How To Tap Out The Competition Jitters

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If you’ve competed in jiu jitsu before, you know it’s completely different than training at the gym. Sure, you’re still doing the same martial art, but when you step onto the mat at a tournament, it can feel like all the BJJ you’ve ever learned suddenly gets erased from your mind. A simple change of atmosphere can transform you from the person who was acing flying triangles just last week to a person who’s wondering if they really know how to do a basic armbar.

If it makes you feel any better, you’re not the only person who goes through this. Getting nervous at a competition isn’t just normal; it’s expected. You’re likely going up against someone you’ve never even met, and there’s a lot more pressure to win than you’ll ever find in the comfort of your own gym back home. When you factor in how many people are watching you, it’s honestly a surprise that anyone can compete in BJJ without feeling like they’re going to wet themselves.

While it’s healthy to feel a little nervous, getting too worked up before or during a competition can not only affect your performance, but also ruin the experience entirely. Unfortunately, beating those nerves can sometimes be even harder than beating your opponent. You’re not likely to enter zen mode in the middle of your match, but there are a few things you can do to manage your competition anxiety.

Before You Compete:

  • Avoid caffeine. If you absolutely need a bit of coffee to make sure you don’t fall asleep in the middle of your roll, that’s fine. But stay away from those crazy energy drinks that make you feel like your heart is going to pound out of your chest. Doing a few jumping jacks or jogging a lap around the building will wake you up without making you feel like you can see sounds.
  • Arrive early. Give yourself time to get used to the atmosphere and, if it makes you feel better, see the people you might be competing against. It might mean having to wake up earlier, but it’s much better than getting there and having to rush to make sure you’re weighed in and ready to go on time.
  • Visualize your plan. Even if what you’re hoping to do doesn’t work out at all, it can still boost your confidence when you’re going in with a plan rather than just winging it. Trust your jiu jitsu. You know your strengths and weaknesses better than anyone else, so when you envision yourself going in and using what you know, it will help get you in the right mindset.

During Your Match:

  • Breathe. Ideally, you’ve been learning how to relax while you roll long before you enter a tournament, but it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and start taking rapid, shallow breaths when your adrenaline starts pumping. Make an effort to slow your breathing, and don’t forget to look for those opportune moments to relax and collect your thoughts.
  • Go with what you know. A competition is not the time to whip out that move you sort of remember from class two weeks ago, and you shouldn’t be stressing yourself out trying to pull it off. It’s okay to try new stuff if you find yourself in the perfect position for it, but if you focus on the moves that come naturally, it gives you one less thing to worry about.
  • Focus on your coach’s voice. You’re going to be hearing a lot of incoherent yelling when you hit the mat, and a lot of the things you will be able to make out (“Come on!” “TAP HIM OUT!”) won’t exactly be the advice you need to come away with a win. From the moment you step on the mat, zero in on your coach’s voice. Not only is he or she the one most likely to give you tips you can actually use in your match, but it’s also calming to hear the voice of someone you trust when you’re in such a high-pressure situation.

After your match:

  • Befriend the people you fought against. If you’re competing locally, you’re probably going to end up going against the same people more than once in your jiu jitsu career. Once you’re done trying to tap each other out, chat them up and get to know them. Not only is it a great way to network in the BJJ community, but you’ll also feel much more at-ease knowing that you’re competing against a friend next time you go against them. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy having more jiu-jitsu buddies?
  • Practice what you messed up. Even if you won every match in your division, there are always ways to improve. Ask your coach and teammates what your weak points were in your matches, and drill them until you could do them in your sleep. The next time you compete, the thought of, “What if I screw up my collar choke defense again?” won’t even enter your mind.
  • Compete, compete, compete. You will be nervous during your first competition. And if you let your nerves affect you so much that you only compete once a year, you will feel just as freaked out each time you do it. However, if you go to as many tournaments as possible, you’ll soon find that the competition atmosphere will begin to feel a lot less intimidating. Even if it terrifies you just to sign up for another tournament, do it. Before you know it, competing will be something you look forward to rather than something that scares you.

Do you have any special tricks up your gi that you use to chill out during tournaments? Let us know what they are!

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