Your First Tournament: What Goals Should You Set? (Part 2)

Photo credited to James Clingerman

I recently had the privilege of attending the 4th Fight Hub Women’s Only Grappling Camp, where three world class instructors — Michelle Nicolini (8x world Champion and BJJ black belt), Rachel Casias (Multi-Time Pan and World Champion and BJJ black belt), and Angela Marino (black belt in Judo and brown in BJJ with international victories in both) — participated in a Q&A, along with Fight Hub co-owner and BJJ purple belt AJ Clingerman, also a seasoned competitor. In the second and final part of my article, I will summarize their advice on competing, and specifically: what goals should someone set for their first tournament?*

*The advice comes from a group of women, but is applicable to men, too, of course!

In the last post, we talked about the importance of setting the goal to learn above all other goals. We also talked about the awkwardness that comes with analyzing your fight videos. Next, we will talk about two more important goals that you should consider setting for your first tournament.

Finding Holes in Your Game

You may go into tournament feeling solid about your open guard play, only to have your opponent blow past a hole in your defense. You may even lose as a result. As much as mistakes sting (especially when you have to watch the video!), the discussants all agreed that it is important to frame mistakes as an opportunity to improve.

When you are thinking to yourself, “Aghhhh I hate this guy/girl for tapping me!” consider this alternative interpretation: your opponent has done you a tremendous service by showing you a hole in your game. You could have kept training bad habits for months before you learned a change was needed! Your opponent saved you from that! Tournaments are a great way to find holes in your game. If you go to a tournament with the goal of testing yourself in different positions, you are likely to walk away feeling like you succeeded.

Just remember — for every amazing less-than-60-second tournament win, there’s someone else who has to deal with the fact that they got submitted in less than 60 seconds.

Getting Exposure/Experience

The first time some people compete, they experience an adrenaline dump. They report that their mind goes completely blank. They get frustrated with their performance as a result. Although the discussants had varied experiences with this, most agreed that the best way to overcome competition nerves is to compete. A lot. With exposure, you will better learn to manage the fear response (at least the version of it that impedes performance rather than enhancing it). Even if the only thing you gain from your first competition is the ability to keep your nerves in check next time, you’ve gained a lot.

In Closing

Many people talk themselves out of competing because they worry that they will not win. However, you have reasons to compete that have nothing to do with whether or not you win (though winning is always fun). Michelle Nicolini said that when she competes, her hope is to leave the mat feeling like she belonged at the competition. She can do that whether she wins or not. And all of the competitors agreed that no matter how good you are, you are going to lose sometimes… so find a way for your losses to propel you forward rather than hold you back.

Many thanks to the discussion panel for providing the material and inspiration for my first blog at Jiu-Jitsu Times!

Photo credited to James Clingerman

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Acacia Parks Mo began training BJJ in early 2015 and is now a blue belt. She trains under Jason Williard at JW BJJ in Ravenna, OH and Jeff Starr at Griffonrawl Combat Sports & Fitness in Mentor, OH. She's had the privilege of learning from Pedro Sauer, Henry Akin, Kurt Osiander, Mike Bidwell, Michelle Nicolini, Rachel Casias, and many others. As a woman in BJJ, and someone who was obese, horribly out of shape, not particularly aggressive, and well over 30 when she started training, Acacia has a lot to say about taking the non-traditional training path. She lives in NE Ohio with her husband, CS, and her 4-year-old, Cassie, both of whom also train, and when she is not training, she loves to Scuba and is Chief Scientist for a New York-based tech startup called Happify.


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