The Seahawks' secret weapon against the Patriots on Sunday may have nothing to do with their indefensible running game — or, really, anything physical at all. It may be their minds.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Seattle-based team gives a sports psychologist the freedom to roam the training facility, locker room, and the sidelines every game, to make sure their heads are as sound as their bodies.
His name is Michael Gervais, and for three seasons now, he has spent three days a week with the players, offering them what he and head coach Pete Carroll refer to as "relationship-based coaching." In other words, he makes sure the coaches and players are connecting with and understanding each another in the most effective ways possible.
"We are an incredibly mindful team," Tom Cable, the Seahawks' offensive line and assistant head coach, told the WSJ. "If I can understand someone like (guard) James Carpenter at a higher and deeper level, then I reach him further in terms of getting him to be the best he can be."
"Mindful" may be a surprising adjective to hear from an NFL coach, but the practice of mindfulness is certainly not new to the sports world. Phil Jackson, president of the New York Knicks, earned the nickname "Zen Master" by instilling the principles of mindfulness, visualization, and other techniques associated with Eastern religions in all the teams he's coached.
But what has made Gervais stand out in the sports community is his specific approach to therapy. He tries to get to the root of each athlete's anxiety, whether it has to do with ongoing stressors or past experiences.
"We want to invite the lion into the room and learn how to pet him," Gervais said. "Our mind is easily distracted by thoughts and sounds and smells, and when our mind is distracted, we decrease our ability to perform. We need to get better at being present, and you can be present by understanding and deepening the insight about who we are and how our mind works."
When he's with the team, he's really with them — at dinners, pregame meetings, on the sidelines before, during, and after the game, and the next day, when they go over the game. He has no office and no appointment book. He's constantly floating around the members of the organization, taking in their feelings and interactions. He understands the thoughts that go through the players' minds through every step of every play and can thus help everyone communicate better — including the coaches.
Gervais tries to emphasize that relationships matter much more than results. In the sports world, it's so easy for athletes and coaches to allow their wins and losses to define them. He's helped the team view outcomes as a "byproduct" of their approach rather than an end.
"Some organizations sell widgets and some, like the Seahawks, sell outcomes, and the foundation of a great outcome is a relationship."
So, let's see if the Seahawks can use the power of their minds to take home the Lombardi trophy. Hopefully, their open channels of communication will be visible to everyone but the Patriots.