No More Nerves – Perform your Best

Everyone experiences fear and nerves at some point or another, the winners in life are the people who learn to understand and cope with this pressure.

Performance pressure, anxiety and tension are caused by a mindset of inflated expectations, fear of failure and an unhealthy attitude towards your competition.

What Causes Pressure?

 Our personal command center, our brain, is a very powerful tool which is constantly receiving messages, relaying them and firing back outgoing responses. We can classify the incoming messages as sensory and the outgoing messages as motor responses. When we are performing really well, there’s an effective and complex interplay between sensory and motor responses. However, we do not always perform to our best.  Sometimes, we get frightened or nervous, tense up or freeze. We start over thinking and effectively choke.

What are the Physical and Mental effects of Pressure?

When experiencing pressure, we all suffer similar side affects. Everybody is slightly different, as we all think about situations differently. Also, some people develop better coping mechanisms to counteract the effects of pressure. The key to overcoming these negative side affects, is to initially be aware that they are present  and to identify what is triggering these issues.  The first step is admitting to yourself that you are feeling pressured, nervous, anxious, afraid or some other form of negative emotion.

  • Sweaty hands
  • Shaking or Trembling
  • Butterflies in your stomach
  • Weakness in your muscles
  • Tension In your muscles
  • Shallow Breathing
  • Needing to go to the toilet
  • Increased heart rate
  • Vomiting
  • Memory loss
  • Your “mind is racing”
  • Fear
  • Negative ‘self talk’
  • Self Doubt

Methods to help you cope with Pressure, Nerves and Stage Fright.

Positive Thinking

You should keep a personal diary of your mental thinking before, during and after all of your key performances or presentations. This will become the most valuable tool you own when trying to program positive channels into your mind. It is a simple process, yet one that many people avoid or are totally unaware of. Make sure that you give yourself a competitive advantage over everyone else and start creating your mental diary today, it’s all about programming positive thinking.

Breathing :

Breathing is something that we do without thinking every single day. Breathing in and out is a vital survival tool for everyone on this planet.   However, we don’t even need to think about it when we do it. Subconsciously our lungs breathe in and out, helping us to survive.

Tests have proven that ineffective breathing can be detrimental, and effective breathing can be beneficial to our health. Let me explain how it could be detrimental. 

When someone is stressed over a long-term basis from day to day, their breathing often becomes shallow. Have you ever felt breathless? By breathless, I’m describing that feeling when you feel like you cannot draw enough air into your lungs to satisfy yourself. Shallow breathing is something that people do when they are stressed or worried, their minds are racing or they may even be depressed. By taking purposeful, deep and controlled breaths you can actually help your body and mind to relax and become less tense. This can be used very effectively for musicians, keynote speakers, business people and athletes.

Releasing Tension :

Some people don’t really relate to, or understand the use of meditative breathing to relax or release tension.  Some people operate better by releasing tension in a more physical manner. Sometimes asking someone to relax or calm down can actually make them stressed.

Individuals can sometimes get very worked up and over energized. This excess energy can sometimes turn negative and inhibit them from performing to their potential.

A common method for releasing tension is physical exercise. Often when somebody participates in physical activity for 30 minutes or more they feel that they are more relaxed and that they have dispelled stress or anxiety.  However, if you are in a situation where you need to perform or you are in a room with others and you only have a short period of time it may not be possible to go for a 5 mile run or jump on the cross trainer for 30 minutes. In this situation there is another method that you could use to dispel any excess tension.  “Expelling” is the term used to refer  to expelling some of that fear, anxiety or tension.

Musicians and public speakers are most likely able to relate to this type of tension release.  For musicians, public speakers, darts professionals and archers, it is extremely important to be relaxed and focused both physically and mentally. If their body is tense or keyed up, their muscles will be tight and hinder their fingers and hands  to produce the finely tuned motor movements required for them to reach their potential.


In the next Blog – I will discuss the ins and outs of a Winning Mindset, it goes hand in hand with the content of this Blog. I would love to hear about how you control your nerves, drop me an email or leave a comment.

11 thoughts on “No More Nerves – Perform your Best

  1. Yes great blog .

    I am 46 and have been playing all styles of music for years. I have returned to pipe bands 5 years ago and play with gold coast tweed on the gc aussie . When I play play outs no problem. Even as a core drummer at a contest . Nerves are ok . We have had a lot of success over the last 5 years in g4 . Solo in the other hand. Yeah safe to say I’m crap with this and have read more self help books than I can remember . Thanks James. You are a winner

  2. Stephen,
    Thanks for your comment. Im delighted that you also recognise nerves and performance pressure. Keep up the good work, and never stop researching how to combat nerves!

    Next Time you are nervous – try to think back to your most successful performance and tell yourself that you are a winner!

  3. Hi James,
    I use breathing to relax (yoga and meditation is great for learning this) and also shaking out of the hands and arms prior to playing to try and get rid of any tension. When I have played in the past (as most of the corps would attest) I am very focussed on the DS and just watch his sticks constantly…this shuts out everything else. Even in solos, I just focus solely on my pipers feet or fingers until I am finished and don’t even notice anyone spectating.

    My issue is going to be, now that I’m DS, I can’t have this intense focus on one person, as I need to be watching and listening to the sides, tenors, bass and pipers, and focussing on the pipe major’s feet for the tempo and changes, and providing guidance to the drum corps as we play. This is going to take me a bit to get used to, as it’s a complete change from what I’ve been doing for years now. Luckily Rob is guiding me and providing lots of feedback to grow into the role, but I know it’s going to be a challenge at times. All assistance and suggestions are welcome, and I love your blogs for this reason.


  4. When I started in pipe bands about 7 years ago I had a horrible time managing my nerves. My wrists would get so tense that they would quickly turn to jelly from exhaustion. Try playing with finesse and soul with noodles for hands! Eventually just through repetition it has gotten better because I realized that, in solo contests especially, even if I crashed and burned I’d live to compete another day. Also, that judge and the audience is actually rooting for you to play well. Everyone loves to witness success. It’s better to just focus on having fun, enjoy playing and trying to improve yourself and not worry so much about results themselves, that will ultimately take care of itself

    I still struggle playing in the band setting at times because your bandmates are counting on you but that is slowly improving too. My biggest obstacle anymore is not allowing my mind to wander, it seems to lead to memory loss of the parts. I know that’s a symptom of nerves but it’s less overt than what I experienced before. Hopefully I figure that out eventually, I’m sure I will.

    • Dustin, thanks for your comment. And thanks for sharing your experiences. Everyone experiences nerves when performing, it’s all about learning from the experiences and controlling those nerves. Best of luck in the future!

  5. James,
    We’ve all been there. I’ve found as I’ve moved along in the world of competition that my attitude toward those with whom I compete makes a lot of difference. When you make friends with your competitors and they aren’t looked upon as the “enemy,” your attitude about competing changes as well. This helps you focus on your own performance, not theirs. When they do win at times, always be the first person to congratulate them. This whole game is about friendship.

    • Bruce, you’ve nailed it! We are all in this game together – and sometimes its becomes “us and them”, which is not the way forward.

      There is way less pressure to perform when you are all friends!

      All the best.

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