For anyone who has competed in any sport, the sensation of winning or losing is a very distinct one. I’m not here to disparage winners or losers, or indeed the idea that there should be winners or losers.
I simply want to explore a different approach to how we look at winning and losing in sport, particularly with reference to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
Firstly, I would like to say that I am a big proponent of the learning process behind competing. Regardless of the outcome, with the right mindset anyone can learn valuable lessons from competing.
In saying that, I also believe that a competitor should always aim to win. Especially in a martial arts context, losing means you would be dead were this not a controlled competition. At times it can be difficult to consolidate these two perspectives, as they sit on either end of the spectrum when it comes to viewing your performance(s).
With that out of the way, I would like to explore how to adopt a constructive approach towards competing, regardless of which end of that spectrum you gravitate towards.
Outcomes are less important than we perceive.
At the core of competition, we are competing with a set outcome in mind: to win. In my opinion, this outcome is not as important as we perceive it to be.
I have had many conversations with first time competitors about why they have decided to compete. None of them (in BJJ at least) were focused on winning a medal as an outcome. Almost every first time competitor I have spoken to has decided to compete with the goal of improvement, testing out their skills or challenging themselves in mind. Every one of those that articulated such goals, regardless of winning or losing, has become a better grappler or person from their experience.
When we have a concrete, fixed goals in our mind, such as “I want to finish first.”, it is very easy to be disappointed when any outcome other than the one we wanted occurred.
When we begin to set more abstract, growth oriented goals, such as “I want to get x technique to work.” or “My goal is to not get submitted.” we create far more opportunities for ourselves to learn. We begin to take away more valuable lessons to reflect upon after competing, regardless of the result.
Do it again.
A lot of practitioners or instructors encourage students to try and compete “at least once.” In my opinion as an educator, once does not provide a sufficient opportunity to learn or receive feedback that leads to improvement. This is like sitting a test once; whether you pass or fail, you don’t get another chance to improve or to try again. Regardless of whether you win or lose, do it again.
Persistence is key and challenging ourselves regularly promotes growth. This goes beyond a conversation about ‘resting on your laurels’ or being turned off from competing because of one bad experience. Do it again. It’s hard to get something right the first time and even if you do, how will you know the extent of your successes unless you try again?
If you want to improve quickly, compete as often as you can. That is still some of the best advice I’ve still ever been given about my own martial arts practice to date. I was told this early on by one of my first coaches, Sam Belkin, who is also a successful commonwealth games wrestler. Create more opportunities to learn and you cannot fail to learn.
No one cares, except for you.
A lot of people struggle to deal with the pressure or stress of competition, and justifiably so. Competition is intense, demanding and often very far outside of our comfort zone. The best advice I have received about this was that no one, except for you, cares.
Unless you are competing at the highest level in the world for your chosen discipline, the likelihood of anyone except for you caring about the outcome in the future is pretty low. I don’t mean this in a negative way; I simply mean to provide you with an objective way of removing the anxiety of your upcoming performance. Whether you lose in the first round in humiliating fashion, or have the craziest run to the finals and pull a win out of your ass, people’s lives are going to go on just as they did before. You should be going out there for yourself and no one else.
Of course your team mates will be happy for you, your family will be proud and your social media will be afire with praise and congratulations, but all of that is fleeting and eventually you will be back in the training room grinding and sweating again just like everyone else.
Competing isn’t for everyone, that is okay. Some of us have severe injuries, busy lives and other priorities and that is what makes our martial art so diverse. Even if you don’t compete or practice a martial art, I think that these approaches can be practiced in other walks of life too. Too often we become absorbed by outcomes and forget to draw value from the process.
The more opportunities you create for yourself to learn, the more opportunities you are creating to improve as a person, athlete or artist.
Thanks for reading.