Falcons’ mindfulness training is paying dividends

Falcons head coach Dan Quinn gives wide receiver Justin Hardy a hug after his touchdown reception against the Cowboys Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017, in Atlanta.

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Falcons head coach Dan Quinn gives wide receiver Justin Hardy a hug after his touchdown reception against the Cowboys Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017, in Atlanta.

For Falcons coach Dan Quinn, teaching the intricacies of the X’s and O’s of football is not the only important part of preparing his team for NFL games.

In addition to learning the plays and getting in physical condition, the preparation of the brain to be successful is also very important.

It’s the psychological side of football that allows a team to perform at its peak level. It’s a page that Quinn borrowed from his mentor, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.

Quinn’s quest into mindfulness training will be on the display when the Falcons (9-5) play the Saints (10-4) with a chance to earn playoff berth at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

“I think the guy who probably was a mentor to me, had the biggest impact on me, was Pete Carroll,” Quinn said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He was probably the first coach that really talked to me about mindfulness and staying just right into it.”

Under Carroll, the Seahawks have a high-performance psychologist Michael Gervais. Carroll used a coaching style and philosophy that used mind training and asked players to reach inside of themselves in order to maximize their talents.

He went to Quinn, when he was the defensive coordinator in 2013, and asked him to become more mindful with his coaching and play calls.

Quinn, through a firm called Vision Pursue, has embraced the method and has his team trained in the concepts of mindfulness and meditation.

“As I developed my own philosophy and made sure we could just own this process today,” Quinn said. “That’s really, why we go through this process, Monday is tell the truth (day). The focus behind that is to clear (the air). Get the bad out. The good out.

“We don’t’ really have like ‘Victory Mondays.’ Where you go take off and we’ll see you Wednesdays. What we do is we come and we talk about what went wrong. Here’s what didn’t. What did we gain from it? What we didn’t gain? From there, I want them to clear it and move on to the corrections.”

The players have embraced the training which has the focus on the present.

“What can you do today,” center Alex Mack asked. “What can you do this week? Worry about the opponent that’s in front of you.”

The Falcons have won six one-score games this season. Late field goal misses at Seattle (34-31) and Tampa Bay (24-21), a goal-line stand at Chicago (23-17) and 10-second run-off game in Detroit (30-26). The Falcons also prevailed over New Orleans (20-17) with a game-saving interception with 1:25 to play and then eased by the New York Jets (25-20).

“We have a tough-minded group,” Quinn said. “You have to be in some fights to get hardened. That’s why it’s nice now to talk about (the) 2017 (team) is hardened.”

The Falcons also dropped one-score games to Buffalo (23-17) and Miami (20-17), when the offense couldn’t rally on late drives.

The Falcons want to atone for their collapse in Super Bowl LI.

They know if they beat the Saints they can wrap up a playoff berth. They even know that if they beat the Saints and the Panthers, that they’ll repeat as NFC South division champs.

“We recognized the importance of it, but we can’t do anything about where we want to go if we don’t take care of every step required,” Quinn said. “If we short-cut it or (BS) it to get there, then that ain’t true.”

In order to keep the team focused on this week, Quinn used an example from the NBA lore. He wanted to illustrate how the game against the Saints will be a major rumble.

“In our meeting (Wednesday) we talked about Larry Bird as a competitor,” Quinn said. “He was not only the rookie of the year. He was NBA player of the year. He’s been a finals MVP. He’s been a coach of the year and executive of the year. That man is a battler.”

Quarterback Matt Ryan has bought into the mindfulness approach to preparing for football games.

“Knowing that none of that other stuff happens if you don’t win, that’s what keeps you in the present moment,” Ryan said. “The only thing that matters for us is preparing this week and giving ourselves the best chance to go out and play football the way that we are capable of. Worrying about anything other than that is a distraction.”

Ryan senses the team is supportive of the mindfulness approach, too.

“(Quinn) does a great job of driving that home every day,” Ryan said. “How important every day is. How important the meetings are, how important the walk-throughs and practices are and how they put us in a position to be successful.”

It’s hard to argue with the results.

“You know it because we’ve been successful doing it,” Ryan said. “I think that’s where you get the belief and the mindset right, when you have success doing it a certain way, you believe in it.”

Quinn is married to the mindfulness, step-by-step, day-by-day approach.

 "(Wednesday) they only have to focus on this specific part of the game plan," Quinn said. "They don't have to get to the game yet. The don't have to worry about red zone. When they leave, they go to bed tonight, the first, second down is done, the two-minute (drill) is done. The protection part is done.

“Then when they come in tomorrow, we’ll quiz them a little bit on that.”

As things progress later in the week, the Falcons try to wrap up their preparation into one nice and tight bundle.

“During the week, a lot of information is going to be about New Orleans, then the shift happens,” Quinn said. “When all of that is in, you have really prepared. You’ve got your information. ... Now, I don’t need any more information. ... For these guys, they’ve got all of their information now, they are ready to play.”