The comments that were made in regards to my last post regarding American Idol vs Olympics Performances were nothing but astounding. Reading your stories and insight have brought tears to my eyes. So thank you!

Now, I mentioned Shaun White and I wrote about fear in regards to performance. I also promised I would follow up on this subject. Well, we have certainly witnessed amazing feats in the last couple of days…

Let’s start off with Shaun White. I wrote the previous article before he was about to compete in the finals of the snowboard half pipe. I mentioned how he was the heavy favorite with enormous pressure on him to win, and also expected to perform a trick no one has ever done before. Would he be able to perform at his peak with this kind of pressure?

I also mentioned his attitude, work ethic, his constant challenge to push the boundaries of what is possible, in addition to his fun-loving personality. This has not only made him the peak performer that he is, but has also been a major factor in growing the popularity of his sport.

Well, if you saw the competition you know what happened. In his first run, he flew higher than everyone else. But then in the last trick, he didn’t do the trick everyone had had been waiting for. He did a safer trick, and yet he landed the highest score.

Now being the leader, he would start last in the second run. Since it is the highest score of one of the two runs that counts, everyone else would now have to push the boundaries of their capabilities to outscore him. He had turned the tables and put the pressure on them.

This time no one succeeds and Shaun White is proclaimed the winner without needing to do his second run.

So what do you do now? The pressure is off. You have already won. You’re celebrating. But what do you do? On TV we could sense this dilemma. Just ride down the center and celebrate?

To be able to refocus in this situation is one of the most difficult things to do. If you have listened to Shaun White you know that he needs pressure to perform well. All peak performers do. But where’s the pressure? He has to find it.

Now, of course he knows what people are waiting for. They’re expecting to see the trick – the one everyone has been talking about. Talk about pressure. His coach helps him to refocus – adding to the pressure – by saying: “Don’t do it if you’re not gonna stick it”.

However, his thoughts are likely not on what other people expect. He came to the Olympics with a trick in his bag that he has worked so hard on – the Double MacTwist 1260. Would he walk away without doing it? Of course not, not if you’re Shaun White.

For peak performer is not just about winning, it is about doing what you set out to do – to do something you haven’t done before.

So there he goes in his second run, flies like never before, leaving us mortals gaping in awe over how it is even possible. And then he heads for the last trick… and he does it. He lands his Double MacTwist 1260 perfectly and once again he has given us insights into the spirit of a peak performer.

So was he nervous? Of course. All performers are nervous. In fact, Shaun White speaks openly about it.

If you listen to athletes, you will learn that they are all nervous. Some are just more honest about expressing it. The Alpine skier Bode Miller has openly talked about how nervous he has felt this time. And amazing results have followed. To him nervousness is good.

Last week a private client, who is a great singer but hasn’t had much performance experience, mentioned how nervous she is because she is not yet a pro.

I ask you the same question as I asked her:

What has made you believe that professionals are less nervous than you are?

In fact, I will leave you with this to contemplate (and respond to if you wish):

If you are not nervous on a regular basis, you are not challenging  yourself enough. What are you about to do this week that makes you nervous?

About the author 


  •  I agree that you need to feel "nervous" –  for some people being nervous stops them from performing their best.  Is this a different "nervousness"?  And how can you ensure that being nervous ensures you actually do your best?

  • I started singing lessons recently and my nerves have been holding me back throughout the lessons and prior to them – for many more years than I care to admit. My teacher tells me I can get on stage tomorrow if I could only believe in my natural musicality. I read Per's 'The New Era of Singing Training' literally two days ago and I understand the root of my nerves so much more. Anticipation and Judgement – I felt like you were talking directly to me Per. I am about to join a choir. I am very nervous about the prospect but …two days ago, the nerves would make me feel physically ill; today, I can hardly contain the nerves – they are now excitement at the prospect of finding my inner voice.
    I think those people whose nerves stop them from performing at their best have yet to understand the root of their nervousness. At least, that's what I've found personally. A good start may be to ask 'what's the worst that can happen'.

