How One NFL Team Psychologist Is Handling a Tumultuous Offseason
Dr. Michael Gervais has worked with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll for the last eight years
Since taking over as the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks in 2010, 68-year-old Pete Carroll has guided to the team to 100-59-1 record during the regular season, won a Super Bowl and appeared in another. He’s also never finished worse than 9-7 since making the controversial (at the time) decision in 2012 to go with rookie Russell Wilson as his starting quarterback instead of veteran Matt Flynn, who the team had just signed to a fairly lucrative contract during the offseason.
Though rolling with Wilson over Flynn was probably Carroll’s best move that offseason, he also made another key personnel move in 2012 that is still paying dividends: the addition of high-performance psychologist Dr. Michael Gervais.
Since joining the Seahawks, Gervais and Carroll, who just released an Audible Original called Compete to Create: An Approach to Living and Leading Authentically, have worked together to help create a culture that inspires, encourages and supports players to be their best selves, both as NFL players and as men.
“Relationships are at the center of the culture,” Gervais tells InsideHook. “And that culture is nested in the result-driven, high performing environment of the NFL. Creating a container of psychological safety and exploration and high regard for each other’s experience is really important. What we do is help create conversations and practices to help people know themselves better and to know their teammates better. So really, the relationship begins with yourself and extends to other people.”
Gervais, who had previous experience assisting franchises in the NBA and NHL as well as Olympians, has been relying on those relationships to help foster discussion during an offseason that’s been complicated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the fallout from the murder of George Floyd.
“We’ve had some of the most dynamic, beautiful conversations during the phase that we’re in,” Gervais says. “Athletes are sharing their experiences and others are listening and then also contributing and sharing. It’s been an emotionally electric time that our team’s experiencing. I think we’ve done extraordinary well at having that balance between vulnerability and courage toward the shared vision of becoming better together. As an organization, we’re on a radical clip to understand the best way forward as activists towards social justice.”
In the midst of so much uncertainty, staying positive remains one of the core components of the culture in Seattle.
“One of the things that we’ve doubled down on is optimism,” Gervais says. “Optimism is a trainable skill and it’s the fundamental belief that it’s going to work out. Optimism is at the center of mental toughness. And mental toughness is required when it’s not going according to plan. We use sophisticated psychological approaches to help people be able to stay in hard situations.”
During a difficult situation like this offseason, Seahawks players have also been reminded that they should mainly focus on controlling the things that they can control.
“The strategy is to be very clear about those things that are in your control and to try to master those things,” Gervais says. “It’s one of the core practices and it’s a central framework for our organization. So whether the league is going to happen or not, our work is to master what’s in our control. To be in the best possible physical and mental shape that we can be in. So how do I go about doing that? That certainly is going to involve some intelligent physical strain, some intelligent recovery, some intelligent psychological strain and some intelligent psychological recovery. There’s lots of noise, but our job on our path of mastery, on our path to find our collective best, is to control, and then maybe potentially even master, what’s in our control.”
Though he doesn’t like to make predictions, Gervais seems fairly confident the Seahawks will be able to hit the ground running once the NFL seasons kicks off in the fall after a summer like no other.
“We just came off an extraordinary phase together where we were great listeners, learned at a very high level and were dealing with and working with very emotional content,” he says. “When I compare that to other seasons, I would say we just came through a really incredible phase. The goal is to live and perform towards our very best collectively. The byproduct of that will naturally be a win or loss ratio that is favorable to the wins. But the net-net is not just to win, it’s to create an environment where people can collectively explore the upper reaches of their capabilities together. When that happens. and we’re having fun, that win ratio column tends to be favorable.”
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