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Grizzlies add mental-endurance coach

Aug 4, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT

Oklahoma City Thunder v Memphis Grizzlies - Game Six Getty Images

What do the Florida State and Alabama football teams have in common?

1. They’re the only programs to win national championships in the last three years.

2. They employeed Trevor Moawad.

The Memphis Grizzlies, trying to piggyback off that success, are emulating No. 2.

Grizzlies release:

The Grizzlies also added Trevor Moawad, a recognized expert in the field of mental conditioning who has led mental endurance programs for the University of Alabama and Florida State football teams, as mental endurance coach.

Moawad joins the Grizzlies organization to serve as mental endurance coach. Moawad has recently coached under Nick Saban at the University of Alabama and Jimbo Fisher at Florida State University, helping to guide and lead the development of the players off the field to ensure they are thinking at an elite level on the field. Through the integration of advanced mindset solutions, he has played a vital role in both schools winning NCAA Championships for their football programs in his tenure.

I wouldn’t assume Moawad’s presence and a championship share a causal relationship. Most likely, elite programs like Florida State and Alabama can afford many luxuries – including a coach focused on mental technique . But that’s just an example of many advantages, making it difficult to say which play the most direct roles in winning.

We’ll see how big an advantage is for the Grizzlies, but I think it helps. They’re not the first to use experts on gaining a mental edge, though I don’t know how common they are on staffs around the league as opposed to outside consults.

Under Lionel Hollins, Memphis always struck me as a team with a strong culture of mental toughness. Veterans like Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Tony Allen help, and they’re still there, even with Hollins in Brooklyn. Might there be diminishing returns that don’t exist with a mentally weak team hiring Moawad?

But my only questions are about how large a positive this is. Moawad should help the Grizzlies, and his mere presence shows Robert Pera’s commitment to building a winner.

Want to know how specifically Moawad will help? Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated wrote a fascinating profile of him, including some examples of his techniques:

The exercise that helped Hightower understand why he needed to speak up during the Auburn game involves a group of players who are tasked with planning a barbecue. Each player wears a number on his head. He can’t see the number, but his teammates can. A one is the low man on the totem pole. A nine is an alpha dog. Moawad instructs the players to treat one another in accordance to the number on each person’s head. When the nine speaks, everyone listens and reacts. When the twos and threes speak, they are ignored. "You start to learn status," Moawad said. "The overall goal is learning where you fit in. At different times, you need to play different roles." Said left tackle Barrett Jones: "By the end, everyone clearly knew what number they were."

Coach Tom Coughlin wanted to know if the mental coaches could find a way to help tailback Fred Taylor — known at the time as "Fragile Fred" because he was so injury-prone — play a full season.

Then they went to work on Taylor. They surveyed the longest-tenured veterans on the Jaguars’ roster to determine what they did that Taylor did not. They discovered that all of the veterans came to work at about 6:30 a.m. Taylor showed up two hours later. They told Taylor he needed to begin showing up earlier. He asked what he needed to do during those two hours. Do what the veterans do, Moawad and Bohling told him. Taylor filled those two hours with training that helped him start 46 consecutive games between 2002 and 2004.

some players arrive on campus unable to look coaches and teammates in the eye. Moawad has a drill to fix that.

Find a friend and try this exercise.

You: OneFriend: TwoYou: ThreeFriend: OneYou: TwoFriend: Three

Pretty easy, right? Now replace each "one" with a clap and try again.

Awfully hard to do without maintaining solid eye contact, isn’t it? Now replace each "one" with a clap and each "three" with a finger snap.

It can’t be done without eye contact. Work that drill enough, and the shiest person can learn to look even the sternest authority figure in the eye.

Moawad also tries to help teammates communicate better with one another. Back when Jones played guard, he sat back-to-back with center William Vlachos. Vlachos had to describe a series of complex shapes on a card in his hand. Jones, without seeing the card, had to reproduce the shapes.

Moawad trains players to believe by changing their internal monologue. He said an athlete says 800-1,400 words a minute to himself on a subconscious level. Those words must be positive, and they also must be the correct words that allow the player to focus on the task at hand and not some distraction in another part of his life or on some external influence like, say, 100,000 screaming fans. Moawad often uses the example of sprinter Michael Johnson, who tried to limit his internal monologue to the same four phrases during a race.

1. Keep my head down2. Pump my arms3. Explode4. Think like a bullet

Moawad has a drill to keep players focused despite external distractions. First, he has a player attempt to find a sequence of numbers in ascending order. Second, he has the player complete the same task with a partner staring silently at his work. Third, the player must complete the task while his partner screams insults at him.

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