I’ll start by stating that I respect all of those who decide to compete in grappling competitions. Despite…
· all of the training at the club, the hours of reps, drilling, and rolling;
· all of the additional training outside of the club, the cardio, the lifting, the circuits;
· all of the nerves causing you to lose sleep, that make you doubt yourself or your abilities;
· all of the dieting to make weight, the cravings, the feeling of getting weaker;
· all of the little tweaks or injuries, the aches and pains, just trying to stay “healthy”;
· all of the mental fight or flight queues invading your brain making you hard to deal with at home, or at school, or at your job.
Yes, despite all of that, you decide to throw yourself into the mix of competitive strangers, who all show up for that one thing…to be a winner, to get that medal-sword-belt-etc. To show everyone what you can do, or better yet, to show yourself. Again, you have my respect, because it’s a lot to overcome.
Tournaments can cause various mental challenges. Some of these are:
· Fear of the unknown
· Pressure to win
· Trying to avoid injury
· Fear of people watching you
· Unavoidable feelings of nervousness and/or anxiety
Let’s look at these just a little deeper. Being afraid of something that is unknown to you is a normal human trait. Most everyone has this behavior, even your opponent, so don’t feel that it’s only you. The difference lies in how each of us processes those fears. Through research and experience, I’ve found that the more you face those unknowns the more it gets easier dealing with them. Will you ever be totally free of fearing the unknown? Of course not, and perhaps you shouldn’t as we are human after all and we need that survival mechanism. However, setting a goal to do something outside of your comfort zone is a healthy thing to do.
When competing it is almost unavoidable to not have the pressure to win permeate your brain cells. Heck, that’s why you’re competing in the first place isn’t it, to win? Well…maybe. Look, most people who take up Jiu-Jitsu are what’s called recreational students or athletes. We train because we enjoy the experience. We enjoy learning how to defend ourselves. We enjoy learning new skills that involve our bodies. It’s fun! So, if you decide to eventually start competing, and you get out on the mats to represent your club, doesn’t it make sense that it should be fun as well. It’s okay, to compete and lose, just as much as it’s awesome to compete and win. Actually, as a recreational athlete, you really don’t have anything to “lose”, but you get a wealth of experience to gain or win. Think about this for a moment, because this single idea can be the difference between having a “bad day” where “nothing went right” because I “BLAH, BLAH, BLAH”, or just having a great experience despite whatever the outcome.
When someone doesn’t compete because they are “trying to avoid getting hurt” they are simply making an excuse. I understand that this may come off as a bit harsh, but unfortunately it’s a fact. Out of all the hours you spend practicing martial arts at the club, have you never been hurt? Never had any muscle tweaks? Not one sore joint? If you do Jiu-Jitsu at the club, and you’re doing Jiu-Jitsu at a tournament, what is the difference? What’s going to happen to you at one place that is going to be different at the other? It’s all the same stuff. Actually, at the tournament there are more rules in place, and there’s a referee watching and controlling the match. Plus, and most importantly, you can always TAP. So face it, you’re pretty safe, and not likely to get any more hurt than you would at the club.
“OMG, is everyone watching me?” YES, and no. You’re at a Jiu-Jitsu tournament, you’re going to be watched. But, hate to break this to you, unless you’re Marcelo Garcia, Andre Galvao, Keenen Corneilius, Jeff Glover, Eddy Bravo, or any one of the competitors with Gracie as a last name, nobody really cares. Okay, maybe they’ll pay some attention to you if you hit a sweet takedown, or you’re involved in a mad scramble, or somehow you just pulled off that submission you’ve been working on for months on end. Maybe they’ll give you a look, or they’ll throw some kudos your way. Other than that, don’t expect anyone asking for an autograph, or being swooned over by anyone other than perhaps your team mates or some family members. So, if you’re worried about being watched, then put on one heck of a show!
Finally, and this is important, being nervous is part of the process. It goes along with everything else previously mentioned above, and is a big part of who we are as humans. To say that it will probably go away is a lie. Actually, for me it went from “having nerves” to “being anxious”. After competing for over a decade I still get a feeling before every match of “heightened awareness”. I feel the need to get on the mat and do battle to relieve that anxiety. It’s really a strange feeling. Today, I don’t think about winning or losing the match. Instead I focus on the fight and attempt to give and much as I get. I rely on my training to carry me through technically, and I focus on my game plan while I try to outsmart my opponent. Sometimes it works for me and other times it doesn’t. However, I won’t let nerves or anxiety dictate the experience. They’re only along for the ride.
All that being said, here are some tid-bits for effectively dealing with competition that I found worthwhile. These were originally written by Andrew Smith from Revolution BJJ and US Grappling, and are listed from number 10 to the number 1. I’m only going to give the main points to each:
10. DEVELOP A SPECIFIC STRATEGY: Having a game plan makes you better prepared. It’s that simple, and it’s very effective.
9. YOUR TEAM IS THERE FOR YOU: Take comfort in the fact that you have a support system backing your play. They don’t expect miracles, only your best.
8. DO THE HARD WORK AT THE CLUB: By comparison, anything your opponent does will seem easy to overcome if you prepare well before hand.
7. START SMALL BEFORE THINKING BIG: Remember why you’re doing this and what level you’re at. This isn’t the World’s or the Olympics, at least not yet.
6. KNOW THE RULES: Knowing the rules better than your opponent is a plus. It can be the difference between coming out on top or not knowing what happened.
5. TAKE THE PRESSURE OFF OF YOURSELF: Everything will be okay once the tournament is over. Don’t be your own worst enemy. Just do your best.
4. EITHER COMPETE, OR DON’T: How do you get better at competing? By competing, of course. So if you’re going to, then just do it. If you don’t want to, then don’t. The world will continue to turn and the sun will come up tomorrow.
3. TREAT COMPETITION LIKE A TRAINING SESSION: Take each competition one at a time. Enjoy every win, and learn from every loss. Watch your comp videos. Take notes. Confer with your instructor. Get better and grow.
2. YOU’LL “WIN” NO MATTER THE OUTCOME: No, this is not an “everybody’s a winner” speech. Instead, know that you’ll learn a bunch from competing whether you win or lose. Just don’t let your ego, or anyone else’s ego, get in your way. Enjoy the experience.
1. YOU WON’T DO ANY BETTER THAN YOU DO AT THE CLUB: There isn’t any “secret” ingredient to becoming a better you at a tournament. You will rise to the level of your training, skill and preparation. Period. Being at the club should be the main part of your workout routine. Supplement that routine with the weights, circuits, yoga, etc. Then make going to competitions part of that overall routine. This philosophy will make competing so much easier for you to handle.
Learn. Drill. Roll. TRANSFORM!