Book Summary: Coming Back Stronger by Drew Brees
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Unleashing the hidden power of adversity
You saw the New Orleans Saints beat Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV earlier this year, but unless you have read Drew Brees new book Coming Back Stronger, you probably have no idea what it took for him to get to the place where, as quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, he could lead his team to a Super Bowl Championship in 2010. But through it all, Drew describes in this book how adversity can be used as a tool to make anyone better and stronger.
The first setback in his life came when his parents were divorced when he was only seven years old. Surviving that, he got the opportunity to play football in high school. After sitting on the bench for many games and thinking he was destined to remain there, he finally got the chance to be the starting quarterback when circumstances and injuries removed the other quarterbacks. Thinking he was on top of the world, it all crashed when he got his own serious injury that forced him out of the game (or any sports) for the rest of the year.
This proved to be a important turning point in his life, however. He says he started seriously questioning his purpose in life. This prompted him to give thoughtful consideration to the minister’s sermon one Sunday morning when normally he didn’t pay much attention. The sermon moved him to make a commitment in his heart to devote his life to serving God.
As it turned out, with hard work and God’s help, Drew was able to overcome his injury. After six months of working out with extraordinary effort, he actually ended up with 25 more pounds of muscle on his physique than he had before the injury. Working through the pain of the injury had also made him mentally tougher, and his new relationship with God had made him spiritually tougher.
Once again, as the starting quarterback for his team, he led them to a 16-0 championship season. He realized that the injury was the best thing that happened to him. That was his senior year of high school. He ended up getting several recruiting offers from various colleges. In the end he chose Purdue in Indiana because of its academic excellence and because it belonged to the Big Ten conference, the best conference in the country at the time.
In his sophomore year at Purdue, Drew was made the starting quarterback for the Boilermakers. His sophomore and junior years resulted in no championships. In his senior year, the team was in position to win the Big Ten championship if they could beat Ohio State. It looked bad in the beginning of the fourth quarter but Drew managed to pull his team up from behind in the last two minutes of the game. They had won the championship and were headed to the Rose Bowl. They lost the game to the Washington Huskies but the fact that they had even gotten to the Rose Bowl was a significant achievement.
It was at Purdue that Drew met his wife Brittany. He is so funny when he describes how he met his wife. The first time he met her, she was completely unimpressed with him: He was drunk and resorted to using sorry pick-up lines. The next time he got a chance to talk to her, he managed to convince her to let him drive her home in her car, which was a stick shift and he had never driven a stick shift before. It took him 30 minutes to drive to her house which was only 5 minutes away. Somehow he managed to charm her in spite of this and they became a couple.
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Soon it was time for the NFL draft. Drew had hoped to be chosen in the first draft round, but ended being the first one chosen in the second round by the San Diego Chargers. The first year he was backup quarterback to Doug Flutie who turned out to be a mentor to Drew and a good friend.
The second year with the Chargers, he usurped Flutie as the starting quarterback. The team finished 8-8 that year, but the next year was a bust. The team unity was fractured.
Playing wiith the Chargers, Drew developed the ability to see the good in every trial. When he got benched, he realized how much he could learn about the game from the sidelines as a spectator. He began to realize how much opportunity there was in every adverse situation.
After several seasons as the starting quarterback for the San Diego Chargers, Drew was informed that the team was going to acquire a new quarterback in the 2004 draft. This meant Drew was going to have to fight to keep his job.
He started paying attention to every area of his life that might affect his performance on the field in addition to his physical conditioning. One of these areas was his diet. He had considered himself a fairly healthy eater since he did not frequent fast food restaurants. He found out, though, that food allergies could cause low energy and sleep difficulties. He got tested for food allergies and found out he was allergic to several foods he was eating frequently such as nuts.
Next, he got a referral to someone who could help him with visualization techniques and focus training. He also took a personality test for athletes that helped players get in touch with their personal traits and how they fit in with the demands of the game.
He rounded out his self-improvement strategies by signing up with a trainer for more individualized strength training. By doing this he found out his muscles were unbalanced in their degrees of strength. He worked on getting this equalized for many months.
The combined effects of all his efforts enabled him to maintain his position as quarterback starter for the Chargers in the 2005 season
Unfortunately, the team had a mediocre season that year and in the last game of the season against the Denver Broncos, Drew tore his throwing shoulder. He rushed off to Birmingham, Alabama to see one of the best orthopedic surgeons in the country. After a grueling examination, the doctor told Drew he would require surgery and 8-10 months of recovery and rehabilitation.
