The White Belt Guide to Prepping For Your First Tournament

One of the most common questions that comes up on online BJJ forums and message boards is

“How do I prepare for my first tournament as a white belt?”

There have been numerous articles written on the topic that I read when I first decided that I wanted to compete in BJJ. I learned a lot of tips from these articles, but the best pieces of advice I received were from my coaches and teammates. Their guidance and insight helped me prepare both mentally and physically to put myself in the best position to perform to the best of my ability. Below is a step-by-step list of tips that I would like to pass on to other BJJ white belts that are considering competing in a tournament.

So You Have Decided You Want to Compete

Ask your coaches if you are ready to compete – Some schools encourage competition for students with as little as one month of experience. Others would prefer if their students trained for several months and exhibited a level of skill where the coaches are comfortable with letting them compete. It is important to consult with your coaches since they will be an integral part of helping you prepare for the tournament and since you will be representing your school and head coach in the competition.

Find out the Jiu Jitsu tournament schedule for your area- Once your coaches give the green light for competing, the next step is finding out which tournaments are coming up and which ones would be the right fit for you to make your debut. There are the organized tournaments run by organizations such as NAGA, IBJJF, NABJJF, and Five Grappling to name a few. These tournament entry fees usually cost between $70 to $130 to enter a single elimination tournament. There are also smaller local and in-house tournaments run at local high schools and martial arts schools that costs between $10 to $50 to enter and could offer both single and double elimination formats so you can get more experience at these events. Also, check with your coaches to see if they are aware of any upcoming tournaments that might be a good fit for you.

Give yourself 6 to 8 weeks to prepare for the tournament– If you are going to compete in your first tournament, giving yourself the proper amount of time to prepare so you can perform to the best of your ability will be very important. Sure, you can sign up for a tournament at the last minute or on a whim. However, if you want to reach your full potential, giving yourself adequate time to prepare is very important.

Register for the tournament- Most tournaments offer online registration. When you register, you will need to enter your contact information, school name, and, division/weight class. Ask your coaches what you should enter as your school name since some schools might enter tournaments under their affiliation name rather than their school name.

Choosing a weight class is another area where you should consult with your coaches. You first need to find out whether the weigh-ins are right before your match, the day before, or morning of your tournament and whether you weigh-in with or without your gi on, which can add 4 to 5 pounds to your weight. Also, if you are just 3 to 5 pounds above your weight class, you will need to consult with your coaches to decide whether you should cut down to the next weight class. With an increased training schedule and proper diet, dropping the extra weight might not be too difficult. Pick a realistic and comfortable weight class to achieve to help reduce any stress during your training and to make sure your body is fully energized throughout your training camp.

Most tournaments offer different age divisions for adults divisions. The most popular and biggest division is the adult division for competitors 18 to 30 years in age. You can be 40 years old and still compete in the adult division if you are looking for a challenge. For competitors  above 30, there are various ‘masters’ divisions broken into 5 year age ranges such as 31 to 35, 36 to 40, etc. If you are 37 years old, and there is no one in your weight class and division, then you can drop down to the 31 to 35 Masters division or the adult division.

Also, when you register, read over the rules, scoring system, and find the tournament’s   competitor ‘check date.’ The ‘check date’ is usually 5 to 7 days before the tournament where competitors are able to email the tournament promoters to change weight classes and divisions.  You may want to consider changing weight classes and divisions if you are not sure you would make weight for the weight class you initially signed up for and if there isn’t anybody else signed up for your weight class/division. For some smaller tournaments, the promoters might also choose to combine weight classes and divisions if there aren’t enough competitors registered.

Talk to your coaches about your training schedule – Your coaches and your training partners will be your best friends during your training camp leading up to your first tournament. Talk to the coaches about your training schedule and whether you need to increase the amount of time you spend on the mat each week or start attending competition team classes. If you are going to reach out to your coaches and teammates to help you prepare for a tournament, you should follow their advice and speak with them if you have any reservations or if you can’t follow through on the training schedule laid out for you.

