit down with a piece of paper and make a contract with yourself outlining how you will assist the team, as well as, yourself, to achieve the ultimate goal of winning.

2. Know Where You Want to Go in the Long Run

The more clearly you can visualize your long-term goals, the more likely you are to avoid wasting your time and energy reaching them. Looking down the road and clearly visualizing your work — on and off the field, your relationships in and out of the game, and your commitment to excellence — can be a game changer. Remember, strive for perfection and accept only excellence.

3. Use Dreams and Visualizations to See Yourself There

As you work toward your goal, spend a certain amount of time each day actually seeing your goal as an accomplished fact. See what it would feel like to be there, doing what you dream about doing. For instance, if you’re a defensive back, envision forcing a fumble or getting a “pick six.” Keep a notebook handy and write down what you see.

4. Develop a Strategy for Distracting Your Opponent to Give Yourself an Opening or Advantage

One of the greatest strengths any person has is instinct. An individual who works from experience and instinct will invariably make the appropriate move. So, if you can distract your opponents, forcing them to stop moving forward and start second-guessing themselves, you will have put them at a distinct advantage.

The wide receiver who can lull the defensive back into his comfort zone by understanding his traits during film study and manipulating him during the game can make the unexpected move when the defensive back lets his guard down — yielding a touchdown.

5. Learn to Relax

One of the most important things you can do in life and in sports is to learn to relax when the heat is on. The classic example is Drew Brees not setting his feet before he throws. The defense simply wants to throw Brees off balance and make him move more quickly than he feels comfortable doing.

The quarterback, or anyone, needs to build an unexpected move into his strategy to keep the defense off balance, buying valuable time to make the right move.

Let me quote from Julio Melara’s book, Keys to Performance: “Our cemeteries are filled with potential that merely remained potential.”

Don’t let it happen to you, Saints.

Mackie Shilstone, a regular contributor to | The Times-Picayune, has been involved in the wellness sports performance industry for nearly 40 years. He is currently the fitness coach for Serena Williams, has trained numerous other professional athletes and consulted a litany of professional sports franchises. He is St. Charles Parish Hospital’s Fitness and Wellness expert. Contact him at