The first day after surgery, determined to get back in shape to play football as soon as possible, Drew began going every day to the rehab center and working out for the entire day! In spite of this, he remained in excruciating pain for several months.
He soon found out that the contract renewal the Chargers were offering him was only a backup position. He decided against it and made himself available as a free agent. The offers he got from other teams were similar. Finally, though, he got offers from two teams willing to hire him as a starter: Miami and New Orleans.
Miami seemed to have all the advantages: weather (New Orleans was still recovering from Katrina), good coaches, and a history of Super Bowl appearances. New Orleans had no such attractions. But when Drew and his wife visited New Orleans, they clicked immediately with the coaching staff. Head coach Sean Payton even hinted he wanted Drew to help plan the team’s offensive strategies. After praying about it together, both he and his wife Brittany felt God was leading them to New Orleans. He realized that, in the same way he was struggling to rebuild his shoulder and his football career, New Orleans was struggling to rebuild after Katrina. He could therefore identify with the people of New Orleans.
In everything life dished out to him, Drew recognized God’s hand in it. He accepted all adversity as part of his destiny to learn and grow.
But he also recognized God’s involvement in bringing the right people in his life to help him overcome his challenges. He soon felt assurance that it was God’s plan for him to join the Saints.
The Superdome had been so badly damaged during the hurricane, so Drew’s first season consisted of being in a different stadium every week. When the Superdome was finally repaired to tip-top shape, Coach Payton had the team gather for their final practice before their first game in the newly refurbished stadium, so they could get the feel of playing there. Coach also had another surprise to motivate them. He had arranged for a video of the devastation that had taken place in New Orleans to be shown on the stadium big screen before they began the practice. As he had correctly surmised, this had a highly motivating effect on the players. The entire team was completely overcome with emotion and determined to bring great joy to the devastated city by winning their first game in the new Superdome for the people of New Orleans. It worked. They trounced Atlanta who had been favored to win.
Fast forward three years: The year 2009 turned out to be one of extreme highs and lows. First, Drew and Brittany’s first child, Baylen was born. Then, in August, Drew’s mother committed suicide. This extreme low was followed by the most winning season of his football career which led to the Super Bowl invitation.
After having a great season in 2006, where they had made it to the play-offs, then floundering in 2007 and 2008, the Saints had been ready for a turn around. Drew came across the book Finish Strong by Dan Green and gave every team member a copy during the preseason workouts. It consisted of true stories about people who had overcome impossible odds to accomplish amazing things.
Then, immediately before the fall football season started, Drew went on a USO trip to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. One day while he was there, he watched the Marines march in formation shouting chants. He saw how powerfully the chants motivated them. He decided to start doing chants with the team. As he had anticipated, chanting created tremendous unity on the team.
With Drew’s leadership, The Saints managed to win all of their first 13 games of the season. They appeared unstoppable. Suddenly, they lost three games in a row. The critics said they had lost their momentum and wouldn’t win the division championship. But they won the NFC championship against Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings. Now it was on to Miami for the Super Bowl!
This dream was forty years in the making for the New Orleans Saints. In 2006, Drew had led them to their division title. Now he was leading them to the Super Bowl! This meant so much to the people of New Orleans who had suffered so much from hurricane Katrina. They needed this kind of pick-me-up. As you know, the Saints did beat the Indiana Colts in the Super Bowl. In addition Drew Brees was chosen the MVP of the game.
One thing I learned from this book was how important the mental attitude and unity of the team is toward creating a winning season. I had always thought that if you had very talented, hard-working players that worked well together you automatically had the recipe for a winning season. But Drew fills a lot of space in this book describing the lengths he and the coaches had to go to in order to keep the team pumped up. I was also very surprised to learn that it is actually harder to play well after a win than after a loss because it is so easy to start resting on ones laurels.
Drew has written an epilogue at the end of the book. In it he says that his purpose in writing the book was not to impress the reader about his career or about the Saints. He said his purpose was to inspire the reader to look at adversity, not as an enemy, but as an opportunity to find power and strength. He then leaves the reader with 11 pieces of advice:
1. Find a mentor and humble yourself to learn from them.
2. Don’t give up. If you get knocked down, get up.
3. Turn your defeats into triumphs.
4. Dream. Then mix the vision with hard work and commitment.
5. Hope. Believe in something bigger than yourself—specifically, God.
6. Be flexible to be able to see when you must change directions.
7. See adversity as an opportunity. God works everything together for good.
8. Don’t be afraid of taking a few steps back if needed to build momentum.
9. Don’t spectate—be ready for the next opportunity.
10. Remember who you are and have faith.
11. End strong—it’s not how you start but how you finish that counts.