Clean up your lifestyle – In order for you to reach your potential and perform at your best, make sure you are eating a healthy diet and getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. While there are many different diet plans out there such as the Dolce Diet or Paleo for Athletes, the basic principles of any a healthy diet plan would be to cut out processed foods, focus on whole foods, reduce or eliminate gluten and processed sugars in the diet, and consume healthy fats and proteins.

Develop a Game Plan – It is important to go into your tournament with a basic game plan that you have drilled and practiced in rolling and sparring during your training camp leading up to your first tournament. The game plan should be very basic and account for an escape from bad positions and 1 to 2 moves from each position.  For instance, have a takedown and a guard pull from the standing position, have an escape if you are mounted, have 2 escapes from bottom side control, and 2 guard passes from closed and open guard. When you are developing a game plan, you also need to take into account that you could be competing in up to 3 to 5 matches that day.

The game plan should also factor in energy expenditure for multiple matches. If you have a very fast paced style, ask yourself if you can sustain that style over multiple matches. Again, you should consult with your coaches on your game plan and decide which moves should be included in your game plan.Once you start developing the game plan, drill the moves during open mats and use those moves during your rolls. Also, visualize your perfect match each day where all of the moves in your game plan mentally flows together.

Ask your training partners for help – In addition to your coaches, your training partners will be a big part of your preparation. Finding training partners in your weight class that can help you with drilling, rolling, and practicing your game plan will be very important for you success. Be proactive and ask specific training partners if they can attend specific open mats and training sessions to help you prepare. If you are a heavyweight and the only other teammates that show up for an open mat or training session are all a 150 lbs, it might not be as productive as if you had other heavyweights to work with on that day.

Monitor your weight and how you feel-  Constantly check your weight by weighing yourself every morning right after you wake up and use the bathroom. This will help give you an idea of whether you are on track for making weight. It is important to have an accurate scale. Buying a higher end, durable digital scale for $50 can remove many potential headaches.

With the increase in mat time and proper nutrition, your body is basically a living chemistry experiment. Monitor how you are feeling. Make notes each day on your workouts, diet, and whether you feel fresh or tired and sluggish. You want to prevent overtraining and burn out. If your resting pulse rate increases or if you are feeling sore and inflamed, you might be overtraining. If this is the case, consult with your coaches to see if you can cut back on the amount and intensity of your training while still preparing for the tournament. There is no shame in dialing back your training in order to aid in recovery and prevent overtraining.

Mental Visualization – Take time out during each day and think about your game plan and visualize your perfect match from start to finish in your head. Think with intent on what your set ups will be, how you will execute your moves, how you will transition from position to position to submission. Also, visualize yourself being mounted or having your back taken and walk yourself through the steps of how you will escape. This is a 5 to 10 minute exercise each day that can be done in silence, in the shower, during your drive to work or whenever works for you.

Tournament Week

 You have made it through 5 to 7 weeks of training and preparation for your tournament. Now you only have 5 to 7 days before the big game. Here are some key points to consider in the days leading up to the tournament.

How’s the weight? – Are you on weight or over weight for your weight division? If it is 1 to 3 pounds, be honest and ask yourself if you can drop the weight without much strain to your body. If not, just go up a weight class for this tournament. You do not need the mental and physical stress of making weight during the week of your first tournament. If you do choose to go up a weight class, you will have the freedom to consume more calories from healthy, whole foods which will aid in your preparation and recovery leading up to the big day.

Check day – This is the date we previously talked about where you can change your division. Many tournaments will list the competitors list and allow you to view how many people are in your division. The amount of people in your division might persuade you to move up a weight class or down to an age division with more competitors.

Find out the schedule/bracket – The brackets and schedule will usually be released 1 to 3 days prior to the tournament. This will let you know when you are scheduled to compete and how many people will be in your bracket.

