Competing at a highland games, or other venues, can be a nerve-wracking experience. There are so many things you have to think about. Do you have everything you need? Do you remember how the tune goes? Are your reeds going to behave? Do you know where the judges are going to be? There are all sorts of things going through your mind. These sorts of things can effect your performance almost as much as how you play. Having a set “Games Day” routine can help you manage these things and let you focus on your performance.
The best way to start off to a competition is to give yourself plenty of time to get there. Try and get there about 1/2 hour before registration starts so you can check out the area. Whenever you get there, the first stop should be the registration desk. Almost all of the competitions make you sign in and they will give you a number to pin to your kilt. Check to see when and where each of your events are around the field and if you have a map, mark each event.
A great trick I learned here at Dojo U is to write the name of your tune, the location, the judge and the time on the back of your number before pining it to you kilt. Make sure you write it in a way so you can flip it over and read it right side up. This way you don’t have to worry about forgetting the name of your tune in front of the judge.
Give yourself plenty of time to find a suitable warm-up area. Some places have a specific one, or if you are with a band, they might have one. Find a spot that is secluded as possible so you can hear yourself. Play a nice, easy tune or two to loosen the fingers up.
Try and play as relaxed as possible. After you get your bagpipes tuned up, try not to play your full competition set. Play bit and pieces, a phrase or two. If you try and play the whole thing and mistakes creep in, you will start to get frustrated and tighten up. Keep things as loose as possible.
Check in with the steward well ahead of your competition time. They will be able to give you a ballpark figure for when you should start. Stay near the area and keep track of the other competitors. If someone drops out you may have to go on sooner than you thought.
When you are in front of the judge, don’t do anything new. If you play a warm-up tune, play something you know very well. Keep things loose and easy. Take your time before you start your set, don’t rush. The judges want you to do your best and will give you the time to get settled. When you are ready to start, remember to stay relaxed.
The key to this is to do the same thing each time. Don’t try something new. Give yourself plenty of time. Don’t rush. Setting a games day routine will help your competition in ways that will not be obvious. A regular routine will leave you free to concentrate on a good performance and, most of all, free to have fun!