10 Etiquette Tips for the Highland Games

10 Etiquette Tips for the Highland Games

Going to your first Highland Games can be an overwhelming experience. Proper attire, acceptable gear, travel, and let’s not forget you’ve got eight or nine events to compete in! In the whirlwind of the day, it’s good to have a basis of etiquette so you can enjoy the experience and mind your manners! Yet, I see too many seasoned veterans forgetting the very basics of etiquette in this sport; so, let me break down a few things you should know about “Games Day.”

  1. “Shag” or pick up your own implements – At most competitions, you’ll need to retrieve your own implements to throw. Now, if you’ve got a willing group, you’ll “shag” for two throwers in front of you, giving you time to rest and prepare for your throw while the person in front of you throws. In very few competitions will volunteers be scheduled to retrieve implements for you; even in those instances, help them by meeting them halfway and making sure you thank them for their help each time.
  2. Replace your weight – This next common courtesy goes hand-in-hand with the first one. In the weight over bar event, pick up your weight after you throw it and place it back under the bar. If it lands handle first or is covered in sloppy mud chunks, clean it up for your competitor. Now, when you put it back under the bar, set it down, don’t drop or throw it down. One of the worst things you can do is drop it and put a huge crater in the ground right where you and your competitors will be throwing from.
  3. Walk up the caber – After you throw the caber, you’ll need to retrieve it and walk it back for the next competitor. Keep in mind, you'll need two of you to do this (always carry the caber with two people and not alone, as a self-carry diminishes the caber in the eye of the crowd). So, each round, you’ll have to serve two turns carrying the caber back and standing it up for your competitors. If you are the last person with your hands on the caber, do not let go of it until the competitor is ready. Many people will say, “Your Caber,” or something else to signify they are letting go. Again, don’t let go until your have confirmation from the thrower that they have it balanced and are in control of it.
  4. No tacky on the handle – in the weights for distance, there’s a good divide of throwers who like to use tacky and those who don’t (if you’re like me, you like to use chalk on your hands). With that said, if you use tacky, don’t apply it to the handle directly. When it’s your time to throw, clean the handle with your towel and apply the tacky or spray to your hand or glove. Remember, these are “community” weights that we all must throw, so keep the tacky-crusted handle reserved for your practices at home.
  5. Bring it, don’t borrow it – There will be times when you forget your tape, run out of tacky or get your sunscreen spray confiscated by TSA. That’s understandable. What’s not understandable is when you show up to every competition without any gear.
  6. Sheaf Forks –Once you decide you want to throw consistently in this great sport, buy a sheaf fork. Don’t be the guy/gal who borrows a fork and breaks it; I’ve seen this happen a few times and it’s not pretty. And when it comes to fork borrowing, return it to the owner after your throw, and certainly don’t put the tines in the ground or throw it in anger after a bad throw. Show respect for that fork, and for the lender, because you may get denied use of it again (I’ve also seen this happen, and it’s not pretty).
  7. Hammer Handles – Again, you’re throwing a community implement with the light and heavy hammer. When you retrieve a hammer for yourself or another competitor, don’t drop the handle in the grass or drag it in the dirt. I’d even go to the extreme of not wiping it down with your towel, as that can leave little fuzzies all over the handle. Remember that you don’t need a ton of tacky during the competition, because every one of your competitors is putting tacky on the handle. 
  8. Crowd – Now, the “crowd” watching you may be as big as a few thousand down to just your wife and a random homeless guy who lives at the park. Regardless of the number, show them appreciation and answer their questions. When you waddle out in your hammer boots and blades, they will ask you about them. Remember, they paid to come watch you and are a big reason you have an avenue to do this sport. At many competitions, I’ll pick some time to just sit in the crowd in between throws; people seem to love this, and many times I've just absorbed a whole fan base for the rest of that event! Wave, clap for them and be sure to thank them for coming to watch. You may also be asked to take pictures with families and especially children; soak it up! What a joy that is!
  9. Clean up – One of my greatest pet peeves is the litter we competitors leave on the field, especially tape. I get it, we use a ton of tape in a weekend of competition, but we shouldn’t be taking it off our fingers or our wrists and throwing it on the ground in small bits. Make sure you police your area and clean up all your Gatorade bottles, tape, Little Debbie wrappers or whatever else you have. Again, these volunteers and directors have sacrificed a lot of time to let you compete – have some decency and clean up after yourself.
  10. Say Thanks – Highland Games don’t just happen; it takes months of planning and organizing by people and committees of throwers and … wait for it … even bagpipers! Be sure you thank the athletic director for his/her work on the event, and don’t forget all the volunteers that make it happen. From “shaggers” to score keepers, runners, and even security, it takes a whole bunch of people to pull this thing off! And, of course, don’t forget the sponsors. If you get the pleasure of meeting a sponsor, drop what you’re doing, shake their hand and thank them for making the event possible. If you’re a pro, realize they are the ones giving money so you can win some; for any thrower at any level, a simple “Thanks” can go a long way.


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  • Jeniece Fairbairn Summers

    Absolutely agree with all, but #3 especially resonates with me; there’s absolutely no need to spray tacky on a weight for distance. Use a glove, you get good grip and easy release without losing control. I’ve been severely injured – pulled rotator cuff just shy of a tear which took almost 8 months to recover from – because someone sprayed tacky on the weight handle and my glove was stuck. Felt like my arm ripped off.

    I’d probably also add that in my 18+ years of competition I’ve always supported other competitors; we get behind people going for records, really engage the crowd, especially for professionals. Don’t forget, no matter what level you are in, to support others.
    Nothing like being some of the last folks on the field at the end of the day with a sparse crowd and a silent group of competitors packing up because they’re done. Support each other!!

  • Robert (UncBob) Monroe

    Another suggestion: Please, once you have cleared the preforming area, keep your adoring public under control and do not create soooo much noise that it disturbs the next person. This is especially true for the loving Moms and relatives of the young dancers in competition. Thank you.

  • Paul MacLachlan

    Very stated Dan. I had to learn these simple rules of etiquette as a novice. Cleaning up after ones self is one of the biggest offenses I see. thank you for putting this out here.

  • Alan Hebert

    #8. Oh yes. All of these are true, but everybody needs to remember the crowd. Those people paid money to watch you throw a flippin’ rock or a stick. You are not “better” than they are. Talk, communicate, flash a smile now and then. Games require money to put on, even if there is no “Pro” athletics class. How about the field? It was probably rented and that costs money. How about the band over on the stage? They don’t show up for free. How about the insurance? Allstate doesn’t give away insurance. No crowd = no Games so no matter what class you’re in, appreciate the people who came to see you.

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