Let your coaches, teammates, family, and friends know – Let your coaches know when you are competing and find out which coach will be there to corner you. Also, let your teammates, friends, and family know what time you will be competing. Text or email them the time and venue address and let them know you might not be able to respond to text messages on the day of the tournament since you will be prepping and warming up. Having people in your corner is a great source of positive energy and will provide an extra boost for you on your big day.

Plan your big day– Layout your whole day based on when you will be competing including when you will be arriving at the venue, your warm up routine, what time you wake up, test weigh-ins, scenarios based on whether you are on or over weight, what you will eat, when you will eat, and what you will pack in your gym bag.

If you are competing in the morning at 9 or 10 AM, get to the venue by 6:30 AM. For some tournaments, the competitor check-in line could take as long as 1-hour to get through. Getting there early and to the front of the line will help remove any distractions and headaches. The morning of the tournament is valuable time to rest, focus, and warm up. Waiting in a long time to check-in will take a mental and physical toll on the body since you are feeling stressed and anxious on time and you are standing up while waiting in line for up to an hour.

Weight and Diet – Depending on where your weight stands, you may need to closely monitor your caloric intake. It is important to keep eating and drinking in the days leading up to the tournament even if you are above your weight class’s limit. Just watch your portion sizes, cut out salt and carbohydrates from starches. Also, do not introduce anything new into your diet that hasn’t been in your diet during your training camp. Eating something foreign like ceviche or fried chicken could upset your stomach and weaken your body. Work with your coaches and have a plan at least 2 weeks out on how to maintain and manage your weight during the week leading up to the tournament.

Tapering down your workouts – 5 to 7 days before your tournament, everything will likely already be done. All of the game plan implementation should be squared away. Your cardio should be ready for the big day. Now it is time to cut back on your workouts and let your body recover so that it will be as close as possible to 100% on the day of the tournament. At this point, there shouldn’t be any more hard workouts. Work outs should be light and focused on drilling and flowing through your game plan. You can train every day or every other day, but the workouts should be light and focused on technique in order to recover and avoid any risks of injuries. This is another area where you should consult with your coaches on how to taper down properly.

Tournament Day

The big day is here. All of the hard work, training, and sacrifice have gotten you to this point. Here are a few things to remember for the big day.

Weigh yourself right when you wake up- Weigh yourself in or out of your gi based on the tournament weigh-in rules and eat and drink an amount of food and liquid that will keep you on weight and energized. Weigh yourself again each time after you eat and drink just so you know where you stand.

Know the venue – Know the address of your venue, where the parking is located, and where you can potentially warm up. Many venues have very cramped warm up areas with limited space. If there is a soccer field or track close to the venue, you can warm up there by running laps, stretching, and doing calisthenics without the noise and having potential opponents stare at you. Looking up the venue on Google Maps can give you an idea of potential outdoor warm up areas you can use.

Pack 2 Gis just in case – Before you compete, check with your coaches to make sure the gis are approved for competition and all of the patches are sewed on in legal areas of the gi. Part of the weigh-in process is the gi check and they will make sure that the gi is the correct material, length on the arms and legs, and patches are only in the allowed areas of the gi. Packing an extra gi just in case will hedge your bets and also save you in case your gi top or pants rip during your matches.

Bring enough water and snacks – Bring plenty of water. Your matches will drain you and if you have multiple matches, you want to make sure you have enough water in your gym bag to avoid dehydration and cramping during your matches. Also, pack light snacks to eat before your matches if you are on weight. Raisins, fresh fruit, nuts, and Clif Bars are healthy options that won’t upset the stomach and provide sustaining energy for your matches.

Bring your ID – You will need to have your ID card to check in to the tournament, when you weigh-in, and for the scorekeeper’s table next to your mat. So keep it handy and accessible in your bag or have it on a lanyard. Just don’t forget it at home.

Bring your iPod with a programmed playlist – An iPod can be a life saver on your competition day. Having music can help get you in the right mood, help you warm up, and channel out all of the noise in the bullpen when you are waiting to compete. Create a play list of songs that motivates you, gets you excited and ready for battle.

