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HEAD GAMES

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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 was 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 as the quarterback's mental-conditioning coach, Wilson—who meets with Moawad at least once a week during the season—calls him a "best friend."

What exactly does Moawad do? For starters, he's not a sports psychologist. While some trainers work on speed or agility, Moawad focuses on building cognitive strength. 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.

Moawad spent 12 years at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., in various roles, including the director of performance. He has also worked with Eli Manning, Alex Smith, Deshaun Watson and football programs that include Alabama and Florida State. His methods range from cognitive drills and verbalization to personalized videos and general discussions. By watching an old 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 with audio clips of different speakers over slo-mo shots 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 is, says Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart, "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 who have integrated it into their programs, 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.

"You want to make sure the only thing the athlete is competing against is the other team," says Moawad. "It's amazing how often athletes are competing against themselves."