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Third down and ommm: How an NFL team uses yoga and other tools to enhance players' well-being

football fieldWith so much negative news about the health and well-being of professional football players (concussions, long-term brain injuries, and the like), it's refreshing to read about something good happening in that arena.

A lengthy article in the current issue of ESPN The Magazine describes the kinder, gentler way that the Seattle Seahawks are conditioning their players - we're talking meditation sessions, team-mandated yoga classes, and a trial program where the coach uses a fancy iPad app to track "what's going on in [players'] lives, how much sleep they're getting, their goals and how they're dealing with stressors."

A skeptic, or perhaps even the casual observer, would say that team ownership - and the coach - are only implementing such things to increase the number of wins. As ESPN writer Alyssa Roenigk rightly points out, "the big idea is that happy players make for better players." (And one is reminded of a recent WIRED article discussing how meditation and mindfulness are being promoted and used by Silicon Valley types as a way to increase productivity.) But I would argue that anything that helps, not hurts, the health of these athletes deserves kudos. More from Roenigk:

Here's the thing about the Seattle experiment: It's only the beginning of what the Seahawks intend to be a total revamp of the way a football franchise approaches the physical and mental well-being of everyone in the organization. Team chef Mac McNabb feeds the players fruits and vegetables from local organic farms. He takes any leftovers to a nearby family-run farm to feed free-range chickens, which are raised specifically for the Seahawks cafeteria. Ramsden and Gervais spend their spare time attending conferences, meeting with nutritionists and sleep experts, and, judging by the mound of boxes in Ramsden's office, buying any new tech gadget that could be the next breakthrough in maximizing athletic performance. At the start of last season, Ramsden gathered data on most of the Seahawks, including blood and vision analyses and sleep and conditioning profiles. At practice, player movement is tracked via GPS so the team can monitor workloads. Ultimately, Ramsden would like to have players and coaches wear wristbands to track sleep habits and, when necessary, adjust practice schedules to maximize rest.

The Seahawks hope to one day have daily mental health check-ins to monitor players' off-the-field problems. Owner Paul Allen, no stranger to innovation, has indicated that he wants his MLS franchise, the Seattle Sounders, to follow the Seahawks' model.

Previously: A season of hits may impair some football and hockey players’ cognitive function, Mental and emotional costs of a concussion, Deceased athletes’ brains reveal the effects of head injuries and A slam dunk for sleep: Study shows benefits of slumber on athletic performance
Via Emma Seppala, PhD, on Facebook
Photo by GioPhotos

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