What does it take to win a flatpick contest? Just a few things, I think--though those things are awful hard to come by. What I think it takes to have a real good shot at winning whichever flatpick contest you enter:
1)Great arrangements. Arrangements that do cool things, even unique things. Arrangements that incorporate a variety of techniques...not just for the techniques' sakes, but to make the song even better. Arrangements that stay close to the melody, but turn the melody inside out and backwards. Arrangements of an array of tunes that show the player's fiery and flashy side as well as the thoughtful and toneful side.
2)Great tone. This certainly requires great right and left hand technique, but also requires great mic technique and a great guitar. The tone I'm thinking of is full without being obnoxious; confident and beautiful.
3)Confidence. The flatpicker should have a deep confidence in his ability to play the arrangements at a wide range of tempos. He should be playing at a tempo that feels comfortable while being fast enough to be a bit showy. (I hate to say it, but I think you have to play a bit showily to win flatpick contests.) The player should have a good deal of experience playing the arrangements before crowds, and preferably should have played them in other contests.
Those are the things I think I need to reach my goal. Where do I fall short? Well, in all 3 categories, really. I feel like tone is my strongest suit, but I need to practice mic technique with a variety of mics I might run into and find how to work them.
I have some pretty well developed arrangements for several songs, but I need to finish arrangements for the right songs. This is one of the first steps. I can't really practice arrangements I haven't written yet.
The confidence will be the hardest part. Hopefully the rhythm tracks in conjunction with jamming and playing out as much as possible, and playing in every contest I can, will help.