BY ANNIE RENEAU
As long-time Seattle Seahawks fans, these past two football seasons have been a whole lot of fun for our family. With winning the Super Bowl last year and clinching the first seed in the playoffs this year, the Seahawks are definitely having their day.
But my interest in the current team goes beyond the Legion of Boom, Beast Mode, and Russell Wilson’s studliness. The more I read about them, the more I see coach Pete Carroll and the Seahawks as a fascinating case study in family dynamics. Here’s this group of guys with vastly different personalities and strengths, and a coach who has managed to bring out the best in all of them, both individually and collectively. That’s no small feat.
And on a fundamental level, that’s the same thing we’re trying to do with our kids, isn’t it? Help them reach their individual potentials while working together towards our family’s goals?
So here are ten bits of wisdom I’m swiping from the Seahawks to add to my parenting playbook:
1. Have a clear philosophy
Pete Carroll’s “Win Forever” pyramid is impressive and obviously effective, but it’s really not rocket science. He simply married his philosophies of the game with his philosophies on life, created a clear vision of what his team is about, and reminds them of it on a daily basis.
Our kids benefit from having a clear vision of what we’re about, too. What are the central, defining characteristics of our family? What do we value most as a unit? What are our ultimate goals? Do we articulate those things daily for our kids? If not, maybe we should.
2. “Build confidence. Gain trust.”
I love that Carroll ties confidence to trust and makes them (almost) the ultimate goal of his program. Players perform when they know they can achieve excellence and when they know their coach will do whatever he can to help them get there. Carroll is the Seahawks’ biggest fan and their loudest cheerleader. Players give their best because it’s expected, but also because they are inspired.
Kids really aren’t any different, are they? Sure, you can push kids with tough love and motivate them with fear and shame. That’s how some NFL coaches get results from their teams, too. But I prefer Carroll’s positive approach, which clearly works and is much more pleasant for all involved. I want my kids to have no doubt that I believe in them, to know that I always have their best interest at heart, and to trust in my leadership.
3. “No whining, no complaining, no excuses.”
Pure gold. Simple. Straight forward. No nonsense. No caveats.
I think I might engrave this on our living-room wall.
4. “Everything counts”
The Seahawks practice hard and live the mantra, “Every game is a championship game.” Every practice, every interaction, every game counts. Enthusiasm, effort, toughness, and playing smart all count toward the ultimate goal.
Everything counts with our kids, too. Kids remember when we’ve brushed them off, even if it doesn’t feel like a big deal to us. Kids know when we’re making a real effort or when we’re phoning it in. Our relationships with our children are made up of hundreds of thousands of interactions. Not all of them have to be perfect or ideal, of course, but it’s important to remember that they all count.
That’s also an important lesson for our children — that everything they choose to do with their time or energy helps define who they are. And how they approach what they’re doing counts, too. Everything counts. Take nothing for granted, and leave nothing that you have control over to chance.
5. Make room for silliness
When you’re doing serious work, it’s easy to take yourself entirely too seriously. I know I sometimes take myself too seriously as a parent. The job is important and the stakes are high.
But being serious about doing your job well doesn’t mean you have to be serious all the time. Pete Carroll regularly plays elaborate pranks on his players and fellow coaches. With all of the energy and time it takes to build a winning team, I think it’s awesome that he still makes time for silliness.
And indeed, one of the best parenting tools I’ve found is playfulness. Laughter, jokes, silliness — none of those things get in the way of the serious work of raising responsible children and adults. In fact, keeping the tone of the team — or the household — light and fun makes leadership both more effective and more enjoyable.
6. Take joy in triumph
I love watching Pete Carroll when the Seahawks score. The dude is no spring chicken, but he sure has the energy of one. As I said, he’s his players’ biggest cheerleader, and his excitement on the sidelines is infectious.
When I was a kid, my dad used to to yell out in this big, booming voice, “THAT’S MY DAUGHTER!” at all of my school performances/games/graduations. He did the same for my siblings. It was horribly embarrassing, but at the same time, we knew he was proud of us. Showing our kids that we take joy in their triumph is important.
7. Let them be themselves
As with any team (or family), the Seahawks are made up of a range of personalities. Let’s just take a sampling of three:
• Russell Wilson: The talented, clean-cut Boy Next Door who would impress even the fiercest future father-in-law with his genuine “good guyness”.
• Richard Sherman: The delightfully cocky Stanford honors graduate who loves the limelight and will confidently talk to anyone.
• Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch: The tough, quiet kid from Oakland who performs seriously superhuman feats on the field but has faced fines for refusing to talk to the media.
In a family context, Russell Wilson is the easy kid that everyone loves. Richard Sherman is the kid who is smart and funny, but can rub some people the wrong way. Like him or not, you don’t worry about him because he can take care of himself. And Marshawn Lynch is the misunderstood kid who comes across as rude for not speaking when spoken to.
