Looking Like a Winner

Saints Coach Sean Payton gets it.

Watching a football game on television the other day, I noticed the camera showing a dispirited player on the bench with his head hung low. He had clearly had a bad game–interceptions, fumbles, something–and his team was losing. The problem is, his facial expression and his bodily posture were signaling to both his team members and opponents that he was finished here. The game was over as far as he was concerned.

I called out to the screen, “Get your head up, boy! The game’s not over! Do you have any idea what you are doing, looking that way?”

In this morning’s Times-Picayune, sportswriter Jeff Duncan tells how Coach Sean Payton stresses the same lesson to his players.

As I watched San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers throw a conniption fit at midfield in Kansas City last week a thought occurred to me. This would never happen with the New Orleans Saints.

I can’t remember the last time a Saints player lost it on the field. Of course, there’s not a lot to get upset about when you start a season 13-0 and win the Super Bowl. Still, the Saints, by and large, are as demonstrative and emotional as snipers when they take the field. Their insides might be bubbling cauldrons of emotion but it rarely shows.

There’s a good reason for this, Duncan says.

Body language is a big part of Payton’s coaching curriculum. Maybe more than anyone in the NFL, Payton believes in the power of nonverbal communication. He talks about it in team meetings, preaches it during practice and demands it during games.

When Dwight Freeney beat left tackle Jermon Bushrod for a sack in the Super Bowl and the Saints’ left tackle trotted off the field with his head down, Payton stormed into his face and barked, “Get your head up!”

When Garrett Hartley missed a late field goal attempt against Tampa Bay last season, Payton upbraided him for sulking on the sidelines.

“He harps us on all the time about it,” Bushrod said. “If something goes wrong, he doesn’t want us to show it.”

Let’s talk about this business of our posture and demeanor when things are going badly. The lesson has unusually strong applications to the believers’ life and ministry.


Lift up your heads.

Dark days were coming, our Lord told His followers. They were to be expectant and prepared. However, He would allow no despair from any of them. Now, when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.(Luke 21:28)

Look up. Eyes tilted heavenward. The Lord is still on His throne. He is in charge and we are His people. Nothing unexpected is happening here.

Often, when I’m drawing people, the shyest person on the planet will sit in front of me. “Look at me,” I have to remind them again and again. “I don’t want to draw your eyes closed. I need to see them.”

People with poor self-image have a hard time looking anyone in the eye. On the other hand, confident people will sit up straight and look you square in the eye and give you that smile which is going to guarantee a great sketch. Or, at least, as good as I’m capable of.

Sin will lower your eyes. And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast…(Luke 18:13)

Lift up your head. Heads held high. No hang-dog expressions allowed in the kingdom, folks. God loves a confident believer.

Sin will bow the head.

Lift up your hands. Therefore strengthen the hands that hang down, and the feeble knees….(Hebrews 12:12)

Sin will lower the hands and weaken them.

Lift up your face. O my God, I am too ashamed and humiliated to lift up my face to you, myGod; for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has grown up to the heavens.(Ezra 9:6)

Sin and suffering will weight your face down. I’m thinking of a woman who once sat in my congregation. Cruelly, I remember remarking to a member of our staff, “That has to be the ugliest woman I have ever seen.” In time, I found out why. Her husand was an abuser of the worst sort. Once we helped her get rid of him, and he went to prison for numerous wrongs, she blossomed and became a radiant, lovely person.

Lift up your countenance. (That would be your facial expression.) Why is thy countenance fallen?(Genesis 4:6). Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.(Psalm 42:5)

This is about the body language of winners, people who are “more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

I sit in a different church almost every Sunday. Many is the time I wish I could take a pastor or staff minister aside and give them a pep talk about their posture and facial expression. “You are the leader of the Lord’s people. You need to radiate confidence and the joy of the Lord. Instead, you look like you have lost your best friend. Look up, rejoice, give thanks. Lead these people to experience the victory that God has promised them.”

Coach Sean Payton was a quarterback in college. He knows the rest of the team will look to whoever plays that position and will pick up his attitude.

Saints QB Drew Brees has a receiver in his helmet which allows him to hear from Coach Payton throughout the game. He says, “I’ll hear that in my helmet every now and then about body language. When he says, ‘Body language!’ he’s saying, ‘Let it go, go on to the next play. Make those guys believe.'”

Brees says, “A lot of it is trying to stay as poised as possible, despite the situation either good or bad, and always thinking about the next play or opportunity…not letting anything from the past bother you.”

Brees and his backup quarterback Chase Daniel admit that they work just as hard on body language as they do the route patterns.

As a result of this lesson being drummed into him so thoroughly by Coach Payton, Drew Brees will “stride into the huddle to call the next play, crouching energetically and looking into the eyes of his teammates as he delivers the assignments.”

“If he unwittingly starts to slouch or drag, Brees will hear about it from Payton in the headset of his helmet.”

Good lesson for a leader of the Lord’s people. Great lesson for the leader of the church staff.

One thought on “Looking Like a Winner

  1. Hello Dr. McKeever:

    I hope you remember me. I am the cafe manager at Joe Muggs inside Books-A-Million in Tuscaloosa, AL. You drew a picture of me and it was great. It put a smile on my face for the rest of the day. I decided to check out your website and was drawn “Looking Like a Winner”. I’m glad God led you to our store that day. Thank you.