Ask DeBlass: The Most Important Moment in Your Competitive Life is Now

Tom DeBlass
Photo courtesy of Tom DeBlass

As a member of a very elite group in the sport of BJJ, the high-level, black belt competitor, Professor DeBlass understands the importance of mindset for competition.  But what he shares in this edition of Ask DeBlass may surprise readers.  For him, it’s not about the competition or winning versus losing.  It is about the experience and the reward of becoming a better teacher and person that can be achieved by embracing the normal fears and nerves and using them as tools.  Whether you are putting the first competition on your New Years’ Resolution list or thinking about competing again, Professor Tom DeBlass’ advice will keep your mindset in check.

Another Day at the Office

So your first competition is approaching or you’re thinking of competing again after some time away from the stage.  You can’t seem to get it off your mind. You ask yourself: are you doing enough to be ready to step out there and put all your skills to the test?

Most of you are full time students, or work a full time job, and do your best to get your training in on top of other life’s responsibilities. During every family get together, every outing with your friends, the competition stays in the back of your mind, because you know every day that passes is another day closer to stepping on those cold, hard mats.
One thing I like to ask my students before they compete if I find them getting too anxious is this:  Before you come to training everyday do you get nervous? Do you feel the need to mentally prepare and question your abilities? Or do you simply go about your day living and take care of your responsibilities?”  More times than not, the student realizes that they put no added pressure on themselves before training. In fact, training is actually a stress reliever for them during the preparation stage.

Keeping calm while the storm rages around you is essential. --Photo courtesy of Tom DeBlass
Keeping calm while the storm rages around you is essential. –Photo courtesy of Tom DeBlass

Focus on Learning, Not Winning or Losing

One thing that I remind my students hoping to compete is that it is imperative to understand competition is simply another day. The only difference between an average training day is that when you compete, the window for error become smaller and smaller. Competition with the right mindset can be a great way to test your skills and improve. Many first time and even seasoned competitors often focus so much on winning or losing that they forget to focus on the technique and the most important part of competing, which is the preparation and chance to become better and learn about themselves as individuals.

The True Victory is Not Gold

When you are in competition mode, regardless of how busy your schedule is you must sacrifice. You may need to adopt a strict diet. You must train even when you are tired or when life’s unpredictable changes creep in.  All of these aspects will make us better individuals if we keep that in mind. You are not defined by your wins and losses, you are defined by your effort and preparation. Chances are, if you stick with it and keep a positive outlook, if you focus on improving rather than simply winning, you will eventually get the results you desire. Every time you train to improve, your chances of winning become greater. Be thankful for the journey and appreciate the hard work that you are putting in.

Focus on being flawless and the outcome can be victory.--Photo courtesy of Tom DeBlass
Focus on being flawless and the outcome can be victory.–Photo courtesy of Tom DeBlass

Control the Things in Your Control

One thing I always do in order to keep myself calm is remove winning and losing out of the equation. I focus on being perfect. I want to react fast, keep my technique flawless, and do everything right. The consequence of achieving perfect technique and not making mistakes will of course be victory, so that becomes the goal–not victory per se. I know myself well enough and competed long enough  to understand nerves and fear can work for me, it can make me sharper in every aspect so I actually welcome the nervous feeling. I enjoy it. It’s like a rush. I have mastered and embraced comfort in being uncomfortable.

Don’t Fear Losing.  Fear Not Trying.

It’s very easy to get discouraged after working so hard, if you come up short, but remember all it takes is 1 win to erase 1,000 losses. You must never give up.  I have been competing in jujitsu now for close to 15 years, and after every competition I have I come home a better professor for my students. Competing is simply a chance to test your skills against other individuals training on different teams.  The mind is a powerful thing and often times it’s easy to build up our opponents as invincible.  Whether you know it or not, your mind is trying to protect you from danger.  Don’t let that frustrate you.  Simply remind yourself that your opponents are going through the same daily struggles as you are. Fear is a normal thing, but learn to turn your fears into fire. Do not be paralyzed by your fear, move forward, prepare your best, and be proud regardless of the outcome.

In closing I’ll leave you with a quote I live by.

“Never compare yourself to others, for you will either become bitter or vain”
Max Ehrmann


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