Competing in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu isn’t as simple as just „going out there“ and „giving your best“. Sure, it’s important to enjoy the experience and have fun; but if you want to create results, then you have to put in a bit more effort. And not just into the competition itself, but the training prior to it as well as the mental preparation.
That is to say: if you want to achieve, you can’t just think about training as hard as possible. You have to be smart about it.
Most of the people that you ask for advice will say you need a game plan. Unfortunately, most of the “competitors” that tell you this don’t really know what an actual game plan is or what it even means. Having a game plan means that you have an actual “plan” on how to achieve your goal.
Get the takedown, pass their guard, and submit them is not a game plan’ it’s a wish. You need to develop a mental roadmap of exactly what you will do in every position that could present itself to you. You need to know exactly how you are going to get to the ground, takedown or guard-pull.
What exactly are you going to do when you get in guard, half-guard, or side-control? More importantly, what exactly are you going to do if “you” get taken down or get put in bad position? This is where the having a legitimate plan will make things easier for you during the competition.
The mental stress of competition, especially your first one, can really run you down and make you exhausted. If you have to continuously think of what to do next, you will end up tiring out, or worse yet, getting one step behind your opponent.
Cardio is very important when you decided to start competing. Most guys do powerlifting or body weights but completely forget about cardio which helps to sustain the energy for the rounds of sparring.
Some people enjoy running, some cycling, but I recommend you to try rope jumping. 20 Minutes of rope jumping equals 1 hour of running! How does it sound? After 2 weeks I power through the 3 rounds with ease and was hungry for a 4th, moreover I lost around 2 kilos of fat and started feeling generally fitter. Jump rope has always been a staple workout for boxers but who said BJJ guys can’t get the benefits of this type of excersise.
This falls under the same category as the game plan. Just about every competitor you talk to will tell you, “relax and clear your mind”. This is easy, in theory, but how can you possibly relax with all of the nerves of your first competition? Breath. You need to breathe. Not just random breaths, but patterned diaphragm breathing.
One of the best classes that I ever had in college explained all of the types of breathing and their effect on stress and relaxation. Throughout competition day try to inhale through your nose for about four seconds; I mean “really” inhale. Completely fill your lungs and then exhale through your mouth for about eight more seconds. Completely empty your lungs.
Concentrate on your breathing patterns and focus on positive thoughts. Think about why you will win, why you can’t lose, or your opening move. This practice can really help you to relax and prepare for the mental part of competition.
This goes hand-in-hand with “relax”. Once you are able to keep the nerves at bay and relax, visualizing the match will really prepare your mindset to compete. While it may sound weird at first, it is a skill that is used by professional and Olympic athletes all over the world.
After you have taken a few relaxing breaths, start to focus on your upcoming match. It would play out just like a movie in your mind. Picture yourself stepping on the mat and touching hand with your opponent. Visually put yourself into the positions that may occur during any given match.
When using visualization to prepare your mindset for competition, it is important to only visualize positive experiences and outcomes. Never let the vision of you giving up points, submissions, or losing enter your mind.
Visualization can be done when you’re standing on the side of the mat, waiting to compete. It can be done in the bleachers earlier in the day. It can also be performed a day, or even a week, before you ever compete. This technique does require a little bit of practice, but once you can begin to focus your thoughts, you will really be able to prepare yourself mentally.
You may be wondering how a warm-up can help prepare your mindset for competition; isn’t a warm-up performed to help physical preparation? A warm-up can help improve more than just the physical aspects of competing. A good warm-up will also help put your wandering mind at ease.
During your first competition, your mind will be racing and trying to process all of the things that are going on during the day. Nervousness is inevitable, but if you perform a warm-up that you have completed many times before, it will provide you with some familiarity, comfort, and take your mind off of the stress of the day.
You will want to concentrate on the warm up and nothing else. Again, it should be one that you have performed many times before.
Remember, the goal is to eliminate thinking too much and reduce stress. I’m sure that you perform a long (and sometimes endless) warm-up before each BJJ class. Try to emulate this warm-up as much as possible.
This is a description of how World class judoka and BJJ black belt Travis Stevens gets ready mentally for all his competitions and his matches. Very good advice here: