After No. 3 Georgia steamrolled Florida 42–7 in Jacksonville on Oct. 28, the Bulldogs cooled down, cleaned up and cleared out of the locker room at EverBank Field to head back to campus in Athens. It should have been a quick flight home, but the team's charter planes were delayed because of mechanical issues and inclement weather.
Stranded at the airport with midnight approaching, Trevor Moawad realized he was about to spend the night there. Moawad, the team's mental conditioning coach, had just watched the Bulldogs improve to 8–0, but he was scheduled to be in Seattle on Sunday afternoon. The Seahawks were set to face the Texans and Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson was expecting Moawad to be on the sideline. After six years and counting as the quarterback’s mental conditioning coach, Wilson considers him a “best friend.” And you can’t let your friends down.
“There’s nobody that understands competitive nature and the mind in the midst of chaos better than Trevor,” says Wilson, who meets with Moawad at least once a week during the season. “There are so many times where I have been able to visualize myself being in a situation and overcoming an obstacle—it’s all about being the calm of the storm in the crucial moments.”
What exactly does Moawad do? For starters, he’s not a sports psychologist. While some trainers work on foot speed or explosiveness, Moawad focuses on building cognitive strength. He doesn’t believe in positive thinking but instead teaches athletes to be less negative and more neutral through a visual, show-and-tell approach. And it's not a coincidence that many of his clients are in leadership roles—Moawad helps starting QBs and team captains develop a strategy and language for leading a team.
“One of the coolest things that Trevor does is that he gets to work with NAVY SEALs. Those guys are leaders of our world who have their lives on the line,” Wilson says. “I learn a lot from his experience teaching those guys—the idea of being able to serve others and make others better. That’s my goal when I get in the huddle: for this one play, how can I make them be the best they can be, that we can be together.”
Moawad is practically hardwired to motivate and build better mindsets: his late father, Bob, was the president of the National Association for Self-Esteem and one of the original contributors for Chicken Soup for the Soul series. As a kid in Washington, “stinkin’ thinkin’” and “I can’t” were off the table. “It was a weird way to grow up,” Moawad says. “I got a seminar every night at dinner.”
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After a two-year stint as a high school teacher in Los Angeles, Moawad spent 12 years at IMG Academy in various roles, including the director of performance. In addition to Wilson, he’s worked with Eli Manning, Alex Smith, Deshaun Watson and a handful of UFC, U.S. Soccer and MLB athletes, and his consulting relationships range from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Special Operations Community (Navy SEALs) and NCAA football programs, including nine seasons with Nick Saban at the University of Alabama and current roles with Florida State and the University of Georgia football programs.
So how does Moawad get results? Part of it is his uncanny, unconditional way of communicating—from his inviting tone to his intentional language, Moawad makes you want to listen. But it’s also his methods, ranging from cognitive drills and verbalization to, more simply, personalized videos and general discussions. By watching an old video clip, for example, an athlete can “flick back” on a past experience and relive it emotionally, allowing the mind to apply and carry that, or “flick up,” into the next challenge.
“We’ll watch the best plays and I’ll put audio clips of different speakers over slo-mo shots and angles to elicit very specific things, so he can see himself performing at a high level,” Moawad says. In his training class with Georgia, he uses clips of athletes like Usain Bolt and LeBron James to show examples of "self-talk," which Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart defines as "telling yourself that what your thoughts are is what you become. He uses those people to transplant ideas into our players heads. I think that's the No. 1 way he's impacted our team—allowing them to talk better to themselves."
Smart admits he was once skeptical of mental conditioning. Though Moawad says there are only a handful of consultants in the sports world who specialize in what he does, mental conditioning is spreading with top teams looking to get that extra "3% to 5%" edge. Still, Moawad says there are challenges convincing coaches of the benefits since much of the data is anecdotal.
“There’s not a clear path, it’s more of a gut feeling,” he says of the mental conditioning field. “But the best coaches are recognizing that while the results may not be certain, just hoping the psychological pieces work out is not a productive strategy.”
Moawad insists that mental conditioning is “still the future of sports.” He reminds athletes that psychological training is only a piece of the overall performance puzzle, along with nutrition, physical fitness, sleep and other elements. But no matter the game or level, his messages are similar: pressure is a privilege, my attitude is contagious to others, think at high level by simplifying your thoughts, use language to influence others.
“You want to make sure the only thing the athlete is competing against is the other team,” Moawad says. “It’s amazing how often athletes are competing against themselves, their decisions and their inadequacies.”