BYU's Secret Weapon is Out

There is a secret at BYU. No, not some new offensive scheme that’s going to revolutionize college football like LaVell Edwards did years ago. This secret deals more with cognitive and mental side of sports that is quietly sweeping through the program with positive results.

BYU backup quarterback Christian Stewart isn’t practicing to be the second string quarterback. Rather, he wants to play and see the field. The only problem with that is Taysom Hill is entrenched as BYU’s starting quarterback. Still, Stewart has been reaching his goals during practice each and every day and there’s a reason for his steady climb in performance.

“I’m not sure exactly where the statistics are, but I know in the past week or so I have been meeting my percentage goals,” said Stewart. “We’re doing a new thing where we’re working with a new sports psychologist, and he’s really helped me just focus on what we can do and getting better every day.”

Dr. Craig Manning is a mental strength coach holds a master’s degree in Psychology and a Doctorate in Sports Psychology from the University of Utah. His expertise is helping athletes develop positive mental attributes to perform at a higher level.

“I’m setting new goals for myself every morning that I want to work on during practice,” said Stewart. “They’re just small things like keeping my feet towards my target, or having my release high so my passes aren’t sailing on me. Just little things to help tighten up things every day, and it’s really made a difference just having these goals to work on every day. I’m not perfect but I feel like it’s helped me to get better every day.”

Dr. Manning has the unique blend of coaching experience - having been a player and tennis coach at BYU helping the women’s tennis team achieve a top 25 ranking - and having a Doctorate in Sports Psychology makes him a valuable asset in helping athletes progress from a unique vantage point.

“He calls himself a mental strength coach,” said Stewart. “He works with Red Bull, with 12 number one athletes in the world, and really he’s just teaching us to control our mind and use all 100 percent of our mind and not the 10 percent of our conscious brain. It’s made a night and day difference. The guys on the team are meeting with him individually, and he met with the quarterbacks this morning. He’s making a really big difference on our team.”

Coaches will often criticize, ridicule, and demean in order to break down an athlete in an effort to build them back up. The approach by Dr. Manning turns that approach around in order to reinforce positive play through positive affirmation.

“Well, for one example a lot of guys like to focus on negative things,” Stewart said. “That’s just kind how it is. Coaches and guys will harp on you when you make a mistake. That’s not what Craig Manning is all about. If we’re harping on those negative things subconsciously we’re ingraining in our mind negative habits. He’s all about positive reinforcement, focusing on the positive, and subconsciously we’re going to be gaining those skills because we’re watching for those positive things.”

Although this is a new approach, the results for Christian Stewart have been very apparent. He’s seen his ability as a quarterback increase from the smallest of technical habits to the more measurable on-field results.

“It has helped me,” said Stewart. “I came into this season a little bit nervous. You know I could get a lot of playing time, and I’ve never played in a division one game. He’s helped me to not worry about all these external things that I can’t control. He’s always talking to me about controlling the controllable, having a can do mindset of everything that you can do it. If you don’t believe you can do then you’re not going to be able to do it, and then also living in the present and not thinking about UConn but thinking about this practice, this down, this pass.”

Although Christian Stewart attributes much of his personal progress to Dr. Craig Manning, BYU fans probably shouldn’t expect a national championship in two or three years. However, if the rapid increase in performance by Stewart can be laid at the feet of Dr. Manning, coupled with the coaching he’s received at BYU, then it’s a big, positive step in the right direction.

“He’s the BYU secret,” Stewart said with a cheeky grin and a slight chuckle. “And I’m not sure if I’m supposed to talk about it.”

Well it’s too late now.

Christian Stewart Video

BYU quarterback Christian Stewart talks about the number of reps he's receiving in practice. He talks about his differences between him and Taysom Hill as quarterbacks. He gives his thoughts on the wide receiver rotation and ball distribution and much more.