Maybe NFL Players Can Be Role Models?

NFL Mindfulness Coach and sport's psychologist, Michael Gervais of the Super Bowl winning Seattle Seahawks, spoke at the Wisdom 2.0 conference this weekend in San Francisco. (I'll tell you more about the Conference in the coming days!) I bet that while you were watching the Big Game you weren’t thinking much about mindfulness and compassion, and you probably didn't think the players were either. I get it, watching beefy dudes tackle each another doesn’t conjure images of serene meditators or inspire compassionate communication.

But one of the reasons the Seahawks may have had the upper hand was because they embraced mindfulness practice, yoga, and positive visualization as elements of their training and the team culture. Gervais said that as a team, they worked to have "one heartbeat"--55 players and 22 coaches, hearts beating in unison.

Back in September I read this ESPN article about the Seahawks' unorthodox training and was tickled to see that mindfulness had made it to the NFL. Yesterday Gervais went further to explain their meditation practice and how the Seahawks treated every game of the season as a championship opportunity. Big or small, every moment counted. 

While I know their mindfulness practice wasn’t all that earned the Seahawks their championship rings, it isn’t difficult to imagine how mindfulness contributed to their winning season. Seahawk Russell Okung explained to ESPN, "Meditation is as important as lifting weights and being out here on the field for practice."

Before this weekend, my students and I came up with three mindfulness related skills that support Okung’s assertion on the importance of meditation:

  • Focus- Through continued meditation practice (the article says they began back in 2010), the players likely honed their abilities to focus and concentrate both on and off of the field. As I often say to my students, practicing in the calm of your bedroom gets you ready to use your mindfulness in more stressful times. And as Gervais described yesterday, the stress dissolves as the players become absorbed in the present moment.
  • Resilience- With their enhanced focus, it would be easier for players to let go of mistakes and triumphs in order to more fully engage with the task at hand. Gervais called this "Failing Fast." Instead of feeling angry towards themselves or a teammate for a botched play, it would be easier to let go and start over. 
  • Visualization- Instead of filling their heads with negative thoughts, “You’re not strong enough,” “You need to play harder,” “You’ll never win playing like that!” the Seahawks and their coaching staff worked to positively visualize the future. In order for visualizations to work, players first had to develop an awareness of their thoughts, because without recognizing and befriending the negative ones, there would be little space for the positive ones to take hold.

Gervais added that the team culture also emphasized compassion and empathy, which were also key elements to the Seahawks’ success. (How did Miami do this year?) When we are aware of our mental landscape, we notice that others experience similar highs and lows. Viewing our personal highs and lows without judgment creates space for our compassion to grow, both for ourselves and for others. By treating their players as people, I think the Seahawks got it right.

Never thought you’d be reading about compassionate football players, right?

Do you use mindfulness in athletics? How has it helped up your game?