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Pro Trainer Todd Durkin on What it Takes to be a Champion

Posted on Thu, 01 Apr 2010 02:45:00 -07:00

Pro Trainer Todd Durkin on What it Takes to be a Champion

Pro Trainer Todd Durkin on What it Takes to be a Champion


One of my favorite movies of all time is Miracle on Ice, the story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team that defeated the powerful Soviets in a classic match-up that was much “bigger” than just a game. In his pre-game speech, coach Herb Brooks said, “Great moments are born from great opportunities.” Was it destiny or was it design that these young, less experienced hockey players came together to beat a much stronger, better hockey team?

Thirty years have passed since that historic game, and on February 7, 2010 – Super Bowl 44 in Miami, Florida – I awoke with great excitement. As the personal trainer for quarterback Drew Brees for the past seven years, I knew better than most how hard Drew had worked to make it to Miami. I knew the choices and the sacrifices. I knew the challenges and the setbacks. I knew the behind-the-scenes work required to make Drew the champion he was when he awoke on Super Bowl Sunday, win or lose.

Deep inside, I believed the Saints would win. But, even so, all morning long, I reflected on one question: Would the New Orleans Saints win the Super Bowl because they were destined or because they were designed to win?

We know the results: New Orleans Saints 31 and Indianapolis Colts 17. The Saints were crowned world champions, and Drew was named MVP of the game. It was one of those moments in time that will forever define the man, the team and the city of New Orleans.

In many ways, maybe this win was destiny. Could there be a better underdog than the city of New Orleans and the entire Gulf Coast region? Could there be a more redemptive event than a Super Bowl title for a team they used to call the New Orleans ‘aints?

  • It wasn’t by mistake that an entire region, possibly an entire country, really wanted (needed) these guys to win a Super Bowl. The 44th Super Bowl was bigger than professional football.
  • It wasn’t by mistake that Drew Brees landed in New Orleans in 2006 after having his shoulder practically ripped out of its socket and being labeled as damaged goods.
  • It wasn’t by mistake that Coach Sean Payton ended up in New Orleans to take a ravaged city and team notorious for losing and turn them into winners.

There’s a big part of me that believes in destiny – in stars aligning, in needs met, in prayers answered, in greatness realized. But there’s a larger part of me that believes the 44th Super Bowl was won by the New Orleans Saints by design. I believe in design because I believe in planning and strategy, in practice and in hard work. I believe in sweat. I know what it takes to make a world champion – a world champion quarterback and a world champion team. It’s a short list of requirements: personnel, off season training, team chemistry, focus, leadership, mindset and timing are exactly what’s required to build a Super Bowl champion.

Fate may have brought Drew to New Orleans, but I promise you, Drew designed this championship. By now, you’ve heard the story. In 2006, Drew sat down with his new coach, Sean Payton, and made a promise that the Saints would go all the way to a championship. He then designed and implemented his plan.

As a personal trainer and performance expert, I know there is no replacement, no substitute for training – physical, mental/emotional and spiritual. Below are 10 traits that make Drew Brees a world class athlete, teammate and leader. While you’re reading, keep in mind that these are the same traits you can follow to design your own championship.

1. Condition. Commit to a high end conditioning program. Pro athlete or not, you need to have the same commitment to your physical health and conditioning. Drew is known for his legendary work ethic in the weight room. He trains five days a week with me in the off season and his tempo, focus and consistency are what make him great.

2. Study your craft. Regardless of what you do, it’s imperative that you study your craft and strive to be the best you can be. This entails ongoing education, reading great books and staying mentally sharp and focused. Success stems from having a “never stop learning” attitude.

Drew’s preparation for a game is one of the best in the business. Constant film watching, studying the playbook, knowing the tendencies of his opponents, game planning and always looking for an edge are some of the keys to his success. After all, perfect practice produces peak performance.

