Photos by Paul Flessland
The Bison football team has always looked to gain an edge on its opponents. You don’t win championships without attempting to better yourself every season. Whether it’s Jim Kramer’s grueling summer workout programs or Dave Ellis’s nutrition charts, the Bison are always a step ahead of the FCS field.
Ben Newman is a performance coach and specializes in providing mental training tools he uses with professional and collegiate athletes, as well as Fortune 500 companies.
He was introduced to the Bison football program when he met Craig Dahl’s mentor, Michael Sheppard. Newman met with Dahl, who, in turn, welcomed him to the Bison football program. The relationship was a perfect fit, as Newman spoke to the team before a handful of games this season.
(Editor Note: In the magazine edition of the interview, we misspelled the website to order a copy of his free book, freeplaybook.net. This interview took place on January 11.)
Bison Illustrated: What’s your role with the Bison football team?
Ben Newman: “It’s an opportunity to perform in a role as a performance coach with motivation and proven mental training tools that I’ve used with professional and collegiate athletes around the world.”
BI: How did you first get connected with the program?
“I had the opportunity to work with Craig Dahl from the New York Giants over the last few years, he’s a big alum. He and I have a great relationship and he made the introduction to coach (Chris) Klieman and coach (Tyler) Roehl.”
BI: When did these relationships begin?
“It was actually this year (2015). I started my work with the team after the fourth championship and they were looking for that additional fire they could bring to go do what they’ve now done which is to be the first team in the history of college football to win five in a row.”
BI: So your hiring would be classified as a success?
“For me, the real excitement is that I’m just sharing my energy, my fire, and my passion that’s God has given me. It’s those coaches and those players that are doing all the work. I just have an opportunity to throw waves into their fire. They’re the ones doing all the work.”
BI: When was the first time you spoke to the team?
“The first time I was brought in, it was in an evening setting. They brought me in just to do a 30-40 minute keynote presentation to really fire up the year and fire up what they were about to do. I think at that point in time, it was a new relationship for all of us. I don’t know if there were any guarantees or anything of that nature that I would continue the work I did with the team during the season, but the message did resonate. We talked about legacy, and we talked about the opportunity they had as a team. And they continued to let me return.
“There’s one other person I want to make sure that I mention. It was Craig Dahl and another former player – because he was really the one that was most responsible for it – was Michael Sheppard and he was a former player that used to mentor Craig Dahl and that’s how I met Craig Dahl. When you really look at how important the NDSU family is – and this is what I admire about the university and the culture and the legacy – here is one former player who mentored another player who made the introduction and that player introduced me to the current team. It’s amazing how much care there is from the alumni.”
BI: Is that normally how the process works for you to come in and meet with any team?
“Correct. Like anything, there has to be relationship building and there has to be a fit and the principles have to be in alignment with the principals of the program.”
BI: When did you catch your first game at the Fargodome?
“My first game was the North Dakota game.”
BI: Did you go to anymore before going to Frisco?
“I was at the semifinal game against Richmond. There was work that I did even when I was at home in St. Louis or doing my travels around the world speaking. There was always consistent messaging with the coaches and the team.”
BI: How did you go about contacting the team when you weren’t in Fargo?
“There were videos and things of that nature. He (Klieman) would lean on me when there were moments of adversity and challenge. He’d reach out, ‘Hey, Ben, can we get another video from you to address what’s going on.’ When Carson went down, I did a special video to address the importance of sticking together and embracing adversity, rising up when you get knocked down and reminding them everything they needed was already in them to do something special this season, regardless of the adversity they faced.”
BI: How do you hope the student-athletes apply your lessons to football and outside of the game?
“There are some trigger words that I think are the most common, and you heard Coach Klieman say it when he accepted the trophy. He said the words, ‘Attack the process.’ That’s probably the message that is most consistent in our work, is helping each individual player connect to what their piece of the process looks like within the team. What is their commitment? What does the team need from them as an individual player? And then helping that player connect to what it looks like on a daily basis for them to get their best. For collegiate athletes, that includes giving it their best in the classroom, giving it their best with their nutrition, giving it their best at their practice times, giving it their best in the weight room. It’s having balance because it’s tough being a collegiate athlete. But it’s having that balance and them understanding what their process looks like and then attacking that process. With each individual attacking the process collectively, the team can perform at a higher level.”
BI: What did you think of your first Frisco experience?
“I’m just continually so impressed with the culture and the legacy of the entire NDSU family, from the individuals that I’ve met within the university to collegiate athletics, and for me, when you talk about tradition, when you talk about greatness, when you talk about family, when you talk about legacy, I don’t think there’s a better example in sports today than NDSU, period. I’ve never seen anything like this culture. To see 250 alumni come back for a championship game and then come to a practice to see those players, and the interaction with the players was just incredible. To me, that’s what it’s all about. It’s about one generation supporting the next generation, continuing to the next generation. Having an opportunity to continually grow the program.”
BI: Is that something you look for in a program or organization before you decide to speak with them?
“It really depends on and obviously, there has to be a fit, right. At the end of the day, if I’m a good fit, they have to feel it and I have to know that I’m going to be a good fit to help the organization or the team. I know we have proven principals that work because we’ve seen them applied with Fortune 500 companies as well as Super Bowl Champions and NCAA Champions, so we know they work. It’s certainly finding a right culture and fit and team that wants to grow and take it to the next level. And that’s one of the things I love about NDSU, here’s a team that’s won four straight national championships and they were looking for a way to get better. Here, I’m able to share some principals that have worked, but once again, I didn’t do anything other than sharing a little bit of my fire to help take them to the next level, but it’s the team and the coaches that do all the work.”
BI: What have your learned about Bison Pride and what do you believe it represents?
“It epitomizes the word legacy. My mother passed away 11 days before my 8th birthday, so legacy is very, very important to me and I live every day to continue to write her story. For me, that’s a big purpose. It’s my big, big purpose. I think NDSU shares that commonality of that big purpose. It’s something bigger than each individual player and truly epitomizes legacy and that’s what connected me so deeply with the university and the team.”
BI: Can you tell me a little bit about you book, “Own YOUR Success”?
“’Own YOUR Success’ is a business fable. It’s really a story about a businessman who has fallen out of balance in life, and he goes on a journey to meet four distinct characters and with each character he learns life lessons to help get him back on track to get to the next level of performance in his life.”
BI: “Leave YOUR Legacy” is the last book you’ve written. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
“’Leave YOUR Legacy’ was a sequel to ‘Own YOUR Success’, but a sequel that was written in such a way that you didn’t have to read the first one. And they’re also, for athletes out there as well as business professionals. There are great characters that tie into the world of sports that people will really enjoy. There’s also a book that’s all the principals that I shared, coaching principles, the six proven training tools. The book is called ‘YOUR Mental Playbook.’ And people can get a copy of that for free at freeplaybook.net.”
BI: Do you plan on staying with NDSU and continue speaking to them?
“I would certainly hope I’m not going to get fired after this season (laughs). No, I think the beauty is, we’re just getting started. There are some speaking opportunities and things that BG (Brian Gordon) had in mind, so there’s a bunch of times. I should be there in the offseason.”
BI: So what are you doing in New Orleans today?
“I’m doing a keynote for AIG. My day is going to be crazy, last several weeks I’ve spent three days in Orlando last week with Northwestern Mutual and then I flew to see you guys, then I flew to Redskins’ country and then New Orleans to home.”
BI: How many keynotes a year?
“I speak about total – I would include if I go see the team – about 80-90 times a year.”
(To learn more about Ben and what he does, check out his website at BenNewman.net.)