  • I actually do better when I am not nervous.  In the past, I felt nervousness was because I did not prepare enough.  Now I just prepare a lot so that I will be ready to do what I need to do to succeed.  I usually do not perform as well, when I think it is all easy.  You should always treat each performance very easily.  Sometimes you will not do as well even though you prepared.  Anyway, I try not to be nervous, but that's just me.  I am a competitor by nature and I just try to put the nervousness away by practicing and gaining experience.

  • The same boldness required for me to do my sport (dressage riding) is what I need to harness for my singing, and that is more often nervousness for both pursuits.  Nervousness can hamper performance horribly.  How to get to that Shaun White thing of using the nervousness to move up to the next level of expertise and STOP WORRYING ABOUT IT?!

  • You are quite right.
    When I was younger, after years of speaking and performing in front of audiences and on radio, I wan't nervous at all. I found that I bombed those engagements. So I learned to make myself nervous if I didn't feel so and then I performed well.
    Now I don't have any trouble with that as I find that I am often nervous before a public presentation no matter what it is. The more abrehensive I am the better the people like it. So I suppose it goes to show that one shouldn't get cockey or else the preformance will be a dud.

  • I have to disagree on this one or, at least, I will add a point of subtlety.  To me nervousness implies a sense of lack of control.  It may be just an issue of semantics but in my opinion what drives excellence is what I call positive tension.  In essence the anticipation of performance is what gets the athlete in the mood for excellence.  Same goes for the musician, or any other artist for that matter.  Knowing how far you can reach, when to pull the trick, is what leads us to find ourselves in positive tension, whereas nervousness leads to a feeling of insecurity.  It is the “ I will try but I don´t really know if I will be able to pull it” kind of feeling.  If that happens to be your frame of mind then it is my guess that your emotional tension ( nervousness ) will make matters even worse.  If on the other hand, you have trained properly and feel you can deliver what nobody is expecting of you then that feeling of anticipation, the positive tension and not nervousness, is something you absolutely want to have.  Then again is all about work and proper training that will lead you to feel confident in yourself and your abilities.  Thank you Per for this was one of the parts I was missing and you have made it crystal clear to me through your instruction.  It is all about feeling positive and doing positive.

  • I think there are 2 kinds of nervousness.  I started dreading choral practice as I knew I was having a huge problem with my top notes – therefore nervous by my inability to sing the notes that were expected of me.  Now I have completed lesson 2 – and am so thrilled with the course.  I have managed to sing so much better – now I know how to cure the tongue problem.  The second kind of nervousness – for me anyway, is a cross between usual nerves (not too many now) and anticipation – I look forward to the high parts as I know I can do it!  Thank you Per.

  • Sing with Freedom — great choice for a title. I've really enjoyed my time in your world so far. the lessons are good but the insights are just as powerful. Practice seems to me to be key. If you know you can do a Double MacTwist in practice then the nerves/positive tension are centred around getting it right on the night. If you've never been able to do it then the nerves are a justified precursor to failure. The Freedom to let sound develop as you demonstrate so well means that with lots of practice performance becomes easier & more enjoyable. I'm looking forward to further tips & training!

  • When I have to sing in public I find that I am better singing the songs that I know really well first and that are not too challenging vocally.  When my voice is "warmed up" I can then move onto the more challenging songs.  This, I feel, deals with the nerves in a positive way

  • As i rolled through my performance of Drama for few times, i felt a sense of joyfulness that i never experienced before. Before i able to experience this, i have gone through nervousness and it does give me morale to perform. Yes, nervousness does help us when we manage it in a positive which is known as positive tension. This kind of tension put us into the moment of performance. So, i think nervousness would  do us good if we manage it well.

  • I watched Shaun White with great astonishment Wooow and he wanted to give more to the world which makes him the greatest as a performer and human being. But don't forget that he was already the most well known in the world because of his video game. What's striking me the most during the Olympics is this skier that nobody heard of: the commentator asked him what are you thinking at the top of the mountain just before you ear the whistle, he said first I did my best at learning what I love the most about this sport, second I thanked my family friends and coaches, third I have just to let go. He got the Gold medal.I don't know much about releasing stress ,nervousness, pressure in singing. When I watch Per for my lesson I'm little nervous, pressure because the willingness of going further. You are so loose and I am so tight with myself. I really enjoy each drill. that you have on the DVD..A little bit about myself. I took some group singing lessons which I had to perform in front of the class. I was never happy with.
    Thank you so much, Celine

  • thanks for this good thoughts and comments. Personally I like to think in terms of pressure vs stress.  A certain amount of pressure can be just what we need, to get something accomplished, reach a goal etc, whereas stress, it seems to me, is more of a negative. I am still needing to learn how to truly relax when singing.

