I admit it, my lens on the world is colored by what I do here at bLife. I'm always looking for examples of how training the brain to develop psychological health and resilience, or what we call "mind fitness," is becoming mainstream. So when I watched the big game on Sunday (can I reference it as the Super Bowl without paying for the rights?) and marveled at the dominant performance of the Seattle Seahawks, I couldn't help but reflect on an article I read at the beginning of the just concluded NFL season.
Back in August, in ESPN The Magazine's NFL preview issue, the now Super Bowl winning quarterback of the Seahawks, Russell Wilson, is photographed sitting cross-legged, in the meditative lotus position, for a feature story on team. The article goes on to highlight what is currently a unique approach that head coach Pete Carroll uses to prepare, develop and care for the minds of his players as much as their bodies. In what shouldn't be, but is, a novel concept, Coach Carroll believes that "happy players make for better players".
Professional football is one of the most violent sports, populated by physically imposing athletes who are conditioned to hit and be hit, hard. At first glance, it doesn't appear to be the kind of environment where meditation, visualization, positive mantras, as well as breathing and body awareness exercises such as yoga, would be practiced alongside weight lifting, tackling drills, and mastering the thick tome called the playbook.
The Seahawks, according to the article, began this more holistic mind and body well-being program in 2011. And it was clear before this season began that Coach Carroll had the buy-in from his team. One of my favorite quotes is from Russell Okung, the 6'5", 310 pound, Pro Bowl offensive tackle who shares "meditation is as important as lifting weights and being out there on the field for practice."
Did any of this mind fitness preparation help Seattle on Sunday in their one-sided victory over the slightly favored Denver Broncos? I'm not aware of whether the Broncos have a similar program that looks to comprehensively address the mental well-being of their players. The Seahawks could just be a better football team based purely on physical talent. Or, it could be as Carroll identifies, when you reach your team at a different level, it allows them to "perform at a higher level".
The NFL, like all highly competitive sports, is often referenced as a "copy-cat" league, meaning when one team achieves success through a certain style of play (west coast offense, pass catching tight ends, et al), other teams often follow. You pair this fact with the growing body of scientific evidence from the intersecting fields of neuroscience and behavioral psychology on how we can train the mind to improve health, happiness and performance, it won't be surprising to hear about more teams adopting the mind training practices of the reigning champs from the Emerald City.