Many spellers know the feeling all too well. You get up onstage to receive your word. The word escapes the pronouncer's mouth. You're confident that you know your word well, but you're anxious to spell because you're nervous to be in front of people. The word starts with the letter "z," which is what you have pictured in your mind to start the word, so you start spelling. "S-" Wait. That's not a z. In that moment, you know that there is no return. Despite knowing the word, you were careless enough to accidentally say the wrong letter, and now you're out, all because your nerves got the best of you. This exact situation happened to me in one bee (in fact, my first bee ever), and after that day I recognized the importance of managing nerves to avoid accidental misspeaking. With nationals coming up in less than two weeks, many top spellers are as nervous as ever, so here are a few ways to help manage your stress on and offstage during the bee.
The most important thing is to breathe consciously. Most people breathe all day every day without really thinking about it, but sometimes in an intensely nerve-inducing situation, you may find yourself short of breath. About 30 minutes before the top 10 spellers went onstage for the conclusion of the finals at the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee, I began hyperventilating almost uncontrollably out of fear for what was to come. I was excited, but also very, very, nervous. After that happened, I started consciously measuring the length of my breaths to keep them consistent and long so as to avoid overstressing myself.
A second strategy is to take it round by round. This piece of advice was given to me not long before the nighttime finals of the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee by the 2010 national champion Anamika Veeramani, and it is quite possibly the best piece of advice I have ever been given. When you approach the microphone to receive your word, instead of telling yourself, "I have to win," tell yourself, "I'm going to make it through this round." Thinking about the bee as a whole and putting pressure on yourself to win can be extremely stressing, which makes you more likely to spell hurriedly and say the wrong letter on accident. However, if you just think about each individual word as its own individual word instead of as a greater whole of this huge event that is causing your nervousness, you will find that it is much easier to concentrate on your word and slow down.
My last, and potentially most odd, piece of advice is to not study too much while you're there. That's not to say don't study at all--last second studying is absolutely essential and helpful to any speller wanting to do well. However, if every second of the bee when you're not onstage is spent studying, it will quite possibly stress you out even more. Give yourself a small break at some point in the few days before the bee to get your mind off of it for just a little bit. Socialize with other spellers or just take some time to relax on your own. It will help you psychologically later on during the bee.
Good luck to all 291 of you who are competing the week after next--I hope to meet you there!