When I was in my late teens, I made a mistake at the Worlds playing with the SFU Pipe Band. A bad mistake. There’s a lot of evidence we would have WON the World Championships that year if it wasn’t for my mistake.
The mistake was in the last bar of the final tune. For a split second - perhaps because I was “glad” the set was over - I lost focus, got distracted, and before I knew it I had made a big “blooter.” This had never happened to me before. I had played the set hundreds and hundreds of times. I had played at the worlds several years before this with no mistakes. What happened? I was heart-broken. I let the team down. To be honest, this poorly worded paragraph is extra-poorly-worded because it’s so painful to revisit this!
For the next year I lived in fear any time the band would perform. And it showed. The first contest of the following year, I got cut from a contest early in the season because I was too far into my own head to perform up to standard.
Luckily, I had great teachers and team-mates within the SFU band to gradually pull myself out of my performance rut. I remember Alan Bevan teaching me about visualization tricks. Andrew Bonar had a humorous “devil may care” approach to mentally preparing for performances.
Over time, I learned the ins and out of becoming a solid performer. I learned how to mentally prepare ahead of time for important events, and I also learned what to do in the moment to make sure my preparations paid off. Since that mistake in my teens, I have not made any major mistakes in key competitions (don’t worry, I’m knocking on wood as I write this).
[In the picture: This is my brother Alex and I at the 2004 Worlds. I am on the right. If I'm remembering correctly it's right after my big mistake.]
Fast Forward to This Last Summer: Enter Dr. Fiona
So, fast forwarding to this last summer, my business partner Carl introduced me to a person named Dr. Fiona McConnochie - a specialist in… BAGPIPE performance psychology? Amazing! He showed me some of her work and I immediately recognized what I was seeing - it was a simple, fun, organized distillation of many of the techniques I had painstakingly developed over many years to battle performance anxiety and mistakes.
We have to make this a course! I screamed (ok, fine, I just typed it in all-caps).
And that’s exactly what we did.
Without much effort at all, Dr. Fiona has distilled all of the key concepts of high-achieving performances into an easy-to-follow video course. Rich with video, and interactive (informal) quizzes and writing exercises, this course is designed to teach you the art of properly preparing for a performance to maximize the probability of a good result, with no meltdowns, distractions, anxiety, silly mistakes, etc, etc.
Or, if you'd like to get a taste of what we're up to without investing....
In the workbook (and then in more depth in the course), Dr. McConnochie discusses:
- Attentional Control and “Focus Ability” - how to decide and train what we focus on during performances.
- Instructional Key Words that we can use to keep ourselves dialed in during performances.
- How to establish “Standard Cues” that we can use whenever we feel nervous, or that things might be spiraling out of control during a performance.
- “Positive Key Words” that we develop inside our own minds to help things stay positive when the going gets tough.
- What to do on the actual day of a performance.
Download our free "Bagpipe Performance Psychology Workbook," by Dr. Fiona McConnochie - An amazing "template" for eliminating performance anxiety. Hint! None of this involves hocus pocus, fairy dust, divine providence, or the bloodline of legendary pipers! We can all perform to our maximium ability, every time. Let's learn to do this the right way!