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Duke Preston: Better Men Make Better NFL Players

On this episode of Pro Mindset® Podcast, Craig sits down with Duke Preston, Director of Player Engagement for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to discuss both the challenges and rewards of his position. Duke was an offensive lineman at the University of Illinois and was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the 5th round of the 2006 NFL Draft. After his career in the NFL, he worked for the Notre Dame Athletic Department and the football team before being hired by the Buccaneers. Duke has over ten years of experience within the NFL and is able to offer a unique perspective of the industry.

As the Director of Player Engagement for the Bucs, Duke mentors the rookies and helps them adjust to the NFL. He helps them to find clarity in their identity while also developing them as men. Duke has a series of questions that he asks his rookies to determine their maturity, motivation, and likelihood of success in the NFL. He also interviews prospects at the all-star games and the NFL Combine and uses a unique approach to find out about a prospect’s mindset. He digs deep to find out if the player has a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. Duke shares how he gets to know the players and their motivations so that he can assist the organization in drafting the best players.

Duke talks about how he helps his players to find their identity and realize who they are, not only as an athlete but also as a man. “My approach has always been to help guys clarify their identity and who they are as people and as men first. God created them to be leaders in their own right and leaders of themselves first and in their sphere of influence that is given them. I feel like that’s the best way you can approach these young budding professionals to help them navigate the waters that are going to come up against them.” No matter what is going on around them, they must be solid in their identity. No matter how much help is surrounding them, its what’s inside that really matters. If their identity is broken and they have questions about who they are as a person, then that is going to negatively influence their career and their life.

For his rookies, Duke has them participate in a self-reflective exercise. He asks them to ask themselves, “Who am I? Why am I here and where am I going?” Duke says that the more they can identify the core characteristics of what makes them men, the better he can predict their success in the NFL. A man who is solid in his identity “rejects passivity, accepts responsibility, leads and loves courageously and invests in things that last.” If a man possesses these qualities, he can achieve whatever challenge he decides to pursue.

Duke also shares the interview questions he asks to help uncover an athlete’s mindset. Duke has his own approach to the interview process so that he can avoid unauthentic answers from the athletes. He asks simple math and word definition questions to find out if they have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.

Duke digs deep during interviews to find out about their headspace, their background, and their support system. His unique questioning brings out a different side of the players that generic questions will not. “Those kinds of things are always fun because then you get a guy that really starts to show the truth of who they are.” Duke can unlock another side of the athlete with his one-of-a-kind approach to the interview process.

Duke made it clear that identity is a crucial component to an athlete’s overall success in the NFL. A player needs to know who they are, why they are there, and where they are going. If they know who they are at their core, they will know the direction they need to take in their life and in their career. Identity is one of the seven building blocks to a Pro Mindset. Having confidence in your identity and who you are as a person will get you closer to achieving your own Pro Mindset.

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