At the Jiu-Jitsu Times, reader questions help us remain useful to the community that supports us. If you ever have a question, feel free PM us on Facebook, and I will do my best to cover it in an upcoming post. I recently received the following questions about staying calm at competitions from one of my readers, Josh:
Josh: I have noticed in all your competition pics you seem to be always smiling, joking and having fun. How do you keep such a light hearted attitude when you are about to fight? I am new to Jiu-Jitsu completions. I’ve won some small events (Newbreed etc…) but will be doing some bigger ones this year. I feel like my fitness is good but I am still gassing out in matches. My coach keeps telling me to relax more but I don’t find that very easy. Any tips?
The Jiu-Jitsu Times: For starters, the best way to get good at competing is competing. There’s very little mental preparation that you can do for competition outside of actually attending competitions.
I will be entirely candid: I don’t know if my method/mindset is right. I consider myself a lower mid-tier purple belt competitor. I can submit hobbyists through the black belt level, but I’ve had the opportunity to roll with high level purple belt competitors and I am not currently on their level. That’s just the truth.
At a certain point, I threw caution to the wind and started competing regularly – once a month, sometimes more. The more I competed, the less nervous I was. Think about when you first started training; chances are you’d get a little bit jittery just heading to the gym. Think about when/if you first started going to other gyms’ open mats; same thing. Competition amplifies this sensation.
The easiest way for me to relax and remain calm when I go to competition is to distract myself from the fact that I’m at a competition. I find people I know and we chat about anything. I’ve gone as far as to leave the venue until about 10 minutes before I know I’ll be up. The less I think about jiu-jitsu competition at a jiu-jitsu competition, the more relaxed I wind up being when I do step on the mat. I’m not saying this is what everyone, or for that matter anyone, should do, but it’s what I do.
Another big thing for me is that I smile and laugh, which helps me stay calm. I force myself to joke around. If I’m there with teammates, I might flow roll if there’s space to do so just to distract myself. All of the preparation, strategizing, drilling, rolling that I did leading up to the tournament should suffice. If I need to do anything other than warm-up and roll at a competition, I’m late to the game and woefully under-prepared.
I do my best to not worry about the outcome. Again, not something that I recommend for anyone else to do, but I actually tell myself that the outcome is predetermined and that I’m just there for the ride. I don’t worry about winning or losing. I’m just there to roll. The result is that I am far less worried and tense than many of my opponents.
The benefits of this are that I am able to really absorb what is happening during matches. Win, lose, or draw I am able to learn something in the moment. Because I attend so many smaller in-school tournaments and local/regional events, I am able to use those as opportunities to work on my breathing and heart rate rather than field technique. Ideally I want both to remain at baseline.
Another big thing is to breathe. I know this sounds stupid —“Of course I’m breathing; I’d be dead if I weren’t.”— but monitor and gauge your breath. Take deep breaths. When people get nervous they tense up and their breathing becomes irregular. Taking deep measured breaths helps with this.
For anyone else reading this, what are your methods of staying calm? Have you tried any of what I’ve written here?