Pack a sweat suit and dri-fit gear in your gym bag– A hoodie sweat shirt and dri-fit gear will come in handy if you need to cut weight and during your warm ups. Warming up initially in a sweat suit instead of a gi will prevent your gi from getting weighed down by sweat especially if you have to weigh-in in the gi. Once you are warmed up, change into your gi for the weigh-ins.

Arrive at the venue 3 hours before you compete – Arriving early will help alleviate any stress from potential traffic jams and long check-in lines, and allow you to get acclimated to the venue. Some competitors like to arrive as a team and watch other competitors compete before their own matches. Others, who are close to weight, prefer to rest at home and arrive just in time for their own matches. It come down to your own team’s policies and your preferences that day.

Test weigh in – Right when you get to the venue, do a test weigh-in to see where you stand. If you are on or under weight, rest and relax. If you are slightly overweight, you will need to go for a short run or jump rope to get your weight down

Have a warm up routine planned out – Know your body and what type of warm up routine works best for you. Talk to your coaches about how and when you should warm up for a tournament. This is highly overlooked, especially at the white belt level. You want to make sure you are sweating and past your first wind by the time you step on the mat for your first match.

Have somebody record your matches – Make sure you have a friend and family member available to record your matches. Also give them clear directions on how to operate your camera or phone just to avoid getting your matches recorded in portrait format, when you wanted them recorded in landscape or not recorded at all

Be respectful to your opponents and referees– When you are on deck at your mat, do not enter the mat until the referee signals for you to step on the mat. Bow towards the referee before stepping on the mat. Shake the referee’s hand as well as your opponent’s hand. Before the match starts, bow towards your opponent and you can extend your hand to slap hands and fist bump. During the match, do not speak to your opponent or the referee. This can result in a penalty or a disqualification. Once the match is over, bow and shake hands with your opponent and the referee again and bow towards the mat before stepping off of it.

Your opponents’ grips will feel like a vice lock – Competing in a tournament and rolling in class are two completely different animals. The adrenaline and excitement from both you and your opponent will be very apparent when you grip fight. Your opponent’s grips will feel like the grips of a silverback gorilla. Stay calm and remember what you trained in practice and what you must do. Remember your fundamentals and techniques and have fun out there.

Stick around for the podium – Some tournaments have a match to determine the third place finishers. Others award two third place medals. If you do lose in the semi-finals, stick around until the end and go to the podium to receive your medal. It is very disrespectful to the other competitors who made the podium to no show the medal ceremony at the podium. Go to the podium for the picture and congratulate your fellow competitors for a job well done.

Learning is greater than winning – There is no losing in Jiu Jitsu, only winning and learning. If the day didn’t go your way, no worries. Review your matches, take notes and share them with your coaches. Learn from the mistakes you made in your preparation and your matches and work to refine them. Use the experience to grow and become better, regardless of the outcome. If the day, did not go your way, do not get discouraged. Just go back to the mats on Monday and continue to training and having fun!

I hope you guys have found this guide to be helpful. Best wishes in your first white belt tournament!


  1. Im 1 month new to BJJ and my 1st competition is in 2 weeks, I hope I can last without getting submitted first fight. I certainly don’t feel as prepare as the article say I should! I don’t think you can be 100% ready for first competition ever so I guess I will learn from that one 😀 Good article, thx

  2. TRain like ROCKY DID in ROCKY 4, roll with teammates as much as you can perfect basic techniques and counters . There are several things Ive created to increase cardio and oxygen saturation levels to avoid getting winded when you have a 230 lb guys knee. On bellly for two minutes .
    Controlling your breathing and using it effectively and in a zen like state while remaining calm and above all FOCUSED.
    Work on take downs , foot locks and trasistions to submissions . One thing that is not mentioned is trim your nails ( judges will inspect ) and use proper hygine , deodorant and clean teeth .
    To perform like a champion you must act and perform like one .

    Ad good luck Oss


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