Your First Tournament: What Goals Should You Set?

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Photo by James Clingerman. Used with permission.

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 Part 1 of this multi-part post, I will summarize their advice on competing, and specifically: what goals should someone set for their first tournament experience?*

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

Photo by James Clingerman. Used with permission.

Winning vs. Learning

One goal that was the first on everyone’s mind but the very last on their priority list was winning. At your first tournament, you may not win. There are a lot of factors — nerves, uncomfortable effects of weight cuts, the hectic and noisy environment, lack of confidence, etc. — that may contribute to a loss. That type of loss may have nothing to do with your skill, so it’s a mistake to overthink it!

You may also lose for “legit” reasons — maybe you have been training too casually and your skills and cardio are not up to snuff. Fine! Now you know what to do better. These seasoned coaches agreed that, just like when you roll at your home school, you should try not to fixate on winning. Instead, fixate on learning. You do not need to win in order to learn (and sometimes you learn more from losing).

Awkwaaaaaard
I’m not going to lie. Watching recordings of your matches is frickin’ awkward, especially if you bit it during your fight. But do it.

Getting Used to Analyzing Your Game

Many people never see a video of themselves grappling until their first tournament, and there’s no two ways about it — watching videos of yourself is awkward. It’s extra awkward if you lose horribly (ask me how I know!).

However, all four discussants agreed that serious competitors watch videos of their fights, and you should, too. Why? When you’re fighting, especially in a high-pressure environment with lots of adrenaline, everything is a blur. Videos allow you to see exactly what happened, which allows you to learn as much as possible from your fight. The only way to get comfortable watching yourself on tape is to do it as much as possible.

In the next post, I’ll talk about two more productive goals to set when heading into your first tournament.

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Acacia Parks Mo
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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