Milwaukee Bucks’ mental strength coach shares the scripture that influenced the team’s NBA Finals mantra

Dr. Craig Manning has worked with some of the best athletes in the world. He was with the Cleveland Cavaliers the year they won the NBA championship. And this year? He worked with the Milwaukee Bucks on their mindset prior to their own NBA championship. On this week’s All In podcast, Dr. Manning revealed that he sometimes uses a seemingly unlikely source to inspire the athletes he works with: the Book of Mormon. 

Listen to the full episode in the player below or by clicking here. You can also access a full transcript here

The following excerpt has been edited for clarity. 

Morgan Jones: How would you say that we can access the Atonement of Jesus Christ to help us have control over our minds and kind of conquer the adversary in that way?

Dr. Craig Manning: So, the Atonement for me is, it comes back to that at-one-ment, right. That's what Atonement really is, at-one-ment. I feel like the fear of the future–this is my own interpretation of it, though—the things from the past, the mistakes from the past I've made, I've got to learn from those and try to be better. So I've got to repent from my mistakes and try to improve to be better.

And I feel like repentance is, I'm working hard to change and be a different person. And then the fear of the future, the unknown. I don't have direct control over the future. That's the unknown. And I've got to have faith in the Lord [that], if I do everything I do in the present, that He's going to help me atone for things and learn from my mistakes, and then He's going to help me have direction and help me to know what I need to do to deal with the uncertainty of the future.

One of my favorite scriptures is 3 Nephi 13:34 that says, "Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient is the day unto the evil thereof." I've have always been blown away that the Lord use the word "evil thereof." What I love what He's saying is that we're going to learn to focus on the present and do our absolute best in the present.

And let the Lord help us know which path we're going to go and help us learn from our mistakes and get better. And so He helps us a ton for our mistakes by helping us to be able to progress and learn from it and keep moving forward. And then if we have the faith to stay in the present, the Lord will take care of those things that we're afraid of in the future and help us to navigate that future. And I like that other scripture that talks about, He does that little by little, He helps us to move forward and navigate the uncertainty of the future. And I don't know, to me, that's how I try to apply the Atonement for me.

Morgan Jones: I think that is so good. I actually just had a conversation last night about the uncertainty of the future. And I think how we sometimes become caught up in trying to analyze how things are going to go in the future, rather than taking the data that we have in the present and trusting in God. And I think that's such an easy thing to get caught up in.

Dr. Craig Manning: It is so hard to trust that the future will take care of itself if you do everything you can here. So hard. You know, just for the Milwaukee Bucks, one of the biggest things we did throughout the playoffs just constantly try to focus on one possession at a time, and the guys on the team. So playing to our strengths was a big theme throughout the playoffs for us [and] I use the parable of the talents with the guys.

We’ve got a lot of religious guys on the team, a lot of very religious guys. And so we talk openly about it, they love it because they love that I'll bring up the science. I'm like, "Here's what the science is, but here's also a scripture to support it." There are at least five guys on the team that love that. Because it's coming from the scriptures–coming from God. It's not just coming from science.

And one of the biggest things is play to our strengths, which was the parable of the talents. So I talked about that with many of the players, then the next biggest one, this scripture, staying in the present, they love. And it was just constantly "Staying in the present, don't get ahead of ourselves…just stay focused on what we're doing."

They actually took that idea of playing to our strengths and then staying in the present, and they created this. And so I'm really revealing a bit of a secret here, but I don't care because it's for the Church. But one of the biggest things that we did is the guys on the team actually evolved it to our biggest strength as a team was our defense and we needed to [get] one stop at a time—that became our mantra. That became their mantra. The guys on the team took the science and the application of it, and it became our mantra, “One defensive stop at a time.” That's how we felt like we could beat the Nets, and in particular, the Suns…the only way we could beat them [was] if we could shut them down.

Just seeing the gospel work, we won an NBA championship. And that was a big thing. Play to our strengths, one defensive stop at a time, just those two things just helped us so much throughout that.

Lead Image: Provided by Craig Manning