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Are you making these 3 competition mistakes?

Is waking up with that flurry of nerves on competition day something you’ve grown accustomed to as a performer?

Maybe you’ve put the shortness of breath down to catching your throat on the endless stream of hairspray? (Deep down knowing that it’s something more).

Just like that feeling of a thousand bobby pins aggravating your scalp, it’s become familiar part of the package on comp day.

“It’s just nerves”, you tell yourself quietly, putting in your earphones, as you walk through your performance piece (in an attempt to tune out from the relentless clanging of your beating heart).

Costume laid out and snacks packed, you take one last look in the mirror to make sure your hair is just right.

The doubts begin to brew as you enter the auditorium, you’re not alone anymore. Everyone is waiting backstage warming up and practicing their own thing, secretly sussing out the other competitors. Suddenly you feel crowded and overcome with a rush of thoughts.

“Who’s the best? Who will win?”

All while trying to look like you have yourself together (but secretly thinking the worst).

That tiny yet largely intimidating lamp out in the audience increases its grip on your stomach, as you step out on stage and prepare to be judged.

We all do these things instinctively, but do we realise their negative impact on our actual performance?

In order to access pathways in your brain that steer you towards a more effective way of competing, have a think about what pathways you’ve already been travelling down.

Have you been making these 3 mistakes when competing?

1. Focus on Winning

Focus. Just like the lens of a camera, we are wired to see things from a variety of angles, it’s all about perspective.

One of the reasons competition is so stressful for performers is because their focus is on outcome ie. Win or Lose. The major downside of focussing on outcomes is that you are usually only partially in control of the outcome; someone else decides who wins the competition, someone else decides if you get the job, or the role you wanted.

So, you limit your experience of success.

However, when you focus on the process (i.e. HOW you want to prepare and perform) you are less likely to doubt yourself or see other performers as a threat. In order to bring out the best in yourself, set yourself a process goal. Reflect on how you want to perform and the strategies that will help you achieve that and put it into words.

For example: “I want to perform calmly” or “I’m going to set aside time to really get in my character”.

Notice how your breathing slows down, now you’re accessing those proactive brain pathways, you have something practical to focus on, rather than becoming distracted by the illusive concept of winning.

2. Comparing instead of competing

Now that your focus has shifted to your process, it’s time to find a balance between being a successful individual and thinking in a collaborative way, which can give you the most enriching experience as a performer… even when you’re in direct competition.

How do you respond when another artist performs really well?

Too many performers get stuck in a trap of negatively comparing themselves, which only crushes your confidence right at the moment you want to give your all.

Aiming to learn from and be inspired by the success of others rather than comparing yourself is an opportunity to grow as a performer. When you move fluidly between a desire to achieve your goals and a curiosity in your competition, you’ll find that you’re more likely to succeed through collaborative thinking.

Did you know that some of the most memorable music in history was born through collaboration? Artists that showed up, left their pride at the door and shared their talents, ultimately produced the kind of music that uplifted millions of people:

“Baby, I’m - dancing in the dark, 
with you between my arms.
Barefoot on the grass, 
listening to our favourite song.
When you said you looked a mess, 
I whispered underneath my breath -
But you heard it, 
Darling, you look perfect tonight”

‘Perfect’ - Ed Sheeran duet with Beyoncé

Collaborative thinking can stretch you into a realm of performance that cannot be accessed without the presence of others.

Artists who bring out the best in each other don’t walk away having lost a piece of their knowledge to the competition, because they have gained so much more; a sense of belonging, freedom, inspiration, and greater accomplishment.

Let yourself enjoy your performance and that of others, be inspired in order to keep stretching yourself.

3. Getting Stressed

So how do you get on the most effective pathway when all roads in your mind seemingly lead to… STRESS!?

There’s no doubt that competitions are pressure situations but how you manage the stress will ultimately determine your mindset when competing. Remember, the main point of competitions is to see how well you can stay calm, when everything about the situation is trying to stress you out.

Monitor your thoughts and feelings, when you feel overwhelmed, get back to basics.


As simple as it sounds, this can reset your nervous system. With that in mind you’ll start to feel more in control of your response to external influences, allowing you to approach things more calmly and confidently.

Normalising the experience by preparing a competition routine can also help get your day off to a good start.

Most importantly, remember you are taking your first step into a new direction. Just as you train your body, practicing a healthy mindset for competition is a process. Developing patience will enable you to progress.

To take charge of your performance and success at your next competition, grab your free 10-point Competition Guide today:

I’d love to hear how you go in your next competition!

🙂 Philippa


  1. terrific post – I will forward it to my children and discuss … thank you.

  2. Matthew Steel

    Wow Phillipa it really totally true – those are simple things, yet easy to forget and they have a big effect on performance. I remember how in some of mine, I’ve shown all or at least some of those signs!

    1. Yes Matthew, they are really common traps! It’s amazing how much better you’ll perform if you can master these areas! All the best! 🙂

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