Monday, September 7, 2015

Football With a New Age Twist

Jimmy Graham, an all-star tight end, quickly learned things were different with the Seattle Seahawks after he arrived this spring from the New Orleans Saints in an off-season trade.

After he dropped a pass during practice, Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll came bounding over to him — not with a torrent of invective, as might happen on other football fields, but with fatherly counsel not to worry and just to focus more.

He soon found that the soft touch did not stop there. He had arrived on a team in which cursing is frowned upon, a former competitive surfer turned “human optimization specialist” enlightens players in the “arc of the journey” rather than the arc of the pass, and — after one of the most spectacular losses in Super Bowl history — despair is defeated by New Age-style platitudes urging players to be mindful and seek “high-quality moments.”

Graham, like many new arrivals, was taken aback, too. This is a league, after all, that in recent years has determined that one team was operating a bounty system that rewarded players for hurting opponents and in which several members of another team harassed a teammate so much that he left the sport.

“Football has an old-school mentality: We’re going to grind you into the ground, we’re going to make men out of boys, and when you do something bad, we’re going to demean you,” Graham said. “But here, they feel like you guys are already men and we’re going to treat you like men. It’s literally all positive reinforcement.”

That philosophy will be put to the test this season as never before as Seattle tries not only to get back to the Super Bowl but to rise from one of the most deflating losses in the game’s history. With the Seahawks poised to win in the closing seconds, an intercepted pass at the goal line sailed into football’s Hall of Fame of flubs and handed a 28-24 victory to the New England Patriots.

“I couldn’t be more excited for the challenge of winning and coming back again and going again,” Carroll told reporters during training camp, still answering for the loss. “How hard could it be? We’re going to find out.”

The road back, he added, rests on “our beliefs, and we’re going to bring them to the front and see if they can stand the test, and if we do, we’ll be stronger and tougher than ever.”

Tough may not come immediately to mind with his unorthodox approach.

Although psychologists and consultants are not new in professional sports, Seattle has so integrated their work that more than a half-dozen teams have called to ask about the team’s approach. (...)

“It’s not, ‘I have the answers and you don’t,’ ” he said. “It’s a learning-based organization that is hungry to figure out the challenges of expressing human potential.”

The world outside the locker room is focused on championships won and lost. But Gervais said he reminded players that they were not defined by a single event, even a Super Bowl loss.

“I feel badly for those people who measure success by one point in time,” he said. “But if it’s a process and journey and life engagement, you have a choice to be successful in the arc of growing.”

by Ken Belson, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Elaine Thompson/Associated Press