Back in August, ESPN Magazine published this article on the Seattle Seahawks use of meditation as an integral part of the team’s culture. Players are encouraged to meditate and all are required to practice yoga at pre season training. In addition, the Seahawks staff includes life skills coaches, holistic health experts, and counselors to help players deal with their off the field problems.
This is all part of the culture that Head Coach Pete Carroll has created over the past few years. Carroll said, "I wanted to find out if we went to the NFL and really took care of guys, really cared about each and every individual, what would happen?"
The answer: a dominating super bowl victory. The Seahawks crushed the Broncos with a relatively young team, a 2nd year quarterback, and a stellar defense. Despite the ubiquity of egos in the NFL, the Seahawks play as a team, partly as a result of their novel coaching model.
Carroll, often seen as eccentric for his coaching style, has now won a super bowl. Many detractors of his style argued that it would make his men soft, take away from the hard skills of his players, and end up being a waste of time. But his victory demonstrates that coaching the whole person leads to better on-the-field results.
Traditionally, coaches were supposed to be hard asses that got results through pushing players to the limits. Think Vince Lombardi. Athletes were treated simply as athletes and pushed to their limits constantly without taking into the athlete’s life outside of sports or mental well-being. But the Seahawks’ victory shows there is another way to get good results while coaching the whole person.
However, showing kindness and empathy doesn’t indicate “soft” or undemanding expectations for athletes. Pete Carroll’s mantra is “Always Compete.” He is very demanding about players not complaining or showing up late. If coaches can coach the whole person, connect with them, and give them tools to enhance their well being (yoga, life coaches, meditation), they will be a better athlete and more invested in the results of the team. If some of my coaches had taken a similar approach, I think I would have been a better athlete and better team player.
As a young athlete, it was very rare for one of my coaches to ask me what was going on outside of sports. Often, if I was not playing well it had something to do with school, girls, parents or my mind was distracted. A brief check in or gesture of acknowledgement by the coach could have quickly refocused me, but it rarely happened.
In fact my favorite coach was the coach who seemed the most interested in my well-being outside of school. As an 8th grade lacrosse coach, he was demanding on the field, but would pull me aside and check in with me about life outside of lacrosse. With only one state championship loss, it showed me that making an effort to connect with your athletes goes a long way in getting them to perform better.
Will the Seahawks victory empower coaches around the country in football and other sports to take on some aspects of Carroll’s model? And if so how would this change the lives of young male and female athletes around the country? My bet is that it would make a lot of teams better performing and increase the life skills of the vast majority of high school and college athletes who don’t end up playing professional sports.
I get excited to think about the possibilities of young athletes across the country being introduced to yoga, meditation, and deeper connection with teammates and coaches and hope that the Seattle victory empowers and inspires coaches across the country to introduce similar programs.