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How to Cope with Competition Nerves

Updated: Feb 16, 2023

Irish dance strength and conditioning; Irish dance mindset; Irish dance nerves; competition anxiety; Irish dance training

If you’re like many Irish dancers, you experience nerves at dance competitions. Sometimes these feelings can feel totally out of your control and can have a negative impact on your competition day. We've put together some of our favorite tips to help you cope with nerves at your next competition. - Figure out the WHY First, we want to try to figure out WHY an athlete is getting nervous and try to gain some understanding about that. There are millions of reasons why athletes can be nervous at Irish dance competitions. Do they feel like they don’t belong at their competition level? Sometimes dancers feel this way then we have to ask...what did they have to do to qualify for that level? And did they do that? YES! Reminding them that they belong. Break down the “WHY” so you can help get to the root of the nervousness. - "Setting the stage" We want dancers to feel as comfortable as possible with the competition environment so when they show up on that day, there are few surprises. You could do this two ways. 1) Visualization - You need to visualize it all - standing back stage, lining up side stage, walking on stage, dancing, pointing/bowing/walking off etc. Just like training your steps, the more you trains your mind, the stronger it'll be! We have more details about visualization and audio prompts to use on the Target Training Online Institute: 2) Practice competing - Many teachers will have practice competitions in class. This is also something you could do at home with your practice area. Practice walking on the stage, set up an adjudicators table, etc. Make the environment become as familiar as possible. - Controlling nerves before you dance Depending on when your nerves start to kick in to high gear, you may need to be distracted during the long hours of waiting for your competition to begin. Athletes have found success with this by building a playlist of their favorite songs to listen to, bringing a coloring book or workbook, bringing a solo game of some sort, etc. Keep yourself busy during the long hours of waiting. - Breathing - "Birthday Breathes" When nerves hit, have athletes take 5 "Birthday breathes". Take a breathe in through their nose then exhale through their mouth like they're blowing out their birthday candles. This will help slow down their breathing, give them something to focus on other than nerves, and most importantly, be a tool they can utilize when nerves hit. - Set small goals Set some small goals for the next feis, not surrounding how you will place, but instead, goals that will help you have a more successful day at the feis. Some ideas are putting into practice your warmup and/or visualization routine on the day of, dance your entire soft shoe round with perfect posture, etc. Focus on the smaller goals throughout the day and together, they’ll make a positive impact on your whole day! - Focus on yourself So often we focus on others (competitors, family members, friends, adjudicators) at a competition and forget to put ourselves first. Focus on yourself and what you need to accomplish that day.


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Ellen G Waller, Ellen Gahl Waller Irish dance, strength and conditioning for Irish dancers

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