Being a performer for many years and then taking up competitive ballroom dancing at a mature age, I thought that my nerves would be tamped down and chill during comps. I was wrong. I wrote about it here.
But, I also know that certain conditions can mediate or eliminate the very nerves that can interfere with a free, rehearsal repeated routine. And it has to do with self imposed pressure……and isn’t all mental pressure self imposed?
There seems to be an unexpected reduction of self pressure when the very element of winning is perceptually removed. The pressure of winning is out of the question because of an initial poor performance, or a confluence of events that seems to make winning unlikely.
As for the later, I can recount a recent experience at the NY Dance Festival. I started the comp with only 2 hours sleep the night before and soon realized that the number of dances I would be doing was more like 2 or 3 times the number I signed up for. There were semi-finals, finals and some hidden ones I did not take note of.
For those reasons, I felt that going for a win was beyond consideration. I just wanted to stand up in my last heat! (It took some grit, but I did and won 2nd place in my first gold comp in scholarship round and 3rd place in championship round). I wouldn’t recommend these conditions, but it is an interesting to note how a reduction in self imposed pressure plays out.
Similarly, Nathan Chen the favorite to win gold in the men’s singles ice skating competition fumbled and fell badly in his short program. Pretty much a disaster. There was almost no chance that he could finish on the podium. Here’s what he said after the short program: “Regardless, I am going to be nervous,” he said. “It was the same pressure I always put on myself. Honestly, it was bad . I made as many mistakes as I possibly could have.”
But, in his long program, we wondered if this would be another embarrassing repeat of the short program. It could not have been more opposite. He landed every single jump, quad or otherwise and even threw in a 6th quad for good measure. He finished off the podium but moved impressively from 17th to fifth.
So how could this be? Remember that Chen also had a poor skate in the team competition and then followed up with the bad short skate. By the time the long program rolled along, he had nothing to lose – except his nerves around winning. He was more relaxed and able to plug into his rehearsals and training, allowing his nervous system to quiet and his muscles to coordinate.
The reason for the first two unexpected performances? According to
“They are catapulted from minimal attention to intense media focus, which can make the athletes feel like they’re being scrutinized and judged. This new attention can shift their focus on the need to win and away from what will allow them to be successful — the process.”
Aha! This is something I can help you with. Being in the moment, staying in the process, the pressure of winning is all in the future – you can only be in this moment, literally. Easier said than done, but a rich endeavor that, yes, can help you win!
If you want to find out more, book a lesson with me, either on zoom.com or if you are in the NY/NJ area at my studio in Montclair, NJ. Please use my contact form, tell me about yourself and leave your availability. I will respond within 24 hours.
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