  • What has made you believe that professionals are less nervous than you are?

    If you are not nervous on a regular basis, you are not challenging yourself enough.
    What are you about to do this week that makes you nervous?

    Those are good questions. In fact, it's me made myself believe that professionals are less nervous than I am. Maybe they're more nervous than I oppositely.
    To me to keep the right nervousness is OK. If you're often relaxed, it will be a disbenefit of concentrating on sth. But, on the contrary, if you feel more nervous, you can't do your atmost to bring into play.

    dear Per,
    As I have written you before to help each other  and make  understandable. Fear is part of nature impulse .You cannot eliminate but you can control the fear…
    Have you ever felt the difference when you control fear and when you're not ///but no doping please…why? …try to think!  /no more control,/ no more awareness,so / no more art./.. that's why..element control goes with another element  awareness> so simple and work when you sing or play///   best
    lucky v 🙂

  • I'm a public school choir director.  Before teaching I traveled and sang professionally.  I've been performing for over 30 years.  I still get nervous EVERY TIME I stand in front of an audience, whether it's singin, playing, or conducting.  There is this thing that you learn to do with your nervousness – you harness it.  Before a performance I feel scattered, and jittery.  As the performance nears I breathe deeply and quiet my heart, thinking about my purpose in the performance.  The nerves and jitters don't really go away, they just become very focused.  All that nervous energy gets focused into the thing that you are going to do.  Then great stuff happens!  If you've really prepared, you find yourself outperforming your preparation!  What a moment that is -when you find yourself doing something that you've prepared for so long- you do it better than ever!.  Then, of course, there are times when you bomb!  But it doesn't matter, you just refocus and keep going.  Learning to breathe deeply and focus all that nervous energy is what has been helpful to me.
    By the way, Per, I purchased your wonderful "Singing With Freedom" DVD series and I use your techniques with my 5 choirs.  You know your stuff!  And it works!!!  Thanks.
    Best regards,

  • My favorite quote about success is one I saw in a little local paper by a writer I can't find any other information about. His name is Jose Bergman and it goes "To be ready to fail is to be prepared for success". I think this is why your teaching works so fantastically well, Per. You prepare us for failure by telling us, don't listen to the sound, it doesn't matter. Of course, you then guide us expertly on how to succeed, though 🙂 But without being aware of what's at stake, that we might fail, and be prepared for that, we can never attempt things, or if we do, we will shut down as soon as we experience it. That's what happened to the people who are so upset about losing Idol. That's the difference between a professional and an amateur really, I think. After Ashleigh Simpson was booed at a performance, her dad told her she has to act like a professional and "suck it up". Now, I think that having a father like that is no prize, don't get me wrong. I think that parents are there to really prepare us for failure on a completely different level. That our weaknesses are unconditionally understood. To succeed you have to accept the danger. Not indulge it, not invite it, but be aware of it and accept it. 

