BJJ competitors may develop extreme anxiety before competitions, sometimes to the point of getting physically sick a couple days before a big match. This is not the most auspicious way to tackle a big tournament, and will simply end up draining you of much-needed energy for performance and focus. Unhappiness, stress, and pressure are all normal emotions before the big “It” moment, so here are a few tips on how to remain calm and collected:
Anxiety, stress, nerves. Whatever you want to call it, these feelings normally kick in before the big day. Students who practice and work hard in order to succeed dream about themselves standing at the awards podium. However, when two fighters step on the mat, one is going to win, and the other is going to lose. That’s just the way it is. And perhaps that’s why the body goes into really bad panic mode — especially if a student is competing in their first competitions. It’s hard to consider losing, especially when the entire team is watching from the sidelines. But, the only real pressure is the one students put on themselves.
At some point in your development, stepping on the mat during a competition will eventually feel like another training session at the gym. That’s the goal you should keep in mind. The more one engages in tournaments, the more they get used to the stress, and find unique ways of dealing with it. So, a good way to tone down tournament anxiety, is to simply recognize it. As soon as it starts to manifest itself mentally and physically, simply acknowledge its presence. That just that may reduce your anxiety by half. If you don’t learn to control your stress, the brain will often loop in deceptive messages, making you so overwrought that you might start to completely blank out against an opponent. It’s at these moments that it’s really important to trust yourself and your training. Competitors might start to question their BJJ game on the whole, and put too much emphasis on the outcome of their match, setting up unrealistic expectations. Just like tests in school, it’s important to walk into the classroom with confidence — a state of mind that only comes with rigorous preparation.
Staying mellow on the day of the competition is what will also cut down on stress. Rushing and squeezing in a new technique in the 20 minutes before getting on the mat, is going to turn anyone into a crazed person. If the necessary preparation is done (and even if it’s not) there’s no reason to worry. Doing your best is really all that matters, and gaining something from the experience is even more valuable. What happens, happens.
Competing is mostly a mental exercise. Of course, thorough preparation, and strategic planning are factors that make tournaments what they are, but dealing with the emotions that come along with it, is a pretty difficult workout as well. Don’t dwell on outcomes. Close your eyes, and take long deep breaths in moments of intense tension. Focus on what you can control, and disregard what you can’t. It helps some people to write down what they are feeling, so making a list of one’s worries, and crossing them off those they can’t control is also a great way to remove any worries. You can’t control who your opponent might be, or if you will leave the mats injured or not, so shift your energy to dealing with the task presented to you, rather than prejudging the situation.
“Competing is one of the most nerve wracking and scary things for me,” says Keenan Cornelius. “At Worlds last year I threw up between every match. I feel my stomach drop every time I see the guy who I will fight next. My hands get clammy. My heart pounds and I can hear it in my ears every time I think about when I will be up. I feel nauseous when I see my friends and family watching me. I don’t want to disappoint them.”
But just before he steps on that mat, Cornelius takes control, and does a mental assessment about what’s really at stake in his game.
“‘All you have to do is fight your hardest.’” he tells himself. “And I remember I’m here to test myself and that all those other thoughts and feelings exist only in my own head. They aren’t real or tangible. The only thing that’s real is the moment. The instinct. The fight.”
They are words to remember.