"Now welcoming on the New Orleans Saints Podcast presented by SeatGeek, Saints legend LeCharles Bentley. He played center and right guard with the Saints from 2002 to 2005. He was a Saints draft pick in 2002. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2003, and 2005. And he has recently been named the NFL Senior Advisor of Player Performance and Development."
Tell us a little bit about what you've been up to since you've played football?
LeCharles: "Oh my God, I've been all over. I think the biggest thing that I've been living, and biggest world I've been living in is the entrepreneurial world. When I left the game, I immediately started dabbling in some entrepreneurial things. I think, unlike a lot of former players, I kind of tried to live in my own world where I was very familiar. So I opened a training center in Cleveland, Ohio, which was back at that time Offensive Line Academy. It was the the first true brick and mortar facility that was dedicated solely to working with offensive line athletes. And as that kind of evolved and grew and expanded, I started developing football equipment. I ended up with a couple of patents on that type of stuff, which you know, still to this day kind of surprises me. I was able to actually write a couple of books. Boy, you name it, it's all kind of lived, revolved around the world of sports performance, development, and just dealing with the game of football, which is truly been a blessing. I have never, as I like to say, worked a true day in my life, because I wake up every day and I get to serve the game and serve the people inside of it."
You see a lot of former athletes going into kind of the player performance because it's something they know something they're familiar with, is this something that has been a passion of yours since you played? When did that kind of passion for player performance (and) player development start for you?
LeCharles: "I've always been, I guess you can say the weight room junkie. Especially in high school, I started playing football late. I didn't start until my true ninth grade year is when I really first started to experience the game of football. So I was a bit behind as it went to development. So I figured that the only way that I could catch up was trying to get stronger than everyone else, because I didn't know what the heck I was doing. And that was always my mind-set as I've developed my myself and my skill set as a player, is that I've just really enjoyed the work and the training. I wasn't the kid - I didn't love practice or even truly love the game, per se. I just love the performance and the development side of the process of each and every week. That's what I love. So it wasn't really until my latter of my career, I've dealt with some injuries and some subsequent issues from a staph infection that, you know, as an athlete, when you have what you have, you don't really understand what you have when you have it. It's more so when you lose it that you begin to appreciate, oh, this is what made me unique as a player. This is what allowed me to express myself as a player. So at that point in time, I spent so much energy trying to recapture those skills and traits that I had as a player. And it took me down so many different rabbit holes as related to performance and human performance. I was able to learn so much and to go on and earn different accreditations and certificates and really dive into the human performance side. Honestly, all with intent, and selfishly, to get myself back to a level where I can perform back in the game. Obviously, that did not happen. So that itch caught sort of just stayed with me. That drive stayed with me and I said, you know what, I've learned some new things. I've developed a different type of passion. That's where this road kind of opened itself up to me."
You can tell and just that answer how passionate you are about that this is. This is a different generation. I mean 2003-2005, but this is a different generation of athletes. They think of things a different way. They approach the game a different way. Their mentality is different. There's more of a focus on mental health. How do you pour that passion that you have for performance into, I don't want to say children but you know, from those starting ages up until the point that they're professional athletes? How do you pour that enthusiasm into them?
