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The hippies win the Super Bowl - New concepts to coach a winning team - by Gary Silverman - ft.com
The hippies win the Super Bowl - New concepts to coach a winning team - by Gary Silverman - ft.com
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The hippies win the Super Bowl - New concepts to coach a winning team - by Gary Silverman - ft.com

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Human Resources, Human Capital

Human Resources, Human Capital

Published in: Business
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  • 1. The hippies win the Super Bowl By Gary Silverman in New York Love and wholesomeness help ensure the other side is battered I know that many of you don’t like American football. It is violent and militaristic, and a disturbing number of its players wind up with devastating injuries to their brains and bodies. Even so, something happened at last Sunday’s Super Bowlchampionship game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos that you should know about. The hippies won. It didn’t say so on the scoreboard, which showed that Seattle demolished Denver 43-8. But the game was nonetheless a triumph for the New Age ways of the old Woodstock nation. If you are seeking mindfulness, or empathy, or any of that other touchy-feely stuff Oprah Winfrey is always talking about, you need look no further than the champion Seahawks. They are the National Football League equivalent of a West Coast commune, growing groovier by the day under the guidance of a forever-young 62-year-old guru of a coach called Pete Carroll. A product of the San Francisco suburbs that gave the world the comedian Robin Williams, Carroll once told a local newspaper that he was inspired by an observation of the late Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia – who “didn’t want to be the best at doing something, he wanted to be the only one doing it”. As a result, no football coach does things quite like Carroll. His players stretch their muscles in mandatory yoga classes and quiet their minds at meditation sessions conducted by a resident psychologist. They work out to music played by a team disc jockey, and eat organic fruit and vegetables from local farms, and free-range chickens fed leftovers from the Seahawks’ dining table. When a Seahawk fails to hustle at practice, the club checks the amino acid levels in his blood for abnormalities, according to a team profile written last year by ESPN’s Alyssa Roenigk. If none is found, the player and coaches talk things over – quietly. “Yelling and swearing are frowned upon” by the Seahawks, Ms Roenigk wrote, “and every media interview with a player or coach ends with a thank you to the reporter.” This ethos made Seattle’s performance in the Super Bowl all the more remarkable. The Seahawks didn’t just beat the Broncos. They beat them up – playing a brand of physical, attacking football that left even Peyton Manning, the supremely cerebral quarterback of the Broncos, looking dazed and confused. The football world couldn’t help but notice that Carroll got these results by being nice to his charges – a big change from the old playbook. The emblematic coach of the past was someone like the late Paul Bryant of the University of Alabama, who was called “Bear” because he once wrestled one, and grew so high and mighty that a rival said: “In Alabama, an atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in Bear Bryant.” Carroll emerged at the Super Bowl as a very different kind of authority figure. ESPN commentator Steve Young – a Super Bowl champion quarterback himself, and a descendent of Mormon leader
  • 2. Brigham Young – told Carroll that he had taken coaching to “another level” by looking at his players “holistically” and “making their whole life better ... whether it is mental, physical or spiritual health”. Carroll reinforced that message on Super Bowl night in his own idiosyncratic way, which involves the frequent use of the word “up”, so that he speaks of “loving up” his players and “brothering up” with colleagues. “We tried to take care of the whole person,” he said, “and love these guys up and figure out what they could possibly become and help them get there.” Carroll probably falls short of sainthood. Only months after he left his previous job, as football coach of the University of Southern California, the school was penalised by the US collegiate athletic authorities for rule violations during his tenure. ESPN also reported that since Carroll joined Seattle, his team has had more players suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs than any other. But given the regard Americans have for successful football coaches, I suspect that we will see more people with Carroll’s sunny-as-California countercultural style and sensibility running things in this country. Carroll’s smiley face is the new look of American power and the traditionalists among us will just have to get used to it. The great and the good no longer get what they want by donning dark suits and standing sternly on the sidelines. Now, they pull on a hoodie, put their hand on your shoulder, ask you how you feel and love you up. gary.silverman@ft.com

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