BYU Cougars’ best-kept secret

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BYU has found a way to enhance raw talent with a new kind of coach … a mind coach.

Mental strength coaching is making its mark in collegiate sports, and has significantly contributed to Bronco Mendenhall’s football program’s 85 wins and nine bowl games in the past 10 years.

BYU alumnus and mental strength coach Craig Manning introduced performance psychology to BYU athletes just more than 10 years ago, and the university has been reaping the rewards ever since.

Manning earned his bachelor’s and master’s degree in psychology from BYU in 1995 and 2000 respectively and a doctorate in sports psychology from the University of Utah in 2006.

Manning began implementing his knowledge of performance psychology as the head coach of the women’s tennis team at BYU. He had great success, leading the team to four Mountain West Conference titles and building it to a top 20 program.

Manning shared his skills with athletic director Tom Holmoe, who then asked Manning to work with a few athletes one on one. Before he knew it, he was bombarded with athletes wanting mental strength training.

Manning’s success with BYU athletes quickly convinced BYU coaches of the relatively new science’s value. The athletes are equally convinced. Linebacker Bronson Kaufusi attests to the power of performance psychology.

“Coach Manning’s work really impacts the program. He gets us to think how we are supposed to be thinking, and from there we just excel,” Kaufusi said.

Kaufusi recently changed from defensive end to outside linebacker, a position he prefers. This coincides with the science of sports psychology, which indicates that one becomes highly competent at a more accelerated rate when one loves what one does. Bronson was the defensive player of the week among independent schools in his first game as linebacker in BYU’s win over UConn.

Offensive lineman De’Ondre Wesley has also experienced success with the help of Manning’s guidance. Wesley said Manning’s coaching has not only helped him with his athletic success but also with his academic success.

“Dr. Manning always stresses to us staying in the moment and not getting ahead of ourselves, so I always try to stay focused on the here and now,” Wesley said.

Manning had a short leave during the 2010 season when he entered the corporate world, shortly after the release of his book, “The Fearless Mind.” During his month-long absence, BYU lost four games in a row. Manning received a call from Mendenhall shortly after the fourth loss, asking him to come back.

The progressive science has even been credited, at least in part, with the BYU second-half explosion against Texas early in the 2014-2015 season. Sophomore safety Dallin Leavitt explained to a Deseret News reporter that Manning’s coaching was partially responsible with the team’s second-half success.

Manning “talks about our energy levels, keeping them low, then right before the game being able to bring them up and being excited,” Leavitt told the Deseret News. “Then, when we come into halftime, it’s being able to rejuvenate and take our pads off and get ready for the second half. We try to treat it like two different games.”

Manning has not only used his vast knowledge to coach athletes but has helped musicians and businesses as well. Many of his clients have gone on to rank No. 1 in the world and receive national awards under his direction.

“I love to win. That’s what all this is for. I want the athlete to win; I want the program to win; I want all my clients to win in sports and in life,” said Manning.

Manning takes little credit himself for the success he sees in his clients but rather gives the credit to the human mind. Manning said he simply coaches the athletes. He does not train or instruct them on exactly what to do but coaches them to think for themselves, eliminate interference and have fun in order to achieve high performance.

“The human being is capable of amazing things if we get the mind right. I have seen it. I don’t just think it; I know it,” he said.

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