LeCharles: "Well, that is a great question. I think with so many young athletes, when I say younger, I include NFL players as well. I'm not that old, but I'm not you know, you know, that far from being in that age group. But I think the biggest thing for me is this is I've had to shift that mind-set away from, I think a lot of us in this older generation, we get caught in this mind-set of, you know, kids aren't what they used to be, the game isn't what it used to be. And that is all well and true. But I would also like to add the fact that kids today are more equipped to survive in the world of today. So for example, with the skill sets and my mentality and how I approach life and the things around me, that I was influenced by, I wouldn't have been prepared to exist in today's world, I wouldn't have been OK, as a player, going back to my locker, opening up my Twitter account, and having thousands of messages about how horribly I played. I couldn't have managed that. But kids today, they're growing up in this world, so they're understanding how to manage their existence a lot differently than I had to. So I believe that to answer your question, the biggest shift that I've had to make is the fact that the good old days, they were the good old days back then. But you have to be willing to adapt and evolve as a teacher. And I will also say, as a parent in today's world, and realize that yes, kids may not have may not be what they used to be, the game may not be what it used to be. And it's never going to go back to being that, but in order to for us, in our generation, to truly provide the expertise, and I guess you can call it the wisdom that we're able to pull from those experiences, in order to give it to today's generation, we have to humble ourselves first, and acknowledge that, yes, they're different, but there are differences good. But in terms of the way we live our lives and the world that we live in, and how to become successful as human beings, those principles never change. So the principles that made the Dermontti Dawson, one of if not the greatest center to ever play, when maybe Dwight Stephenson, that's arguable, whatever, what makes greatness what it is, those principles still apply. But it's us as leaders and teachers, and which was given to me to be willing to adapt, in order to give those principles and a context of kids today can understand and appreciate."
Does it ever just blow your mind how much social media impacts athletes? I mean, you talk about dealing with them every day, and not just from performance and development standpoint. But you're also serving as a mentor to a lot of these, you know, young people, students, NFL players, things like that, does it ever just blow your mind to think about how much of an impact social media has?
LeCharles: "I'll be honest, I will say it's yes, it's mind-blowing. But I'd say it's also a bit scary, scary to understand, and try to empathize with where these guys are in their world. It's easy for me to say, Oh, don't let outside influences influence, you just turn that stuff off. Again, that's not the world that they're in. So what you try to do is you try to give them the tools and the coping mechanisms that allow them to not just survive, but to thrive in their current environment. And it still goes back to principles, principles and performance and principles of how to become a successful person. But yes, it is mind blowing to see how it's how impactful it truly is. But at the same time, I empathize. I empathize with the kids, I empathize with athletes, because yeah, it's easy for me to say, Oh, don't worry about your three-star ranking. Well, you know what those stars matter to those kids. And we can't be so dismissive. Just say, don't worry about it. Let's teach them how to manage and work themselves through it."
Alright, so that goes right into your new title, right? NFL Senior Advisor of Player Performance and Development. What exactly does that mean? What are your new responsibilities? How is your life going to change with this new responsibility?
LeCharles: "How is my life going to change? I think the biggest change that has happened in my life is my LinkedIn inbox is full of resumes."
So shout out to you. I just go with the mindset of accepting everybody. That is what I do on LinkedIn. Everyone's my friend.
LeCharles: "Everyone's your friend on LinkedIn man, I'll tell you what, I've gained a lot of new friends on LinkedIn. But nonetheless, I think the the biggest shift in my life, I think time management is one shift. And I would also go with learning how to be on a team again, and taking a more collaborative approach to work through different strategies and ideas. And to ultimately try to get to achieving what the goal is, and is one thing that Troy Vincent had really educated and taught me to embrace is no ownership. No one owns anything. It's about the journey is about the execution. And these are all team wins. And as a former athlete, I think you have that mindset. And it's easier to adapt to that mindset, especially being a former offensive lineman that, hey, I'm only as good as my right tackle, or my center or my left guard, you're only as good as your weakest link in the chain. I think for me, that's been a unique skill set they have to adapt to again, because as an entrepreneur, it's sink or swim on your own, that you have to get things out on the fly when you have a staff and you have people depending on you, you have to make rapid decisions that are going to be impactful. But in this sense, now, it's just adapting to that collaborative world again, and allow myself to learn and be humble enough to know that I don't know everything, I definitely don't understand everything about the inner workings of the National Football League. But I'm learning and I know that I can add value in certain places. But there are other things and in this situation and journey that I have to sometimes take a step back, and just defer to the experts and continue allow myself to learn. But the day to day aspect of it is the biggest aspect right now is continuing to work on evolve the way to play. That right now has been something I've worked on for the last couple of years behind the scenes with operations. You know, having someone like Tracy Pearlman and Troy Vincent and Roman Oben, know that you're working with, it's been interesting within itself, because they're such high level experts in their fields. And being able to add value to that world has been a journey. And it's been interesting and fun. But the way to play right now is this living, breathing organism. And what's so unique to me, you know, as an athlete, you live in this world where everything is just so black and white. But when you start talking about data, and the way that technology has evolved our understanding of the game, it gives a very unique roadmap and allows us to continue to evolve the way to play in the sense that the data always is evolving. And you have to stay adaptable, as the data reveals what that evolution is going to ultimately be, and not allow yourself to get stuck in this world of this is what it means to be and must be No, stay adaptable. And that's been another hurdle that you have to get over, I guess you can say, in a sense that you know, as a former player, you'd like to believe that you've done it, you get it, you ignore everything. No, you don't. You're always learning and as long as you can stay in that learning mentality, it gives us the best chance to achieve the goals we're trying to achieve, which is at the end of the day, to remove as much unnecessary risk from the game as possible."
