A Reader Question: “I have a question, why am I extremely good at my gym but I lose when I compete?”

Photo by: Blanca Marisa Garcia

There could be a few underlying reasons why you are not able to be as effective in competition as you are training in your home academy.

This is not an uncommon situation in combat sports. Some athletes have shown all of the raw potential in the world but seem to be unable to bring it altogether under the bright lights of the competition stage.


1) There is a popular expression calling some fighters “gym fighters”. Superstars in their home gym that seem incapable of performing at the same level in a competition.
For some, their performance is impaired by anxiety and pre match nerves.
Sports psychologists call this “sports performance anxiety”.
They function well in the gym without the pressure and stiffen and seize up due to competition nerves.

As one commenter on Reddit said: “In the academy, if you make a mistake, it doesn’t matter. If you get tapped, no one is watching, you reset, slap, bump, roll again.
Obviously, at a tournament, this is completely different. You’re putting pressure on yourself because you don’t want to embarrass yourself in front of an audience.”

One training partner of mine was talking about an immensely talented jiu-jitsu black belt who never seemed to translate that skill to the championships.
He had a great quote: “God touched the black belt and said you’ll be the greatest jiu-jitsu player,.. but you’ll not be able to compete.”

Conversely, there are guys who are the opposite. They are middle of the pack in the home academy but seem to come to life and raise their level in the stress of competition. Big game players.

Are you experiencing significant stress before your competitions?


2) Big fish in a small pond?
I don’t say this in a negative way, or wish to disparage your academy. I don’t know anything about your gym or background.
I recall watching past state championships where teams from all over the state would come to compete.
The teams from the smaller towns had a much tougher time in the BIG championships than the larger, big city academies.

You might be the “toughest guy in the small garage gym” but when the level of competition is much higher at a big tournament (like the Pan Ams), you will directly feel that leap in competition!
Holes that have in your game will reveal themselves facing a higher level of opposition.

You might be able to get away with it in the home gym, but the big sharks will expose it at the higher levels.

A Reader Question: How to overcome jitters competing for the first time?


  1. Not overly impressed with this article, not only is it basically common sense, it doesn’t offer any help. I would have liked to see the quitter offer some tips to beat the stress, ie pressure drills, mental exercises etc. Same with the big gym small gym problem, try cross training with other gyms, don’t get me wrong I’m not saying quit your gym if it’s small, but paying a mat fee and rolling with strangers can offset that limited training partner problem. Basically I’m succeeding you offer an alternative or a way of dealing with the issues. Just my two cents.

    • A few more possibilities:

      – Familiarity with a specific type of game that all his partners use and being faced with a different type of game in competition.

      – “Extremely good at the gym” because of a physical advantage. Big guy fighting mostly smaller guys in the gym and suddenly facing opponents of the same size. And that works in reverse too. The small guy used to having a speed and flexibility advantage and beating bigger guys all the time. All cocky about it. Gets in a competition and everyone at his weight is as fast or faster.

      – Always going full tilt in training and trying to win the rolls in the academy without realizing that his training partners are practicing their moves and not fighting. Especially common when working with nice higher belts who let him get good positions to work on their escape and defense.

      – Overestimating how good he is doing by ignoring all the times he gets tapped and thinking only of the times he got something.

      – Never trained the stand up part of the fight, always starts on the floor, playing his A game. Gets in the competition, gets taken down and is forced to play an unfamiliar game while trailing on points, or forced to pull guard when his game is mostly top game.

      – Not familiar with the scoring system (i.e. not waiting to get his points when passing or mounting)


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