“Failing to plan is planning to fail.”– Alan Lakein.
The goal for any grappler is to be able to out grapple the most talented opponent. We put in hours of drilling and live training for the sake of developing our skill sets, but at the end of the day in any given bracket there is only one winner. Outside of the factors of toughness, physical attributes, and actual technical skills, strategy can play a major role in any sort of competition.
Strategy can be proactive or reactive. For example, if you are a wrestler, your strategy may be to take down and pin your opponent and then have a secondary strategy to submit them based on what they expose in trying to escape. That’s your proactive strategy.
However, what if the other guy is a better wrestler? You may then choose to pull guard and play that game. That’s would be reactive strategy.
One way to develop your strategy is to watch your opponent competing. This can be done in real time at the competition, or it can be done online if you know who is going to be in your bracket. As a rule, I look up my potential opponents weeks in advance. In the event that there is footage of them competing available online, I select training partners who most closely resemble the opponents’ styles.
One example of this from my own personal competition history. My first round draw in a tournament a couple of years ago was an actively competing judoka, so I made a point of almost instantly sitting guard. I lost the match, but not by takedown points! Similarly, I had an opponent that I watched pull guard in ever single match leading up to ours, so as soon as the match started I grabbed his pant leg and waited for him to pull guard. As a result I started the match up by two points (this counts as a takedown in many tournaments). Unfortunately I lost this match as well, but I had takedown points!
As you become more accustomed to the competition game, you can begin to develop strategies on the fly. You can begin to draw conclusions about a person’s game based on their stance, their choice of grips and their physical state. Also, if you compete frequently, you may have opportunities at rematches with opponents. In these instances you can use past experiences to develop better strategies for future matches.
Obviously, good strategy doesn’t replace good technique or good physical condition. However, good strategy can give a competitor an added advantage on the mat at a competition. Sometimes, good strategy means accepting a win by advantage or points rather than the most desirable outcome, which is by submission. Sometimes a good strategy is to blitz the opponent because you can tell by their demeanor that they don’t expect it from you.
What are some ways in which you strategize before matches in competition? How do you prepare to succeed?