Competition Mindset: The Do’s & Don’ts

Participating in competition provides a huge opportunity to receive some important  feedback about your Jiu-jitsu. Competing helps to sharpen the blade in a way that not even highly demanding training can; you will find out very quickly what works and what doesn’t.

More importantly, you will also learn a lot about yourself; how you deal with stress, how you deal with winning & losing and how to develop strategy & positive training habits. Competition can offer all of these things to the practitioner who adopts the correct mindset for competing. There are some Do’s & Don’ts for developing a good mindset for competition, this article will take a closer look at some of these and hopefully help you develop a mental edge going into your next competition experience. 

In one of my first ever competitions, I found myself without my team mates or coaches competing in a different city. I felt anxious, my thoughts were scattered and I couldn’t focus. A friend of mine was able to make it down to watch, he shared some choice words with me that really changed the way I looked at competition for the better.

He said to me, “I know you’re nervous and the stakes seem high, but just remember that whether you win everything or lose within a minute; no-one is going to care about this except you.” His words were not meant to be hurtful, but the sentiment was far more important than that. He went on to explain what he meant; in a week, a month or a year from now, no-one is going to remember who won or what happened at some competition except for you. We create the importance of an event, we can stress ourselves out by making something seem like bigger deal than it really is. This leads into the first Don’t…

Don’t build a narrative that makes the situation more important than it actually is. 

The likelihood is that, in reality, you winning or losing one competition is not going to change the world. So many times we create an inflated sense of ‘gravity’; giving the situation far more importance than it actually deserves. You need to understand that the only people that will care are still going to forget about it eventually. The weight of the world does not rest on your shoulders, you’re either going to win and carry on with your life, or you’re going to lose and carry on with your life.

At some point, I started thinking about competition like a stressful seminar. You’re paying to enter a competition to test yourself and learn, it’s important to keep that at the forefront of your mind. A medal is just a piece of metal, it’s the experience and the lessons you learn that have the real value.With that in mind, here is a Do…

Do think of a competition as a learning opportunity

Let’s assume you’ve been preparing well for your competition. You’ve been working on your cardio, developing your strength, watching your weight and developing an ironclad game plan. You get to the day of, you compete and you win. Even if you take out the gold, you still have many things to take back to work on in the gym; sharpen up that game plan, push your cardio further and reflect on what worked and what didn’t.

If you lost, you have more to learn from. So it wasn’t your day, that’s okay. Get back to the gym and work on that strategy, work on whatever it was that let you down on the day. Be grateful you hard hard opponents that have exposed weaknesses for you to fix. It should be as simple as that; don’t think that on the day of the competition that you’re suddenly going to be blasting out perfect technique, never gassing out and dismantling your opponents without the right preparation. You’ve got to sharpen your blade from every angle until it is perfect. This means learning and reflecting on your errors and successes alike. So win or lose, you’re going to learn something. That leads into a big Do…

Do go in with the intention to win:

The whole “win or learn” conversation is bound to come up. We have to accept loss. We can’t just pass off loss with the “there is no losing, only learning”, because that normalizes a less than favorable outcome. We are not putting in the time, effort, preparation and planning just go and lose. Go into a competition with the intention of winning. Sure, losing sucks and feels bad, but use that to motivate you when you get back in the gym! Remember that at its heart, Jiu-jitsu is a martial art and we are training to learn how to better defend ourselves in a realistic way. In real fights, there is certainly a winner and a loser. I know other prolific coaches and practitioners have talked about this at length recently, but you can’t learn from a fight if that entails you being knocked out, choked unconscious or beaten within an inch of your life. Protect yourself first and foremost, then learn to overcome an opponent.

Additionally, aim to win completely: don’t just look to edge your opponent out on points, or beat them on a technicality. Submit your opponent. Leave no question (in your mind, or those of others) about your ability. In modern competition, we have points, time limits and a referee, but take away those variables. If you can take away anything from this article, make it this: the less variables you have to contend with, the more sure your path to victory is. We can control ourselves and remove variables through effective practice and execution. This can only come with good, thorough preparation, which leads us into another Don’t…

Don’t go in unprepared:

This seems so obvious, yet so many of us are still guilty of being unprepared. Be prepared to win, be prepared to lose. Be prepared to get submitted and be prepared to submit. Preparation is mental as well as physical. So many high level fighters (be it MMA or BJJ) put in all the physical work, but are sometimes not able to pull their head into the right space on the day and flounder as a result. Preparation is crucial. You have to remove yourself from the process and accept that preparing is going to be hard. I’ve heard every excuse “Oh I don’t need to do that because…” “That’s not part of my game plan…” “I don’t have to worry about x because I’m just gonna do y…” Shut up and train! No plan is perfect, you can never be too prepared and you’re never too good to work hard. Make your training meaningful and productive, don’t over-train leading up to a competition, train sensibly and completely avoid the next Don’t…

Don’t cut weight:

This is one I can’t stress enough. You don’t have to cut weight like you’re an MMA fighter. Eat well, train well and fight at your natural weight! Resisting, fighting and submitting an opponent who is out to choke you unconscious or break your limbs is hard enough, don’t disadvantage yourself by hammering your body to make a lower weight class. Some people have this idea that by dropping a weight class that they are going to have an easier time of it, we couldn’t be more wrong. Train and fight at your natural weight; you will feel stronger, faster and better than if you spend the weeks leading up to a competition draining your body of much needed nutrition. That leads me into the final Do…

Do trust in your Jiu-jitsu:

Think about why you started Jiu-jitsu in the first place. The Art of Jiu-jitsu has a way of showing you who you really are in a way I have never seen in another sporting discipline. Reflect on your journey so far… are you the same person as you were when you started? Has it improved your life in some way? What have you learned?

We need to understand that this martial art is so much more than a medal on a podium. You have been learning skills and developing yourself into a better person. No win or loss is going to change that. Go into competitions with the confidence of knowing that you, your training partners & coaches and even your opponents are sharing a journey through Jiu-jitsu and helping to shape one another’s journeys.

I could wax on about this forever. I am fascinated by the meta- approaches that the martial arts demands from us. In both physical and mental senses, the Art drags us into an infinite process of learning; of action and reaction, cause and effect, problem and solution, failure and success. When we let go of our ego and start to develop a mindset that the Art demands, we begin to find success on and off the mats.

The only thing a medal should be is an indicator of progress and the efforts that you have put in. In my mind, the greatest victories lie within the journey itself and not at any given end. Embrace the grind, shift your mindset and learn to let go of superficial successes that tie us to fleeting and shallow happiness; this is the real gold to aspire to in our Art.


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