The vast majority of people couldn’t fathom the idea of stepping onto a mat to compete at a jiu-jitsu tournament. To the uninitiated, it’s the same as stepping into a cage to fight Brock Lesnar, at UFC 200, or into the ring to fight Anthony Joshua in front of 90,000 drunk arseholes at Wembley Stadium. In reality, it’s a far less entertaining spectacle. Long-ass days, lots of waiting around, and if you don’t actually do BJJ (or enjoy eating cheap Acai), it’s pretty shite to look at (let’s be honest here!).
For those of us who are actually competing, however, it can instill absolute fear and stress that takes over every part of your psyche and leaves you unable to think clearly for days on end in the run-up to competition day. And channeling those nerves and stressful feelings the right way will help you enjoy the experience rather than dread it. Let’s go over a few things you can do to help you handle the pressures of competing a little better…
1) GET SOME GODDAMN PERSPECTIVE
Let’s be real here: It’s a BJJ competition, and you’re going up against another human being, of relatively equal experience and similar size. You’re not stepping into the ring to fight Mike Tyson, and you’re not even taking part in a real fight. Ever been punched in the face or kicked in the leg in front of a few hundred people? It’s much worse. And if you’re competing at a packed venue with 8-10 matted areas, trust me: nobody’s actually watching your match except your team-mates who are there with you (and they’re more concerned with their own matches later that day than yours!).
If you’ve trained with people who are better than you, you’ll be more than prepared. Unless you’re one of those dickheads who picks the easiest rounds in the gym to feed your ego?…
2) FOCUS ON THE STUFF YOU HAVE CONTROL OVER
Back in the day, I used to get bogged down in researching upcoming opponents matches on YouTube. Stressing about what they were gonna do, and working on ways to counter it. Then on competition day, the fight would go completely differently to how I’d pictured it in my head, and catch me off-guard. They’d come out with something different and my game plan would be out the window. When panic and confusion sets in, you’re on a slippery slope.
While there’s a place for it at the very highest level (where guys have fully-developed their games and become masters in certain areas), for most people our BJJ games are constantly evolving. If you’re a blue belt and you’re looking at opponent’s matches from a year ago, it’s safe to assume he’s added to his game since then. If he hasn’t, he’s doing it wrong!
Instead of focusing on his approach, put the majority of your focus into yours. What’s the first grip you’re gonna take? Are you gonna hit a takedown or a throw, or are you gonna pull guard? And how are you going to get that first score? Work these situations relentlessly, and improve your timing and execution. When you have this at a strong level, your anxiety will lessen. Confidence in your chances doesn’t happen by accident. Work on the tools you need to shift the chances in your favour, and focus on ‘leading the dance’. The guys who initiate the fight are usually the ones who control the fight.
3) BAN NEGATIVE SELF-TALK
The day of the tournament is when this shit revs up. Your mind starts working overtime, and the stress levels are peaking. Everyone has that inner voice that keeps picking away at them: “Is that guy in my bracket?…Jesus he looks big….I wonder will my cardio hold up…Did i train hard enough?”
When this happens, you need to acknowledge it, take a deep breath, and then shift your mindset towards the positive aspects of your game. those guys in the bullpen are looking at you and thinking the same things…that’s normal. And if you’ve prepared correctly, you need to trust in that process, instead of panicking about it at the last second. Have some positive phrases you can repeat to yourself when the negative ones pop into your head. This is a proven strategy that will work wonders. When Rose Namajunas fought Joanna Jedrzejczyk (yeah, I had to google that so I could spell it properly…), she had a mantra that she would repeat to herself over and over: “Confidence…Conditioning…Composure…Champion”. When Joanna was picking at her, screaming in her face, she muttered this to herself (along with some prayers), and didn’t buckle under the pressure. And then she went out and put on one of the greatest performances in UFC history against the greatest female fighter of all time.
On competition day, everybody is full of doubt, fear and negative talk. When your team-mates start indulging in that shit, walk away. Clear your head, and focus on your positives.
4) COMPETE AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE
“Confidence comes with hard training and experience” – Josh Hinger
The key is to get as much experience as possible. If you compete sporadically (1-2 times per year), and you don’t win the tournament, chances are you’re only getting a few minutes of competition experience each year. A few minutes!!! No wonder you feel nervous and unprepared when you do it.
Building competitive experience is like building strength. If we want to get stronger, we lift heavy things consistently, we build the callouses on our hands, and we put our muscles under stress so that they have to adapt. So it’s important to treat our mind in the same way. Take positive steps to build your mental strength.
- Choose to roll with the guys who are going to give you a hard time in the gym.
- If your gym always starts rolls on the floor, make sure to spend time working your wrestling/judo.
- Put yourself in bad spots, and improve your survival skills and escapes.
- Enter as many tournaments as possible, and instead of stressing about results, use them to clock up competitive hours.
Build callouses on your mind as well as your hands. How you do anything, is how you’ll do everything. Get used to approaching intimidating tasks head on, rather than taking the easier route. This is not easy…you’ll have to apply yourself to improving this aspect. When the time comes to step on the mat in a competitive setting, you’ll have a stronger, more confident, resilient mindset.
Remember, BJJ is a journey, not a destination (except for all those lazy bastards who got their blue belt and then fucked off!). Instead of putting all of your focus into whether or not you get your hand raised or make the podium, put it into building a process that you can be consistent with, and enjoy over the long-term. Turn up, fight hard, give it everything, but if the aim is to perform well and improve consistently, then trust me: results will follow. Take positive steps to ensure that you can be present and ENJOY the experience rather than fear it.
Written by: Paul Browne of Adrenaline Fitness – check them out at http://adrenalinefitnessdublin.com
Paul Browne is a BJJ brown belt at Team Ryano in Dublin, Ireland, and an active competitor. He is a strength and conditioning coach at Adrenaline Fitness Dublin, and works with BJJ masters athletes through his ‘Bjj Strengthcamp’ program”