“What do you say we build a masterpiece together”- Pete Carroll to Sports Psychologist Michael Gervais after their initial meeting in 2011.
I’m a Seahawks fan because I lived in the Pacific Northwest for 24 years. We left Seattle for our journey a few days after the Seahawks beat the Broncos last year. Now I’ll be watching the Superbowl game at 6:30 AM Monday at some bar in Bangkok. I’m assuming there will be a loud breakfast special crowd and I am assuming that the Seahawks will beat the Patriots by about 12 points.
As a Seahawks fan I have been fascinated by the shift the team made after Pete Carroll took over. We’ve suffered as fans for many years through Hassellback, Rick Mirer and countless horrible teams. A break down of how winning teams are able to make one incredible decision after another is difficult to understand. I think I may have found the answer about how the Seahawks find their way. ESPN did an article on this approach about a year ago but they really didn’t dive into the details about why exactly the organization’s approach to mindfulness works. To me it was just a lazy form of journalism.
I found the answer in a video online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iuhy4DDX1qg in a discussion between Seattle Seahawks psychologist Michael Gervais and Wisdom 2.0’s Soren Gordhamer back in March 2012. They discussed how Michael joined coach Pete Carroll in 2011 and the two created mindfulness objectives, one at the organization level and one at the individual level and then brought them together to create what indeed is a masterpiece of a great decision making team. The Seattle Seahawks have demonstrated winning through mindfulness very well, with the latest display in what seemed like an impossible 4 minute comeback victory against the Packers .
Here is how Seahawks developed winning as an after effect through mindfulness.
1. Create a culture around one expression.
Michael explains that at the beginning they first started by forming energy and enhancing attention to detail through one expression “one heart beat”.
He explains that while conventional use of the word “competition” is to compete over and dominate others. The Seahawks defined “competition” as a way to strive together and to embrace a culture where people are allowed to express and feel what they are called to do. The word “winning” isn’t used at all but rather the focus is to be engaged at a rich level with what’s possible within our life. If this resonated in the organization, winning and other benefits would just be an after effect. They learned to measure their success by how other people felt what it mean’t to be them at their highest moments.
At the organizational level this philosophy is implemented with clarity and at the individual level the coaches help the athletes develop skills to “have a sense of confidence in any situation and to generate a sense of calmness and roundedness in any environment”. They are also trained to refocus better in a moment than they have ever able to do before.
These foundational skills are developed with great importance so that the coaching staff can then truly trust the players and let go, which in itself is the “necessary piece to be immersed and be here”.
2. Bring mindfulness into the preparation.
The “one heart beat” attitude or culture was followed throughout the organization. Pete Carroll asked people around him to be mindful of themselves in a way that allows them to explore themselves and this was followed by the coaches working with the athletes to come to a clear understanding of what is possible within themselves. This helped them come together in preparing a strategy of how they could achieve this possibility physically, mentally, nutritionally and technically. The framework was basically to come to an understanding of what is in your control and to invest in it in an intelligent manner.
3. Embrace failing fast
The organization learned that mistakes happen and no game can be played perfectly. After accepting this they build a skill set that develops the fastest recovery from mistakes. The team in essence embrace failing fast. This reminds me of the attitude amongst successful new businesses to accept failure as part of the process and in turn these companies are leading the world in innovation and profit.
4. Bring mindfulness into play
He points out an interesting fact that in truth athletes are constantly at a vulnerable stage in a very high intensity environment. If an athlete is not able to handle that moment they come up wanting and are in pain due to the fact that they are not able to be themselves during that moment of high intensity. With mindfulness skills one can become aware of how the athlete is doing within himself and his engagement with his immediate environment. This awareness during high levels of engagement during a moment of high intensity combined with technical skills that are precise can dissolve the pressure and make that moment no more complicated than any other.
5. Erase ego without really challenging it.
He mentions that athletes are usually obsessive, anxious, perfections and they usually develop skills that gets them recognized at an early age between 9 and 12. During this age a child should be allowed to explore their identity but for athletes there is a foreclosure of identity, i.e. there is a fusion of who they are and what they’re doing and this forms an attachment of their identity to failure. So they give it all in order to avoid this failure and this gets them to the level that brings them into the limelight as professional athletes or high achievers. But once they’re there they have a difficult time believing that they’re there and they yearn to be themselves and they yearn to have a better understanding of themselves and to feel a freedom inside. It brings about a conflict between their ego and who they really feel they are and the inability to express themselves without ego.
However with mindfulness when they are able to be absorbed in that high intensity moment and find the immersion so rewarding and engaging that the ego dissolves and they truly feel themselves at their best and they begin to recognize that and want to experience that more often. Here again without really challenging one’s ego it just disappears away from that moment.
6. Be mindful and aware in every moment
Coach Carroll teaches the organization to be mindful and aware in each game and in each moment equally. He teaches them that there is another opportunity for another moment.
He also teaches them to be mindful of breathing through which awareness and mindfulness becomes nourished.
Great teams distinguish themselves more for the decisions they make in those most intense moments than by the athletic ability of any individual. This discussion explained to me why many of the players were able to pause those intense moments into slow motion type responses and they were in sync and even calling out the plays before final two drives against the Packers. This explains how Russell Wilson was able to make that two point conversion to go three points ahead with an almost impossible pass, why Sherman could play with a hurtful arm (there are footages of him focusing at himself on the bench) and why the game winning touchdown pass came to the very target that had resulted in four interceptions. They were able to bring a calm awareness to each moment of highest intensity, they were able to fail fast and recover, they were able to feel themselves at their highest level and make the plays look routine just like they were in practice. This explains to me how underrated or low draft picks in the Seahawks have been able to find within themselves what other much more gifted athletes haven’t been able to do so on other teams. This explains to me why the Packers weren’t able to find within themselves an awareness that they were in the driving seat and could have easily made a number of plays to be in the Superbowl.
Mindfulness as taught in Buddhist and other philosophies is not a religion teaching but rather a skill set that brings awareness to our existence. With awareness we are able to see the truth in each moment and with this truth we are able to make decisions to achieve an outcome. The Seahawks way to mindfulness can be applied to all our lives.
I myself am a novice in this understanding but what little I know has brought me much greater clarity. Even as a fan I clearly understand where my passion for the team comes from, I clearly understand that this is just a sport between very well paid athletes who get much more limelight than they deserve and the tribal nature of fan appreciation and the fact that come Monday morning everything will be the same. All of us will continue to go about our businesses and anticipate another football season.
I am going to be watching the game a bit differently now, I’ll be looking to see if they can continue to be mindful throughout the game by their body language, the way they execute during those high intensity moments, the way they bounce back from the failures and I will be mindful of my own experiences as I watch the game. Beer and breakfast and Sawedee Krup from Thailand. GO HAWKS!