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Trevor Moawad, IMG

October 12, 2011

Trevor Moawad, IMG Performance Institute (April 20,  2011):

First, can you tell readers how you got started at IMG training players for the combine and NFL?

Actually, combine training got started here in Bradenton. IMG has been here since 1987. Tom Condon and Ken Kramer decided in the late 80’s that they wanted to send their NFL prospects to train before the combine to improve their draft status – it was like Kaplan for the SATs.

Before then athletes just trained at their respective colleges with their strength coaches. Tom figured that training before the combine would help players get drafted higher in the draft. It’s a pretty new thing.

We trained guys like Charlie Batch and Pennington and as success grew for all of these trained players other agents were forced to do the same thing and the facilities sprouted up in many other places.

A lot of the training focus in readers’ minds is on the physical side – can you tell readers how you prepare players for the psychological rigors of the combine and NFL?

The combine gets lots of press for the physical measurements, but the majority of the combine is about the Players’ mental states. We train them specifically and heavily on expanding their awareness. Anxiety comes from what you don’t know, so we make them aware of the process and give them techniques like positive visualization.

The combine is a marathon – not a sprint. Pressure comes when players feel the demands on them exceed the resources they have to survive those demands. We provide them with the strategies they need.

What are some of the strategies teams use to test players psychological makeup?

Well, here’s a good example. One NFL team I know will make the whole interview room dark except for one light behind the coach who stands in the middle of the room, in front of the player who is seated. The coach is silhouetted by the light and he and everyone surrounding the player will shoot questions at the player as he sits in the dark.

Typically, coaches will have every mistake a player has made over their college career in front of them during interviews and will ask the player to explain their mistakes and dissect their playbooks.

What are some of your best memories to date in the combine training process?

A good time was watching Heath Miller, Alex Smith and Chris Spencer singing Jimmy Buffet songs at karaoke with Miller playing guitar. It was a classic moment. Miller was a special guy. A real great character guy.

Guys develop fellowships here. And another great memory is of Boston College’s Mark Herzlich who is training here. Watching him after his battles with cancer was a privilege. He inspired and motivated everyone – here’s A guy that was minutes from losing a leg and not playing football.

I hope teams are smart enough to draft him early. He’d be a perfect fit in Pittsburgh with his attitude.

Other fun memories are the cross-disciplinary trainings – Brees playing tennis with Maria Sharapova. Eli Manning playing soccer with Freddy Adu.

And there was no better guy than Byron Leftwich. He’s a world class character – great with young athletes and helping out in training them. His appreciation for our help in getting him drafted #7 was sincere and generous.

How has the NFL changed over the years?

Players need to be more well-rounded – especially in Goodell’s NFL. They have to be intelligent and good citizens.

Miller and Batch have been here and were great citizens, Teams are not looking for perfect people- in fact, some teams like players that made mistakes early in their careers – as long as they proved they learned from them.

Matt Jones is a good example. No one touched him after a 70+ catch season.  With Goodell more willing to suspend players, teams are more at risk.

Draft mistakes don’t just affect the players – front office staff and coaches lose jobs because of bad picks. Look at Beathard…. So drafting players that are suspension risks are greater risks for teams now.

How do you work with players on character issues?

We now have more ways to indicate and predict whether players are red flag characters. Our Combine 360 Tools test players in all aspects to flush out all weaknesses and improve players on all levels.

Some players may resist tests – but they are outliers. They know that check-in here at 6:30 am means being there at 6:30.

What are the biggest misperceptions players carry into the process?

Players don’t always realize that you can improve dramatically by improving technique. The science behind the whole process like vision training and improvisational games make a big difference. The amount of areas they can train in and how much they can improve surprises players.

We sent 18 guys to the combine – it’s like training them for the Navy Seals. We’re teaching them to be good
pros – not just improve their combine performances.

That’s an important distinction – how do you train them to be better NFL players – not just improve for the combine?

We get players ready for the NFL.

As an athlete, there are specific physical attributes the combine measures – speed, power, acceleration, etc.

But we show them – educate them – on how it all relates and applies. What are the common denominators of successful players? That’s more than just tests and getting players ready for the combine. We have lots of  former players that help as well. We show them videos of what’s worked and hasn’t, teach them to have a plan, to be good characters. It’s not just about physical tests.

It’s also about perspective. Martin Grammatica once said to me that he wished every player would be forced to take one year off to appreciate the game and what it takes to succeed.

How do you teach attributes that to some seem like intrinsic values?

But they aren’t intrinsic. You can educate and instill values. Showing up on time and being positive are choices players make. We teach them techniques to help them do so. These can be taught.

Lot’s of players come from tough backgrounds – single mothers and the rest of it. But that’s not an excuse not to do the right thing. A lot of what we teach is about cause and effect. Of physical training decisions and social decisions. It’s all about educating them on the big picture.

How do you help players after they get drafted?

We stay connected to many players by phone, text etc. We’ll provide meals for some, send mental coaches to them for 2-3 games a year, send strength coaches to them during the season as well.

With the lockout, more players will visit us in the offseason. I’m expecting that players get more flexibility in the new CBA to do what they want in the offseason and train where they want to. The OTAs are not really voluntary – the players won’t be stuck at the team facilities in the new agreement where they have just 3 or so strength coaches for 85 players.

The lockout is worrisome because most players won’t come out to facilities like ours during the lockout and won’t stay in good enough shape or stay out of trouble.

It’s no coincidence that 1982 and 1987 were the two years in the NFL that had the highest % of injuries – they were lockout seasons.

What would surprise readers most about the combine and training process?

Really, the level of analysis – how thorough it is. Background checks are very detailed – high school coaches and friends are interviewed.

Also, just the intensity of the psychological tests and the importance of vision testing and anxiety measurement.

Any last thoughts for readers?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Really. I remember spending time with Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace. Not everyone liked Wallace but I thought, what a great kid. I’m not surprised at his success.

Some guys are just late bloomers. Colleges don’t usually have time to develop talent like we can and the NFL staffs can. Good coaching and training can help being out that talent with focused attention these guys don’t get in college.

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