Hmmm…talk about “diversifying yoga.” So sorry, still so bitter.

Russell Wilson;  Photograph by Peter Yang for ESPN

Russell Wilson; Photograph by Peter Yang for ESPN

In an old story that’s recently experienced a bit of a resurgence thanks to their Super Bowl win last night, ESPN The Magazine shared a little bit of the Seattle Superhawks’ unusual training mechanisms:

“IT’S DIFFERENT HERE,” Pete Carroll says. “Have you noticed?” It’s hard not to. At 9 a.m. on the first Sunday of training camp in Renton, Wash., high-performance sports psychologist Mike Gervais, dressed in a navy Seahawks hoodie and white baseball cap and flashing more enthusiasm than is rational at this hour, welcomes players into a meeting room at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center. This place used to be the site of a coal tar refinery; now it’s the happiest, greenest campsite in the history of the NFL. Gervais is about to lead a meditation session and, as he always does, instructs the players to hit record on their phone voice-recorder apps and to close their eyes. Then he starts guiding them: “Quiet your minds,” “Focus your attention inwardly” and “Visualize success.”

[…] Carroll craved a chance to reimagine the coaching role in the NFL. “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?”

Now, three and a half years into his tenure with the Seahawks — with a 91-man roster that includes only four players who have been with the team longer — he can truly start to answer that question.

On this Sunday morning, it starts with meditation with Gervais, whom Carroll began to integrate into the program in 2011, at first working on the fringes as a consultant, then becoming a sideline regular last year. For the newcomers to his sessions, Gervais keeps them short, about six minutes. For those with some experience, he prepares longer, more individualized meditations. No one is required to be here, yet about 20 players show up at various times every week to breathe in, breathe out and open their minds. The entire roster also participates in yoga class, which players enjoyed so much last year as an optional activity that the staff decided to make it a mandated part of player workouts this year.

The big idea is that happy players make for better players. Everyone in the facility, from coaches and players to personal assistants and valets, is expected to follow Carroll’s mantras regarding positivity of thought, words and actions. “Do your job better than it has ever been done before,” he tells them. Yelling and swearing are frowned upon, and every media interview with a player or coach ends with a thank-you to the reporter. And in a trial program entering its second year, a group of 15 to 20 players is undergoing Neurotopia brain-performance testing and has worked with Gervais to create status profiles — updated every week on an iPad app — of what’s going on in their lives, how much sleep they’re getting, their goals and how they’re dealing with stressors.

Even as we re-examine the mental health of players in this kinder, gentler era of the sport, this is a bizarro football world. It certainly helps that Carroll has found a kindred spirit and advocate in second-year star QB Russell Wilson, who schedules individual weekly sessions with Gervais. “We do imagery work and talk about having that innovative mindset of being special,” Wilson says. “We talk about being in the moment and increasing chaos throughout practice, so when I go into the game, everything is relaxed.”

“Happy players make for better players,” eh? I’m pretty sure that happy employees will always make for better employees, no matter the industry.

I mean, they won the Super Bowl, so… maybe there’s something to this whole yoga and meditation thing. Thanks to the Seahawks for diversifying it.

/sarcasm

Did this surprise you at all? Do you meditate? How does your practice affect you on the job?