Last month I was invited to compete in “The Villages Entertainer of the Year” tournament in The Villages in Florida and, as you can see from the photo, I managed to win the event and picked up a nice (jumbo Happy Gilmore style!) cheque too.
I did perform well despite the nerves that come with these events, but it might have been quite different without a conversation with two friends at a local golf tournament earlier in the month.
They are both excellent players and between them had won over 150 professional events in the region and wider afield.
I assumed that having won so much, they would both feel quite confident about their games, would be comfortable in a competitive situation and would have absolutely no nerves at all – ever.
They also (quite wrongly) assumed that because I performed shows in front of large audiences all over the world that I would also be equally comfortable in a competitive situation.
How could we have all been so wrong?
One of them said that every time he went to an event he reached the car park and wanted to turn the car around and go home! The other had said he hated the feeling before the round but it often disappeared after the first shot had been played.
I told them I felt exactly the same way for any golf competition no matter how small but, that I had absolutely no nerves at all when I was performing a golf show UNLESS it was in a competition – and I was being judged.
It made me realise that sometimes you simply cannot avoid nerves – you’ll often just have to try to use them to your advantage…..
For at least a week before going to Florida to compete at the Villages, my stomach was performing somersaults and I’d get random attacks of the butterflies.
I said to myself, if the nerves are going to happen anyway, my reaction to them would be very important.
It was helpful that I expected some nervousness so it did not make me panic and then I used what psychologists call “self talk”’ to reduce their influence on my performance.
Nerves are all about control.
I decided to just have some fun with the audience and not worry about the judging…which I could not control anyway.
I asked myself which interpretation of the nervous feeling I preferred…….
“Crikey, I am so nervous that I am going to fail!” or “I have seen this before and I’ll be fine”?
I discovered that being nervous might make you FEEL that you cannot perform – but it does not actually MEAN that you cannot perform.
Ryder Cup legend and two time major champion Tony Jacklin said exactly the same thing when I spoke to him at the World Corporate Golf Challenge World Final.
He told me a story that illustrated the point very well.
He played in the last match of the 1969 Ryder Cup against Jack Nicklaus and with a hole to go both their match AND the whole Ryder Cup was tied.
As they were walking up the fairway, Nicklaus said to Tony “How are you feeling?”
Tony replied that he was feeling ‘nervous as anything’ and Nicklaus, sporting and generous as ever, said to him;
“Well, if it is any consolation, so am I!”
After the famous concession of a short putt at the last by Nicklaus, they halved the hole, their match and the Ryder Cup.
Jacklin concluded that everyone has nerves but, actually, it was a great thing to know that you could still perform when you had them.
Using nerves to win the US Open
He used that idea to win the 1970 US Open at Hazeltine in Minnesota where, after three days, Jacklin had a four shot lead.
He woke up on the Sunday morning and felt that terrible feeling we all know in the pit of his stomach. He felt like he had to win, otherwise people would say he could not handle the pressure BUT he was so nervous that he thought they might be right.
That day, he used his experiences the previous year to conquer his nerves, played beautifully and won the tournament.
He said “At the start of the day, I would have traded places with any form of life on the planet……..but by the end of the day, I would not have traded places with anything!”
Whether you’re making an important sales pitch to a potential client, taking an exam, or teeing off in front of your friends on the first tee this Saturday, the chances are you’ll be feeling it.
The trick is to know that it is still possible to perform well AND that everyone else feels exactly the same way.
The most fully prepared and knowledgeable student in an exam will still feel incredibly nervous……but he or she is still the best prepared student and is still likely to do very well.
It is a lesson I remembered just in time for the competition in Florida last month. I was able to ignore my nerves and ended up really enjoying the performance.
The outcome took care of itself and, before I knew it, I had become The Villages Entertainer of the Year for 2015…………………it is not the Ryder Cup or the US Open but it still felt pretty good!
I will try to remember it next time I feel nervous.
Anyway, I hope hearing this has helped you in some way – I know talking about it with others made a real difference to me!