At the Y

Q&A: Fear-Proof Your Brain

Portrait of Craig Manning

Photo by Bradley Slade

We’ve all been there—it’s time to play, speak, or perform, but we’re overcome with anxiety. Pressure like this is nothing new to BYU athletes, who are trained by mental strength coach (and former BYU tennis coach) Craig L. Manning (BS ’96, MS ’01) on the mental skills they need to succeed when stakes are high. Check out some of Manning’s tips for building mental strength so you don’t choke next time the pressure mounts.

Q: What causes a person to “choke”?

A: People under pressure will leave their mental space empty, allowing the negative to get in. Negative thoughts and worrying will block access to your subconscious memories, causing a memory slip—you literally forget all of the training because your mind is occupied with negativity.

Q: How can people deal with nervousness?

A: Control the controllable. Whenever you don’t feel like you have control, the anxiety goes up and performance is going to drop off dramatically. If I’m a batter worried about what the pitcher is going to throw, what the umpire is doing, what the fans think of me, what some cute girl thinks of me, then I’m worried about things I do not have direct control over. But if I’m standing in the batter’s box focusing on my swing and my stance, I’m going to dramatically increase my chance of getting on base. The more you perfect the things you can control, the better you will perform. Practice does not make perfect; practice makes permanent—so in whatever you do, make sure you’re practicing the right things to create the right muscle memories.

Q: What’s the first step to developing mental strength?

A: Creating a can-do mind-set. Occupying your conscious mind with thoughts of what you can do eliminates doubt and fear and all the negative thinking that interferes with performance. Make sure you are thinking, not worrying. If you hold on to two to three thoughts—or cues, as I say to my athletes—you will leave no room for negative thought.

WEB: Find Manning’s book at

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