The secret to the Seattle Seahawks' recent success in the National Football League? In addition to hours of grueling practice and a legendary coach, their success may be due to a book. Specifically, David Brooks's 2015 book, "The Road to Character."
That's according to Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, who has been championing the book – to his team, and his fans – as a game-changer in the way he coaches, speaks to, and sets goals for his players.
It's a surprising choice for a football coach. In it, Mr. Brooks, a New York Times columnist, makes a case that people should focus more on what he calls eulogy virtues – kindness, generosity – and less on what he calls resume virtues, the typical things we are trained to pursue, like status, career, and wealth. And it's a message that resonated with Coach Carroll in an arena that puts incredible pressure on winning.
“After a career of always trying to figure out better ways to teach the guy everything they need to know to help them have prospering career, I am always looking for stuff to help them,” Carroll told Sports Illustrated Monday. “[Brooks] spoke at the league meetings a couple years ago. His explanation in the early part of the book about character and how it fits and connects with the development of a lifetime, I thought was right on the mark. It really made sense to me when he talked about a whole other side to life that he referred to as the eulogy virtues."
“Who did you impact? Who are you helping? How are you servicing others during the course of your lifetime?"
"The Road to Character" traces key moments in the life stories of notable historical figures like Dorothy Day, George Marshall, Augustine, George Eliot, and President Dwight Eisenhower to illustrate the value of selfless qualities that may be considered old-fashioned in today’s society. In all the stories, the figures hit rock bottom, then by pursuing "eulogy virtues," they attain what Brooks calls a humbling triumph, one that also benefits the greater good.
Carroll was so moved by Brooks's message that he called a meeting one spring with eight of the Seahawks' leading athletes who were told that attendance was mandatory and that the discussion in the meeting would change they way they would be coached, according to reporting by USA Today Sports. The subject of that meeting? "The Road to Character," and the way it could change the Seahawks.
In the meeting, Carroll homed in on the final pages of the book, in which Brooks outlines 15 points he calls “The Humility Code."
Particularly pertinent for Carroll and the Seahawks – point No. 4, in which Brooks writes that “humility is an awareness that your individual talents alone are inadequate to the tasks that have been assigned to you.”
“Let me say this,” Carroll told USA Today Sports, “it has affected my language in almost everything I tell them about leadership and serving each other.”
There's a reason Carroll turned to this book – and now. After coaching college football for years, where constant turnover of players meant a regular repurposing of speeches, Carroll found himself with the same core group of players for more than a few seasons when he began coaching professional football.
“These guys keep hearing the same [message] over and over. They can recite it in their sleep. You have to give them something else to go off, to re-buy in," receiver Doug Baldwin told SI.com what he told Carroll in May.
They needed a new message, one that could inspire players who had been with the team for years and had seen it all – wins, painful losses – and Carroll found it in a book.
“I thought it was an extraordinary understanding that he had that he could communicate really clearly in the book. I couldn’t wait to communicate it with our players because I saw our team, and the bulk of our guys, going through a young life in football, being challenged to develop a role on a winning football team, make it to the championship and win it and come back and do it again, with new contracts and Pro Bowls, and it was very much in line with the résumé side in his explanation," Carroll told Sports Illustrated.
Brooks's book may be one reason Carroll told ESPN earlier this year that the 2016 "almost feels like a rebirth."