Giants’ sports psychologist Dr. Lani Lawrence integral in team’s renaissance

Nick Gates was experiencing flashbacks of the moment last season when he suffered a leg injury so severe it required seven surgeries and put his football career in jeopardy. 

Family members as well as Giants teammates and coaches were in his corner, but Gates needed something more. He found it when Dr. Lani Lawrence — a sports psychologist who is the team’s director of wellness and clinical services — started sending him audio and video recordings to walk him through the steps of meditation that helped with his sleep. 

You are reading: Giants’ sports psychologist Dr. Lani Lawrence integral in team’s renaissance

“I was asking her, ‘Are the thoughts in my head normal?’ and she’s like, ‘It’s totally normal to have flashbacks of the incident,’ ” Gates told The Post. “She teaches you ways to cope with what’s going on in your head, manage your thoughts and go about the day-to-day. A big part of meditation is being centered and bringing yourself back to the moment where you are.” 

Dr. Lani Lawrence
Dr. Lani Lawrence has been integral in the Giants’ locker room.
Photo courtesy of Matt Swensen/

Lawrence was hired by the Giants in July 2020 as part of a bigger restructuring of the player engagement and development department. But she gained attention last week when first-year head coach Brian Daboll mentioned minutes after a win against the Ravens that Lawrence “does a great job” teaching players how to handle failures and move onto the next play. Handling adversity is a trademark of the Giants (5-1) and their four second-half comeback wins. 

“Everything we do here is to try to help the players be the best versions of themselves, whether that’s nutrition, sports science or video,” Daboll said before Friday’s practice. “When she talks, the players listen. I might say to her, ‘What do you think we need based on how things are going this week?’ She’s out at practice and she has a good pulse [of the team].” 

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Lawrence has an open door for individual doctor-patient-privileged meetings, gives presentations during select team meetings and speaks to the team the night before every game, according to players. Away from the facility, players and their spouses have been encouraged to call her at any hour when a team or personal issue arises. None of the sessions are mandatory to respect each player’s different needs, and Lawrence declined an interview request through a team spokesperson. 

“She does a great job with the mental side of the game,” left tackle Andrew Thomas said. “When you are young, you are so focused on the physical aspects of the game. If you are here, you have the tools to be here, so the thing that separates you is the mental process and understanding your technique and when to use certain things. She’s about controlling the things you can control.” 

Cornerback Adoree’ Jackson first met Lawrence when she was a clinical and sports psychologist at USC and he was a two-sport athlete. The breathing exercises she taught him before big track meets carried over to the NFL, where every play is scrutinized, multimillion dollar contracts are on the line and safety is always a concern. 

“It puts your mind at ease and your body in a relaxed state instead of being too overcritical or overanalyzing a situation that’s not even present,” Jackson said. “That’s great for athletes. Ninety percent of the game is mental. In the height of the moment, with everything going on, your breathing might speed up. You are tired out there, take a couple deep breaths, refocus.” 

A presentation that Lawrence did on the mindsets of great athletes like Kobe Bryant stuck with Thomas. 

Dr. Lani Lawrence
Dr. Lani Lawrence joined the Giants staff in 2020.
Photo courtesy of Matt Swensen/

“It’s harder on our generation because there’s social media, and it’s hard to avoid certain things when you get caught up in wanting to prove yourself or worrying about other peoples’ opinions,” Thomas said. “Are you looking at who else plays your position versus what can make you better? Worrying about all those other things is not going to make me better. If you are not focused, that’s going to affect how you play. Some guys embrace it more than others, but I do my little part, and I think it’s helped me.” 

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A couple well-traveled veterans said most, if not all, other teams they played for had a psychologist on staff, but Lawrence is more present and involved with the Giants than the norm. 

“With the way society is now, it’s a bigger picture than just football players,” Gates said. “Society overall is more accepting of the mental health side of things than it was in the 1980s. When she says, ‘We’ve got five minutes. Let’s sit here and do meditation and relax,’ you can feel the energy in the room switch. It’s a calming thing.” 

Dr. Lani Lawrence
Dr. Lani Lawrence
Photo courtesy of Matt Swensen/

The Lawrence-taught strategy that has most helped safety Julian Love — who made the game-turning interception last week — is positive affirmations. 

“The game has changed: It’s OK to develop routines to be successful,” Love said. “Her whole thing is developing ways for you to be at your optimal performance. You visualize the plays and success you want to have. When you put it into action in your mind, you tend to make plays.” 

Whether it’s a message that athletes have heard from coaches for years — “stay calm” or “control what you can control” — or a more clinical-based approach to creating success, Lawrence’s message strikes a different chord because of her expertise. 

“A teammate could say it in the back of your head, but when it comes from somebody else, it’s a reassurance thing,” Jackson said. “Everybody needs somebody to talk to. A lot of people tell you to relax, but it doesn’t come with the exercises or the things that help you put it in perspective.”

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