Bagpipe Like an Olympian

As the Tokyo Olympics wrapped up recently, I reflected on how the Olympics are considered a display of peak athletic performance.

The best athletes collect to compete on snow, turf, ice, grass, court, and track – it's an inspirational display of athletics and human physical achievement.

As with any intense activity (including bagpiping), Olympic athletes suffer through mental barriers when trying to stay motivated, keep improving, and attain personal goals.

In "off periods," it can be hard to stay motivated and active.

Here are several Olympic-level ways that elite athletes bust through those moments that get in the way of motivation and progress, ways that apply to musical pursuits such as Highland bagpiping as well.

Rational Thinking and Self-Talk

In 1993, researchers interviewed champion figure skaters and identified the coping strategies they used. The most common was “rational thinking and self-talk.”

These athletes took a logical approach to whatever stress they were experiencing and examined their situation rationally, gathering data and talking themselves through their problem.

Simple confidence-boosting phrases such as “I can do it” or “I can fix this” supplemented the analysis.

Accept and Enjoy the Hard Work

Studies of swimmers and rugby players have shown that the biggest factor in predicting burnout was the athlete’s devaluation of the sport.

Athletes who cared less and attributed negative qualities to their chosen sport severely undermined their efforts.

The successful athletes were the ones who consistently “loved” the rigor of practice, not just the competition. Enjoying the challenge of the “work” is as important as the performance.


Interviews with Olympic medalists reveal a consistent optimistic outlook.

These athletes possessed an unshakable belief in their ability to achieve their goals, even in the face of setbacks.

Being able to frame your losses, failures or struggles in a positive way keeps you moving forward.


Recent brain research identifies a small section of the brain called the insular cortex.

This area of the brain is extremely active in top athletes. The area generates predictions of how the body will feel in upcoming moments activating other areas of the brain to prepare the body for coming demands.

Accurately anticipating, or knowing, what is physically going to happen and what is required dissolves the stress and pressure of the effort needed for peak performance.

Are you ready to get your head in the game? Read more about effective ways to manage your nerves, prepare well to perform or compete, and minimise 'stupid' mistakes in the heat of the moment when you are playing in front of an audience. 

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