Once an athlete can finally attain their lifetime goal of becoming an NFL player, they often reflect on the tremendous amount of hard work, dedication and resilience that it took for them to grab a hold of their dreams and turn them into a reality.

What many of them have to learn very quickly is that keeping that dream a reality is often more difficult than making it one.

In the NFL, most veteran players understand that to maintain the health and production necessary to retain their respective spots on NFL rosters they must take care of themselves throughout the offseason in preparation for the marathon run that is the regular season.

The New Orleans Saints concluded their Organized Team Activities this week and the players will have a month off before having to report to training camp July 24.

While the players are happy to get this time off, they understand that using this time properly can be crucial in preparation for training camp and the beginning of the season.

“This is a very important time of the year because you never want to show up to training camp out of shape,” said Saints outside linebacker Parys Haralson, who will be entering his ninth NFL season in 2014. “You can never quite get into football shape without actually playing football, but you do as much as you can so you can be in the best shape possible when the time comes.”

One of the things that makes this offseason process difficult for veterans is that they want to put in the necessary work to prepare themselves for the rigors of training camp, but they also want to prevent from overworking themselves and wearing their bodies out before the toughest part of the offseason.

“The older I get, the more I understand that you can’t put too much stress on your body,” said Saints wide receiver Robert Meachem, who is entering his seventh NFL season. “Eating better, learning how to stretch, learning how to stay in better shape is really important for guys like me because the older you get stuff tends to hurt more than it did when you were younger. You have to be smart. I try to work out smoother where I can condition myself correctly without putting too much pressure on my body.”

Haralson also added, “You have to be consistent with getting your massages, getting your running in, seeing a chiropractor two or three times a week. Eating right and getting the proper rest is really important, too. When you get to training camp, and its full-hitting, full-tempo, doing the right things during this time can prevent injuries.”

While years of NFL experience might take a bit of a toll on the body, one of the benefits of playing in the league for a while is gaining a better understanding of the crucial moments throughout the year that one must take advantage of in order to secure their place on the team. Also, that in order to truly take advantage of these moments they must put in the necessary work.

“This is one of the most important times of the year, because training camp will either make you or break you,” Meachem said. “That’s where a lot of people earn their spot on the team.

“If you are one of the guys that’s fighting for a spot, training camp can help you reach the goals you set out for yourself. You learn how to compete at the level necessary for this league.

“For me, I’m always fighting because that’s just the nature of the game.”