3. Have F.A.I.T.H. Drew used this acronym in a teleseminar we did together:

F = Fortitude and strength - physical, mental/emotional and spiritual

A = Attitude – your attitude determines your altitude

I = Integrity – do what’s right, eliminate distractions and stay focused

T = Trust – trust your preparation, your teammates and yourself

H = Humility – be humble, be hungry

4. Surround yourself with a great team. Think about the people closest to you, your “inner circle,” and make some adjustments as needed. Weed out the downers! Seek out people with a positive attitude. Remember, having great teammates begins with you. Are you doing everything you can to encourage your teammates, to offer assistance and to support them when they are down? Do you listen?

Drew has the uncanny ability to lift up everyone around him. His positive attitude is contagious, and it rubs off in the weight room, on the field, in the locker room and in the community. You can be that positive person too!

5. Work hard. Let’s not forget that it takes a lot of hard work to achieve success in any field. True professionals can make their jobs look easy, but it takes countless hours and fierce dedication. I dare you to show me a champion with an easy job.

Drew works his tail off. He trains extremely hard, he puts in more hours than most people, and he is meticulous about doing things the right way. Hard work does pay off. It gives you a mental edge knowing that you’ve gone further and done more than your competition.

6. Expect to win and always believe! This is a mindset that is developed. It comes with trusting your preparation and your teammates and knowing that you have done everything possible to be a winner. It also involves the ability to overcome adversity. In every game, there are shifts in momentum that must be weathered. In each of our lives, we face challenges that must be overcome. Drew has always believed in his mission and in himself. People who earn their success expect to win.

7. Be a leader. Each of us must captain our own ship. We must take responsibility for our actions; we must strive to be better always and to lead our lives as a role model for the next generation.

One of Drew’s best attributes is his leadership ability. He has a way of bringing out the best in others. I think part of this is because he expects so much of himself. He sets extremely high standards for himself in all aspects of his training. He leads by example and his enthusiasm and fervor for the little things no one else likes to do rubs off positively on those around him.

8. Define your “GCM.”
This stands for your Game Changing Move. What is the one thing you must do to change your life or your business? It often involves risk, going outside your comfort zone and doing things that aren’t always the most popular.

In Super Bowl 44, one of the GCM’s for the Saints was the on-sides kick right after half time that caught the Colts off guard. Every game has GCMs. Every life has GCMs. What’s yours?

9. Finish strong!!
Each member of the Saints team wore this on his shirt under his uniform. It was a simple reminder of what it was going to take to win a championship.

We all need to remember to “finish strong” in our daily lives. So many times we get close to a goal, and we lose hope. We give up on a dream. We stop training at high levels. We slack off. We face obstacles and become paralyzed rather than taking them head on.

In speaking with Drew the week prior to the game, he knew there would be a point when the Saints would need to step up and make a big play (how about Tracy Porter’s interception for a touchdown?). You know it too. Plan for it, be ready and finish strong!

10. And then some...
This is one of my favorites of Drew’s qualities. He loves to do more than everyone else. During off season training this past year, we did 44 reps just because he was determined to make it to number 44 (Super Bowl 44). Drew always goes beyond. He sneaks in extra reps. He comes in early. He stays late. I call this level of dedication, “and then some.”

My friends, there you have it. Some of you may still be wondering if the New Orleans Saints are champions by destiny or by design. We’re not meant to know for certain about destiny, but I know for certain about design, and I’m pretty sure both were present on that historic Sunday in Miami.

You can train like Drew! Check out our Drew Brees Workout download. And Todd Durkin shares his top moves for pro athletes in the TRX Performance: Train Like the Pros DVD.

Todd Durkin, MA, CSCS, is the owner of Fitness Quest 10 ( in San Diego. Additionally, he is the Head of the Under Armour Performance Training Council. He has appeared in 60 Minutes, on ESPN, the NFL Network, and been featured in Sports Illustrated, Business Week, Prevention, ESPN the Magazine, Men's Health, Men's Fitness, Men's Journal, Stack Magazine, Self, Shape, Fitness and the NY Times and Washington Post.

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