All right, I feel like I have I have a million follow-up questions, but I'm going to stick with two. So for our listeners who don't know, what does this mean? Do you still have your own organization? Are you still coaching athletes? One on one? Are you strictly in the league office helping with the league? Like what does that look like for you?
LeCharles: "Oh, I stay at home. I'm able to still manage my day to day businesses. You know, you know, that's something right now in my life that I'm not ready to let go. It's, you know, you grow something up from nothing, you know, it's your baby, and you don't want to see your baby go off to college. You can have other ones but you still love that baby."
I know you have a daughter, it's coming.
LeCharles: "It's coming, I'm gonna prepare you, between us. And nobody else, obviously, you know, she's my favorite. But right now, the businesses and the things that we're doing, and what's what's so unique, is that doing what I'm continuing to do and have built over the years, it allows me to be more effective with what I'm doing now, with the league. It allows me to now have a think tank of people around me that can continue to add value to me, that allows me and challenged me to grow, where at that point in time, I can take these understandings that I've developed over the years and continue to get challenged on each and every day and apply it to what I'm doing now with the National Football League, you know, you're such a unique position where every day you know, right now we have 25-30 athletes that we work with, they're all NFL players, you know, that is a unique locker room. And I guess you can say opportunity to examine each and every day, what the game, what's going on inside of our game, and be able to receive that type of feedback and input from guys that are out there every single day. It's just invaluable."
But how do you find the balance of looking at the data looking at the analytics, understanding them and applying them but also knowing what it feels like to be a player and having players giving you that feedback and finding the balance of we should make this decision based on data. But we also are getting feedback from players that maybe this isn't the right way to approach it?
LeCharles: "No, that is a tremendous question. And I think that the, the answer that I can give you on that is humility. Understanding that, yes, my experiences as an athlete, I, I can't think through a face mask anymore. And our job as teachers, as mentors, as you know, the elder statesman, so to speak inside the game, we have to understand that athletes only know what they know. And it isn't to diminish their understanding. But when you're inside the game, you have a very unique perspective. And that perspective allows you to survive and thrive in your world. But as it relates to evolving the game, I think at times, you have to disconnect from your understanding and your experiences as an athlete, because if you don't, you can immediately go back to what makes me comfortable. Oh, a cup block. This is great. We should be allowed to do that. No, we should get into the open field and have, you know, players throwing their helmets at each other's knees because that's, that's toughness. That's what the game is all about. And you get this rah rah mentality is like, Oh, hold on, hold on, hold on. That's not sustainable. And it was really about evolving the game and really doing what's best for the player. Again, I go back to that parenting aspect. I have to make my daughter eat her vegetables, although she's my favorite, because she feels she goes kicking and screaming. And it bothers me to go through that, but I know it's for her in her best interest, right is the same thing with evolution of the game. Yes, you want the feedback from the players, you want their understanding and their sentiment of where they are. But at the same time, you have to be able to disconnect and understand that it's not about today. It's about tomorrow and the bigger picture."
All right, that Saints legend, LeCharles Bentley, newest NFL Senior Advisor of Player Performance and Development, LeCharles, we appreciate your time so much.
LeCharles: "Thank you. I appreciate you and go Saints."