I have a soft spot for Lynch because I have a couple of kids of my own who have a hard time saying a simple “hi” when someone says hello to them. I know their shyness gets mistaken for rudeness. My guess is that Lynch’s scripted “Yeah,” and “Thanks for asking,” responses aren’t so much arrogance as a cover-up for intense discomfort. Or maybe he really just doesn’t have anything to say. Either way, let the man be.
Carroll doesn’t try to change who his players are. When Lynch responds to journalists with one-word answers and barely puts in the minimum face time with the media, Carroll just shrugs and says Lynch is a quiet guy, even in the locker room. He doesn’t try to make him talk.
And the same goes for the opposite end of the spectrum. When Sherman went off on his smack-talking tirade after a big play last season, Carroll had this to say:
“We aren’t perfect and we all make mistakes. Things don’t always come out exactly as we planned.
“You’re talking about a guy in a warrior’s mentality in the middle of everything. He’s a fiery guy. That was Richard being Richard in a moment where you would like to pull him to the side and take a knee for a while, then we’ll talk to you.
“It’s unfortunate that it was so crazed, but that’s who he is. His mental makeup to get ready for that matchup was expressed right there so he could play the way he can play. Unfortunately, sharing with the world, it didn’t come across so well.
“We try to stick to Rule No. 1, which is always protect the team,” he said. “It’s the rule we live by. You always represent us. In a time like that one, it was a little bit representing yourself. How we handle it is we try to grow and learn and work our way through who we are and figure out who we want to be. This was an extraordinary learning opportunity. You’ll see some benefit from it…
“When you really love somebody and care for them, you do everything you can help them be everything they can be,” Carroll continued. “At times they are going to make mistakes and break your heart, but if you love them you stay with them. You give (them) the best chance to be all they can be.
“Richard is a wonderful spirit. He’s got an amazing heart and he has great sensitivity. He goes all the way to the end of the spectrum when it comes to expressing himself.”
See what Carroll did there? He honored who Richard Sherman is, while gently pointing out that, yes, it could have been done differently. And he saw the whole thing as a learning opportunity. Dang, that’s inspiring.
Let your kids be themselves. Honor their unique characteristics and help them hone their strengths. Don’t try to force them into a mold that doesn’t fit them. Find the learning opportunities in mistakes, but let things go that really don’t matter in the larger scheme of things.
(That being said, if my kid ever grabs his crotch in public as an adult, we will have words.)
8. Take the long view, but focus on “now.”
Pete Carroll’s “Win Forever” philosophy is based on the notion of long-term success. The word “forever” might seem a bit extreme here, but not when you see it as a philosophy of living rather than a method of winning.
In essence, you have to strive consistently toward excellence to achieve excellence consistently. Pretty simple, really.
With parenting, our ultimate goals are long-term. We’re raising adults to reach their individual potentials and contribute to humanity’s collective development. That doesn’t happen overnight, but rather in a succession of overnights.
As Carroll says, “To accomplish the grand, you have to focus on the small.” Again, everything counts toward the ultimate goal.
9. Relentless positivity
One of the most remarkable aspects of Carroll’s coaching is that he makes pure positivity work at the professional level. When so many NFL coaches have taken the stoic, grumbling, hard-nosed, Bill Belichik approach — and not without success — Carroll comes dancing in with this cool, relentlessly positive methodology that on paper can seem downright silly. And a lot more people would probably see it as silly, if the Seahawks hadn’t totally dominated the past two seasons under Carroll’s coaching. Clearly, the relentlessly positive approach works.
Seahawks coaches rarely yell or swear and are told not to tear players down. When they lose, they don’t dwell on it — they just look ahead to the next game. There is no fear, only confidence and trust and a deep belief that they will win.
How much better do our children do in an atmosphere of positivity? How much more relaxed and confident in their abilities are they when we refrain from criticism? Such a hard thing to do, but watching Pete Carroll’s positive energy pouring over into his team makes me want to try harder in that arena.
10. “Winning” is the means AND the end.
Success as a parent is as much in the journey as it is in the destination. And in a philosophical sense, it’s the same in sports. Pete Carroll sums up that notion nicely in describing what “win forever” really means:
“Of course we want to win every game, but winning forever is more about realizing your potential and making yourself as good as you can be. Realizing that is a tremendous accomplishment, whether it’s in football or in life.”
Obviously, coaching a football team is not directly comparable to parenting our children. Raising kids isn’t a competition, for one. We can’t choose our kids the way a coach can choose players, and I’m not sure we’d want to.
But our job as parents is to help our kids, no matter who they are, reach their unique potential. If Pete Carroll can do that with a football team, I can do it with my kids, goshdarnit.
Unless, of course, Carroll’s philosophy is all hogwash and the real secret to success lies in compulsive gum chewing.
Maybe we should all add Bubble Yum to our parenting tool belts, too. Just in case.
Annie Reneau, who lives in Pullman, writes about motherhood and other hilariously beautiful things. On good days, she enjoys juggling life with her husband and three children. On bad days, she binges on chocolate chips and dreams of traveling the world alone. Read her blog here. And watch video of a phone call she received from Pete Carroll after her blog was published.
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