Why Do People Get Nervous At Competitions?

Photo by: Kitt Canaria

For me, the key difference between being able to win and being unable to win comes down to how relaxed I am in competition.  If I am able to keep my heartbeat and breath close to baseline, and am able to remain mentally relaxed yet aware, I can execute techniques far more quickly and with more precision.

One aspect of my mindset that I have been playing with in order to improve my relaxation in competition is how I mentally frame the competition.

I imagine the competition as an overpriced open mat that’s easier than your average open mat.  Think about it.

When you go to open mat, you never really know who is going to be rolling at what intensity.  Maybe that purple belt you’re about to roll with is going to be rolling at 100% intensity; maybe they’re just messing around.  That visiting blue belt might be fully willing to snap your arm off, or he may just be looking to work on flow rolling.  In competition you know exactly what to expect from everyone: their most aggressive and effective game.  Competition takes the guess work out of it.

When you go to open mat, a lot of your mental energy may be spent on figuring out what you want to accomplish.  Do you want to work on your deficiencies?  Do you want to play with a specific strategy?  Again, competition simplifies this: do what you’re best at, and if that fails, do something else that you’re good at doing.

At open mat, you need to restrain your techniques as to avoid injuring friends and training partners.  You can’t launch full force into a submission; you can’t always rely on the other person to tap intelligently, so at least part of your mental energy needs to be devoted to protecting others in the room.  In the room you should be at least somewhat nervous about hurting people, but at competition your sole focus should be winning.

Competition simplifies the rules of rolling, and yet everyone gets really nervous before they compete.  Unless you’re competing in a bracket that has a cash prize, what’s the best thing that will happen if you win?  You’ll get a five dollar medal and maybe some footage of you doing something cool that you do all the time in the training room. What’s the worst case scenario?  You’ll be forced to tap, or will suffer an injury that could have happened just as easily in training.

Why then do people get so nervous?  It is human instinct to fear the unknown, but those of us with a few years on the mat don’t fear training with a new partner. Why then do we fear competition?  My goal in competition isn’t to win, but rather to shed that fear and nervousness and be able to perform at my very best under those conditions.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here