  • This touches home for me.  I was on a gymnastics team growing up and I was determined to be the best.  I even fell from the high bar during dismount and got right back on.  I was very well prepared and had tricks only I could do.  I am half russian and half belgian.  Strong muscle body.  Helps being born with it.
    I was always excited at shows and was forced to go last all the time.  Teacher said I was like the fireworks of the show.  Never nervous but I knew I was well prepared and was even laughing on my pinwheel cause I spun around like 7 times!!  Purposely done but over the top I thought.  I didn't make it into the olympics because 5 ft 7 inches is too tall,  they were afraid my head would hit the highbar.  NEVER,  I'm too precise.
    Singing was another story totally.  I was terrified and it showed at karaoke my first time.  I knew deep down I wasn't the best  I COULD BE and that showed in my singing.  After a few drinks I belted out Pat Benatar with ease.  Since then I have
    had vocal training.   Now I don't care about am I singing good WHILE I'M SINGING, instead I focus on delivering the message in the song like I'm talking using my singing techniques of course.  Worrying what other people think is the devils lair.   Pretend the audience is your friends and you have a message you'd
    like to share with them.  I heard something about tongues?  I never thought about it before but now that you mention it, I DROOL A LOT!  When I was little no one could hear me when I spoke so I had to take voice projection lessons in grade 1.
    High notes come very easily to me and that's why all my songs so far are low key songs.  Wanted to master singing low.  I was told by my singing teacher I'm a natural soprano.  He even said…HEY COOL IT THIS ISN'T THE OPERA!!!
    I always focus on what's difficult for me.  I push myself so no one can pressure me like I can.  Thanks for your blog,  I guess it's time I start really singing and order your products.  Soon as I can!!  🙂
    Singing my o

  • I never felt nervous when I was doing gymnastics.  Once I fell in practice and was laughing!!  Not afraid of the fall anymore was why I was laughing.  Knew I could fall but wan't afraid cause I knew I'd be ok.  the mats were there.  Uneven bars.  I was too tall for the olympics my teacher told me so…….However I always went last in shows because my teacher said I was the best.  I was excited because I knew I was well prepared and enjoyed it so much.  Was even lauging during my routine when my pinwheel spun me 7 times.  Yes I was counting.  I t was a record for me!!!
    Singing is another story.  I don't try to sing good when I sing.  I relay a message through the song like I'm talking only using singing techniques I learned in vocal training.  However I have been singing in a lower key lately because singing high comes naturally to me.  I like to be the best IN MY EYES.  No one can pressure
    me more than I pressure myself and I compete against my  self.  It's all about the song for me now.  Not how I sing.  My  advice to singers is TRY TO CARE LESS!

  • My sons and I had this conversation just last week talking about Shaun White and his Olympic performance.  What Shaun has, as many other medalists have is the 'EDGE".  That's what enables them; the "no-fear" complex.  I've often felt that fearlessness is the key to those kinds of unforgettable winning performances.  But how does one achieve fearlessness?  Fear criples, faith enables.  Belief and defiance are two noble qualities that are paramount to success as a performer.  Belief in your own abilities (once you know what that is…and where your artistic limitations lie) and defiance against negative self-attitudes, inwardly, outwardly, environmentally…such that no matter what the circumstance, you can overcome the pressure and accomplish a winning performance.
    Thanks for this post Per, I read your message to my boys and they marvelled!

  • Well, feeling nervous when you are in front of many people is sometimes due to lack of confidence and being too conscious about how people reaction to your performance.

  • […] Olympic Perfomers: What We Learn From Shaun White | The Bristow How Shaun White and other peak performers teach us the most important lessons. the third word in the second to the last line of that last comment… I took some group singing lessons which I had to perform in front of the class… hear me when I spoke so I had to take voice projection lessons in grade 1. Olympic Perfomers: What We Learn From Shaun White | The Bristow […]

  • Every performance is in a sense, like a test: to see if you can actually do some task to your minimum, if not full expectation of your own ability. So it's competing against oneself. But when I'm performing, it's an exchange between myself and audience, of giving my song away, so I want it to be positive for both of us. I know I might not be at my best every time. I often feel nervous about that. Sometimes the "nerves" are "just right", and spur me on to do my best  Other times, the nervousness turns into sheer panic, paralysis. At those times, I have to consciously acknowledge my feeling, rather than fight it. What I resist persists! So  I remind myself it's only ENERGY-that I can use to win the race. I try to "fall in" trusting I can catch that energy. So to some extent I can control it, rather than letting it control me. It's what I believe about that nervous feeling that either spurs me on, or paralyzes me. When I acknowledge my nervousness, and use it with the faith that it's a gift, not a demon, I sort of fall into it's arms and trust it, and surrender to the muse rather than letting IT overpower me. I'm not as powerless as I believe. When I don't feel grounded for whatever reason, I'm learning now to not fight/control that. All that's needed is to be humble and surrender my self and trust the energy.
    Thank you Per for the great question. Beautiful. Maureen 

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