Competing for the first time in BJJ is a nerve-wracking experience. The high-level athletes you’ve probably watched make it look so easy, but in reality, putting it all on the line involves a lot of physical and mental stress you don’t experience in day-to-day training.
While there’s a lot that goes on at BJJ tournaments and you should always expect the unexpected, here are five things you should anticipate in the lead-up to your first competition:
1. You’ll tire out quickly. Very quickly. Between the adrenaline rush that comes with competing and the extra effort you put forth when a gold medal is on the line, you’re likely to tire out in competition much faster than you do in regular day-to-day training. With time, you’ll learn how to conserve your energy and regulate your breathing, but don’t be surprised if you feel very out of shape after your first five-minute match is done. The nerves and extra exertion can also make your stomach feel like it’s being tied into a knot. While this nausea can’t always be prevented, it helps to stay hydrated and eat foods that are easy to digest. Go vomit if you need to, but generally, this queasiness will eventually pass.
2. Your jiu-jitsu will probably not be at its best. Some people thrive in competition from the get-go, but most of us have to struggle against nervousness, adrenaline, and exhaustion. In your first competition, you may very well lose this battle, and even if your technique was on point the day before, you might find yourself forgetting techniques or making mistakes you’d never make in practice. The more you compete, the better you’ll be able to manage this, and eventually, you’ll be able to showcase your skills when it matters most.
3. Get there early and plan to be there late. Some tournaments manage to run exactly on schedule, but you should never make plans too close to the expected end time of the event. Similarly, the day of a tournament is not the time to risk sleeping in and arriving ten minutes before you’re scheduled to be up. Arrive well in advance of your expected start time, and be prepared to stay hours after you’re expected to finish.
4. It will be a team event. Jiu-jitsu is technically an individual sport. However, the team spirit will run strong at any tournament you compete in. If at all possible, be there not only for your own matches, but also to cheer on and support your teammates when they compete. Wear your academy shirt if you have one, and even if you aren’t experienced enough to help coach, be ready on the sidelines with water and encouragement as your teammates step off the mats.
5. All the stress and anxiety will be worth it. If “I don’t even want to do this” keeps repeating in your mind, don’t let it conquer your desire to test your skills for the first time. Everyone who’s a top-level competitor now has been in your shoes before, and ultimately, the experience was good enough for them to keep going back and doing it again. Win or lose, you’ll almost certainly look back on the experience favorably and chalk it up as a great memory and an important milestone in your jiu-jitsu journey.
Featured image by Trinity SP Photography