10 Ways to Overcome BJJ Competition Nerves

If you’ve ever competed in a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or submission grappling tournament before, you’ve almost surely experienced powerful nerves leading up to the competition.  If you haven’t competed, your teammates have probably warned you of this paralyzing phenomenon.  This article will help you learn to deal with that.

I like lists a lot.  I think lists are engaging for readers, and they’re easy for my brain to make, for whatever reason.  I considered whittling this list down to five keys instead of ten, but decided to keep the list at ten.  I’ve helped a lot of people face and overcome their fears about competing over the years, and I’ve learned that a different approach works for everyone.  I present the list as a countdown to number one, because number one is the most important for me, and it’s helped more people than any other, but please keep in mind that any one of these could be a breakthrough for you.

Without further ado, here’s the list:

10.  Develop a specific strategy.
No advice is more generally given at any BJJ academy than this, and for good reason.  If you have a specific game plan to defeat your opponent, you are more likely to win than if you don’t.  It’s very simple, and it’s very effective.  Plan your attack strategy well, and you may be better prepared than your opponent.  Strategy is huge!

9.  Remember that your team is there for you.
Whether you train at a huge gym or at your buddy’s garage, you have friends, and they’re there to support you when you compete.  Take comfort in the fact that your friends are going to be cheering you on.  They don’t expect you to perform miracles, just to do your best out there.

8.  Do the hard work at the gym.

By comparison, anything your opponent does to you will seem easy to overcome.  Use this step as motivation to do that extra set of burpees at the gym, or to roll that extra round or two.  Prepare yourself with hell, and competition will seem like nothing.

7.  Start small!
Don’t let your first tournament be the Jiu Jitsu Worlds.  Instead, begin with a few smaller, local tournaments and then work your comfort level up to the giant competitions.  Once you compete at a really big tournament, the smaller tournaments are nothing to get worked up over.  Even the big shows can be no big deal with enough cumulative experience.

6.  Know the rules well! 
This is an often overlooked one, but I must have won 50 matches over the course of my competitive career simply because I knew the rules better than my opponent.  This is no exaggeration, and it’s a huge handicap for you if you don’t bother to learn the rules!  If the tournament you’re doing is a points event, be sure that you know what constitutes a sweep, what makes a guard pass a guard pass, how to get four points for getting the back, or whatever.  If it’s Submission Only, be sure you know the legal submissions and boundaries of the tournament organization.5.  Take the pressure off of yourself.
Sound a little zen?  Perhaps, but you can often be your own worst enemy when leading up to a competition.  Remedy this by asking yourself:  What is the worst thing that can happen?  Will you be broken in half, kicked out of your gym for being the shame of your jiu jitsu family, and banned from all future competitions?  Not likely.  The most common worst case scenario is that you get your butt kicked in front of your teammates.  Your teammates are still going to be there for you if this happens!
To reiterate an earlier point, you will find that the more often you compete, the easier each competition becomes.  No tournament will be as easy or as comfortable for you as rolling at the gym, but you can get really close to this by remembering that you are going to be all right once the competition is over, and you’re going to learn a lot from it.  You can tell people all about it if you want, whether you win or lose, but you certainly don’t have to.

4.  Compete as often as possible.
This isn’t much help if you’ve never competed before, but if you have, you will soon realize that the best way to get better at competing in jiu jitsu is… you guessed it, to compete in jiu jitsu!  The more, the better.  Doesn’t matter if it’s a small tournament or a big one; competition experience is competition experience, and there is no real substitute for it.  Your confidence level will rise as your comfort zone widens (and your nerves decrease proportionally).  You may never be 100% comfortable with competing, but you will almost surely be more comfortable after competing three or four times than you were your first time out.

3.  Treat competition like a training session.

This one’s easier said than done, but remember that you’re out there to learn.  If you lose, it’s going to be a hard pill to swallow for your ego, but you’re going to get better from it, just like you’re going to get better by training.  Even more so- you’re going to become far better in a shorter period of time, as addressed in the Competing in BJJ:  Why? article.

2.  Remember that you’re going to “win” no matter what.

No, this isn’t some kind of “everyone’s a winner” drivel, but rather this:  you’re going to learn a LOT from competing, win or lose.  If you win all of your matches, you are well ahead of the curve, so congratulations are in order!  If you lose all (or some) of your matches, you are going to learn far more than if you win them all.  Royler Gracie once related an anecdote about how his father, Helio, would give him a nickel for every match he won, but a dollar for every match he lost.  There’s a great deal of wisdom in that.

1.  Remember that you are not going to perform better than you do at the gym.
Really!  Most competitors strive to find some sort of secret key to “turning it up” when they compete.  Sure, you want to use all of your physical attributes, and you want to focus and bring a certain intensity level to the competition, but one thing that I have observed many, many times is that the best competitors perform nearly as well in the tournament as they do at the gym.  There are plenty of “gym lions” who dominate at the gym, but when they compete, they do things they would never, ever do at the gym, and they pay the price for it.

As a bonus, I’d like to add that you should try to change as little with your routine as possible leading up to a competition.  Make the competition itself routine.


The author:  Andrew Smith

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