Overcoming the Competition Jitters

Recently, I competed in a tournament in which I did both the gi and the no gi divisions. No gi was first. I had been training hard for months leading up to
the competition. I was ready.

However, moments before the division started, I got the jitters. It led to a major adrenaline dump. That dump led to a very poor performance. I had no strength to fight with. I was tired before I ever stepped onto the mat.

So what caused that? I sat down and took a look at what may have caused nerves before a competition like that. Here are some things I found that go along with the mental preparation we’ve discussed previously

Anxiety is a part of every competition. Anyone who has ever participated in any sport knows that feeling
just before a game or a match. Anxiety is actually helpful for athlete performance, so long as it is only experienced in healthy levels. Too much anxiety kills performance.

So how can we reduce anxiety? First of all, prepare for the worst-case scenario. If your biggest fear is losing the takedown battle, practice getting taken down. Is it being on the bottom of mount? Practice that position over and over. Get used to being in a bad position and coping with it. (Rich Franklin, former UFC champion, discusses this very idea, which we’ve shared in a previous article).

Great. So what else can we do to keep our jitters down? Well, as counterintuitive as it may sound, we have to reduce the importance of winning. It’s paramount to our performance to focus on the task at the moment, instead of the outcome. For example, if you’re competing at worlds, worrying about making the medal stand can give you tunnel vision and performance anxiety. Instead of worrying about that, it’s better to worry about what to do in the match you’re already competing in. Looking too far ahead is damaging to your chances of winning. Worry about what is directly in front of you, and focus on nothing else. Sometimes, that means fighting as though you don’t even care about winning.

This was my problem at that competition I mentioned earlier. I was too focused on the very end and failed to focus on the moment. I didn’t place in no gi. It was so devastating and disappointing to me, that I almost left before the gi division started. But when they called my name, I had already resigned myself to the idea of not caring if I won or not. I ended up taking first in the gi division. I honestly believe it was because I shifted my focus from the medal stand to the individual moments within my individual matches.

Though there are many more ideas and theories on the topic of reducing performance anxiety, there is only one other that I would like to address here. That is the idea of improvement versus outcome. What I mean by that is that you ought to worry about improving more than anything. Maybe you lose every single match you ever compete in. That’s ok IF you’re still improving. As long as you focus on personal improvement, you’ll realize that winning matches comes naturally.

Life in general is all about improvement. We can never be the same person we were yesterday. That’s ok. In fact, it’s a good thing. Always seek to improve. Set goals, and always push forward. You’ll see more wins come your way when you do this. Those wins will mean more when they’re done for your personal improvement as opposed to doing it for a medal.

Information taken from the following sources:

Association for Applied Sport Psychology


Cover Photo Credit:





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