After a recent strong outing, Steven Matz shouted out, unsolicited, Trevor Moawad, the Mets’ mental-skills coach who “has been great for me.” The next night, amid his hot start as a part-time player, Dominic Smith referenced Moawad’s department, which he credited in part for his surging confidence, getting him to a point where “I don’t care who’s on the mound. I don’t care who we’re facing. I feel like I’m going to get the job done.” And many days, Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo offer a de facto endorsement with their pregame attire, T-shirts from Moawad with a slogan: “Pressure is a privilege.”
Among the many changes ushered in by general manager Brodie Van Wagenen is this quiet one: a new mental-skills department head in Moawad, a longtime professional acquaintance of Van Wagenen whose list of clients includes Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Eli Manning and Russell Wilson, college football powerhouse Alabama and Navy SEALs.
And now, the Mets.
“Our mental performance department was something that was a priority for me as we try to continue to improve our character and makeup development,” Van Wagenen said. “Trying to give guys the resources the reach their peak performance is a priority across the entire organization.”
Moawad isn’t a sports psychologist — that phrase suggests diagnosing or treating clinical disorders — but describes himself as a “mental conditioning expert.” He preaches staying emotionally neutral, a commitment to routine and putting in the right work and continuous improvement.
As Moawad put it in a video on his website, “You don’t need to be sick to get better.”
“This is not something that we use just when times are hard,” Van Wagenen said. “This is something we’re using even in the best of times and making sure guys are programmed and utilizing the resources we have to maximize their performance.”
Why Moawad? The Mets long have had a mental skills department — including coaches assigned to minor-league teams — led in recent years by Derick Anderson, who now works for the Marlins.
But when Van Wagenen came in, he wanted Moawad, who he met in 2001 when they both worked for IMG. In more recent years, Van Wagenen enlisted Moawad’s help with some of his former CAA clients. Now his work in baseball is exclusive to the Mets.
Based in Southern California, Moawad introduced himself to the Mets with several team-wide meetings during spring training and is with the club frequently during the season.
“He’s been really good. I’d say a bit more involved than the mental coaches we’ve had in the past,” Conforto said. “Just focus on your behaviors, don’t allow outside pressures, outside forces to change the way you do things or the way you feel about yourself.
“That’s just kind of his thought about being neutral, not getting too high because everyone is excited for you and is saying all these things about you — or at the other [low] end. Which really applies in baseball and here in New York. There’s crazy highs, crazy lows. You can’t ride that roller coaster.”
Intentionally or otherwise, Smith’s description of his personal progress echoes the sentiments espoused by Moawad.
“I’ve said it multiple times and I continue to say it: You just have to continuously learn and try to get better,” Smith said. “I feel like at this point, I failed so much at the big league level that you just learn from it.”
That failure has afforded Smith an appreciation of mental strength. In addition to talking with Moawad, Smith has a personal mental strength coach in California.
“It’s an important part of your career,” Smith said. “Your mind is the No. 1 important thing, especially dealing with baseball.”
The Mets aren’t particularly interested in publicizing Moawad’s work with them. They didn’t announce his hiring, and he is not listed on their front-office directory on their website or in their media guide. They declined to make him available for an interview for this article, and Moawad’s staff at his Moawad Consulting Group did not respond to an interview inquiry.
Moawad’s teachings are not universally accepted inside the Mets’ clubhouse. One player seemed not to know who he was. Another was adamant that “that’s not for me.” As one pitcher put it: “Some guys, if you tell them they need to be mentally stronger, that makes them mentally weaker.”
But improved mental strength is part of what director of high performance Jim Cavallini calls “the aggregate of marginal gains.” The Mets think if they can get a little better in his area, a little better in that area and so on, it can add up to a difference-making improvement — which speaks to the majors’ razor-thin margin of error and what separates the best teams.
“Those are the things that from the outside — you don’t realize there are so many moving parts — that if we can make marginal gains in every area, the aggregate of that is going to put us in a position to be successful,” Van Wagenen said.
That’s true in analytics, too, Van Wagenen said. And player development. And health and nutrition. And every off-field department the Mets have invested in since he was hired, mental performance included.
“If we can create aggregate gains out of all of those areas, then we’re going to be better,” Van Wagenen said. “It’s less about gaining competitive advantage over somebody else and more about being the best versions of ourselves.”