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Optimum Performance: Winning in the NFL is about understanding your opponent, yourself

Sean Payton

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton gets agitated on the sidelines in the third quarter during the game between the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints at the Superdome on Sunday, December 21, 2014. (Michael DeMocker, Nola.com / The Times-Picayune) (Michael DeMocker, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

Being fit to lead is not about your physical shape. Rather, it has much more to do with your life experiences, which can propel a person into a leadership role.

“I have studied the enemy all my life. I have read the memoirs of his great generals and his leaders. I have even read his philosophers and listened to his music. I have studied in great detail the account of every damned one of his battles. I know exactly how he will react under any given set of circumstances,” said General George S. Patton, commander of the Seventh United States Army and later the commander of the Third United States Army in the European Theatre of World War II.

After a battle between Patton’s forces and those of the German general Erwin Rommel (Desert Fox), who commanded the 7th Panzer Division (Ghost Division), it was said that Patton sent word to his adversary.

“Rommel, you magnificent bastard, I read your book.” – Infantry Attacks (Infanterie Greift An, 1937).

Patton won.

So what’s the “book” about on the Saints’ Field General Sean Payton? While he certainly doesn’t lead a fighting force into battle, nor are his players heroes, he does try to motivate young men each week during the NFL season to rise above their fears, painful injuries, insecurities, costly mistakes and at times, complacency, to drive toward the NFL playoffs.

Payton was born on December 29, 1963, (Happy Birthday) in San Mateo, Calif., prior to moving with his family to Naperville, Ill.

Young Payton rose up to become the quarterback at Naperville Central High School – where he graduated in 1982. Gaining a scholarship to Eastern Illinois University, Payton ascended to the quarterback position – taking his Panthers to an 11-2 record in 1986 and the quarterfinals of the Division 1- AA playoffs.

Not drafted into the NFL, Payton played for several Arena Football League teams. In 1987 – the NFL strike year – Payton was a member of the “strike breaking” replacement Chicago Bears (know as Spare Bears). Of his three replacement games, Wikipedia.org notes that Payton’s only interception occurred against the Saints.

After the pros, Payton had college coaching stints at San Diego State (QB coach), Miami University and the University of Illinois. His pro coaching debut began at the quarterback’s coach for the Philadelphia Eagles, then the New York Giants and later as the Dallas Cowboys’ assistant head coach under Bill Parcells.

In 2006, Payton became the Saints’ head coach. During his tenure, he took the Saints to the Super Bowl in 2009, after a 13-3 regular season record. His Saints’ team soundly defeated the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 with among another feats of magic — a surprising second half on-sides kick that might have been the game changer.

After the big Super Bowl win, Payton wrote a book (with the help of Ellis Henican) “Home Team: Coaching the Saints and New Orleans Back to Life.”

In 2012, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Payton for an entire season for his alleged role in the Saints’ Bounty Gate scandal.

With the Saints 30-14 loss last Sunday to the Falcons coupled with Carolina’s 17-13 win over the Brown’s, the playoffs are out of the picture for New Orleans. We now will find out what type of field general Payton will turn out to be in the long run when he tries to rebound from this dismal season.

With one game left to finish this season in Tampa Bay, Payton was asked about his strategy. “Our approach this upcoming week is obviously to get focused and finish the season the right way,” the mark of a field general, who must continue to fight.

I might suggest Payton read, “The War As I knew it,” by George S. Patton Jr. It now appears he will have plenty of time to learn from it.

Mackie Shilstone, a regular contributor to NOLA.com | 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 mackieshilstone.com.

Link: Nola.com