Competing As An Introvert

So I have decided that I am going to start competing again. And I use the word again loosely. I’ve been in one tournament. To say that this was a difficult decision would be an understatement. There is nothing in me that enjoys competing. Traveling around the country, even the world, to support my teammates and film all their matches, I’ll do in a second. Getting on the mat and competing makes me want to get sick.
And it’s not even the competing part that I dislike so much, it’s the losing. And that makes me no different than anyone except that I’m a complete and utter introvert. The thought of all eyes on me while I compete is nauseating. Those same eyes watching me lose is head spinning. So why the change of heart?


1) I understand tournaments better

I’ve been to a lot of tournaments in the past 7 months. A lot more than I had in the year prior. And because I have been to a lot of tournaments, I understand the environment better. Everyone is not watching every mat at every second of the day. Most aren’t even paying attention to what is going on at any given mat unless it is their teammate or a black belt competition. The thought of all eyes on me while I compete is that introverted part of me screaming “please, don’t see me!” and not the reality of that day.

2) My teammates, my coach, and my boyfriend are proud of me regardless the outcome

So, once I settled on the reality that everyone will not be watching my win or defeat, I had to combat the thought of letting my team down. That one was a hard one. In the sports world, it’s all about the W. In the immortal words of Ricky Bobby, if you ain’t first, you’re last. And I’m at a competition focused academy. We have a competition team and they are heavy competitors. They go out there and show incredible heart and, win or lose, they are spectacular to watch. My boyfriend is a part of that group and he competes really well. Really, really well. He has collected more wins in the last 6 months than I have in 20+ years of competing in all other sports combined. It can be a little intimidating having to live up to all of that. So of course, they want me to win. And getting another win for our team would be great. But at this point in my jiu jitsu journey, a win for me is getting on that mat and competing and they know this. They are there to support me, win or lose, like I have been there for them.

3) Competition makes you better
Look at the business world. Businesses don’t operate in a vacuum. For every business out there, there are also many like it. So businesses are forced to get better or get left behind. Competing does the same. Win or lose, you will get better. You face competitors that are similar to your weight and skill range and you test your jiu jitsu. You find what works and what doesn’t and you get better. You take the lessons learned that day back to the academy and refine your game. Fix the holes exposed that day and test it out at the next tournament. One of the draws to jiu jitsu for me is that there is always something more to learn. Why turn my back on another avenue of learning?

4) Testing your skill level

I don’t know about you, but where I train, there is only 1 person that is my weight and skill level. Even harder is the fact that I am a woman, one of three in my academy. So testing my skill level against the strong, talented, and bigger guys at my academy is a little unrealistic. I am not at the point where my “jiu jitsu is for everyone” actually works against everyone. If any of the light feather to heavy weight, white belt to brown belt guys wanted to muscle their way through most of my techniques, they could. I mean, I’ve got a pretty mean triangle but trying to escape side control from underneath the pressure of a 150+ pound man is not going too well for me at this point. And we all know how the other person rolls. We know each other’s game, from start to finish. We drill these with one another. If I do A, they will do B, and I can do C. The only way I can know for sure that the technique I am learning is actually technique I am applying properly at this point is to test it out on the mat with people similar to myself.

5) I do this everyday anyways
Now granted, rolls at the academy are not like the 5-10 minutes spent on the mat at a competition. But I’m at a competition gym. We focus on not only growing jiu jitsu skill, but also how it translates to competing. The rolls I’m involved in are submission oriented and really tough. At the end of the 45 minutes to an hour session each night, you will find sweat drenched practitioners sprawled in various states of exhaustion all over the mat. So other than the fact that the IBJJF gives out medals and my academy doesn’t, it’s something I already do. It is just at a different location and with different people.

In the end, I had to let go of all the scary thoughts that I had largely come up with on my own. That’s not to say that I am still not a little scared to make my debut on the mat and that all of the above still doesn’t affect me on some level, but I am feeling better about it. And like anything else I’ve had to encounter in my fun little introverted life, I know it will get easier the more I do it. The losses will still be hard to swallow, but man, will it make those victories taste even sweeter! And I will never know that feeling of victory if I never have the courage to face a possible loss.

So, do you struggle with fear when it comes to competition time? And what are they? And if competition days feel like another Saturday roll, tell us your secret. What do you do to focus and maintain that cool jiu jitsu calm?


  1. I know the feeling.
    I've only competed in 2 tournaments, and in one of my matches I was so nervous I had an anxiety attack. My opponent was confused when I tapped for seemingly no reason. I was so mad at myself.

  2. I totally understand. I've competed about 5 times, and each and every time, I was terrified and had a few panic attacks, but pushed myself to do it because I knew everyone wasn't watching just me. And even the people who are, aren't thinking anything negative about you – they know it takes guts to put yourself on the line and walk out on that mat in front of everyone.
    I've panicked and prematurely tapped over nothing. I suppose all you can do is try to stay calm, and remind yourself that no matter what happens, all you can do is your best. Nobody is going to ridicule you for that.

  3. I agree that it's nerve racking the first couple matches. I think the more you compete, the better you know how to deal with the anxiety. I think that I have high anxiety, and I got instantly taken down and my guard passed in my first match. I got pissed instantly at myself and fought hard to get out of side control. I used an under hook and pummel to get out of side control, but my opponent grabbed a quick guillotine which I thought was the end of it because I was already tired 1:30 in and my heart rate was probably a lot higher than normal because of the anxiety. To make a long story short, I ended up winning with a bow and arrow choke within the last 30 seconds. I think the hurdle for me was surviving and reacting successfully to adversity the first time. After that it got easier by the match because I had proved to myself that I could outlast the initial anxiety.

  4. In all the competitions I've done, I've never won my first match. Every time I let me nerves get the better of me, and I lose. Then once I've been out there once, I am good to go and am much more calm and focused.

  5. Robyn Leigh I think I got lucky that time and my opponent gassed out a bit. Props for competing all the times you have! I would think that it should get easier for you the more you face those anxiety fears. Getting out there and competing is a win that a lot of people can't claim.

  6. Jonathan Fisher It definitely does get easier. The first one, I thought I was going to be sick. After that, every time we go I feel more and more excited.
    I have a tournament coming up on December 6th. I don't care if I win or not, it is just my goal to be calm, not lose to my own fears, and hopefully win my first match. That is all I want for myself. Here's hoping!

  7. Being anxious before a match is not a bad thing, it helps in your performance. Dealing with the nerves is the hard part. Just know that if you are properly trained and have put the work in, you'll be fine. You're there to test your skills on that day. Once it starts, you're focused on your opponent and your training kicks in. Remember, your opponent is feeling the same things you are. Some people hide it better than others.

  8. This has nothing to do with being introverted. This sounds like regular nervousness before a tournament. Believe it or not, sweetheart, even competitors at the highest level get nervous. And they stand to lose more than just “another roll”. Here’s the truth: The more you compete the more you learn to deal with that nervousness. Bless your “introverted” heart, though.

  9. I agree with Jenna. The Miyao bros are clearly introverts. Lots of BJJ players are. It’s a mental game and not a team sport. Both of which I think appeal to introverts. I think it’s more of a “outside your comfort zone” thing. All the points you made are benefits of getting outside your comfort zone.


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