Overcome BJJ Competition Day Nervousness in 11 Simple Steps

Home » Overcome BJJ Competition Day Nervousness in 11 Simple Steps

I’m generally not a very nervous person. Or at least that’s how it seems to me. Nevertheless, I have felt the “butterflies in the stomach” sensation prior to BJJ competitions. And I have tried various methods to smooth out the nervousness of competition day. These feelings are only natural and can be alleviated with a few simple tips listed below. Although it must be noted that you can only control, not totally eliminate these sensations.

As Jiu-Jitsu competitions can stretch out throughout the whole day, there is no real order in which these tips could be applied. Just take some mental notes and try them out whenever it’s best for you.

Visualize And Make A Game Plan

According to research, visualization can work wonders on your brain. Neurons, the cells that transmit information from one part of the brain to another can interpret imagery as real-life action. In short – our brains can be tricked a little to confuse reality with visualization. So always visualize positive outcomes and it might just give your brain that much needed boost of confidence before your Jiu-Jitsu match.

Visualize and make a game plan. It will help you prepare for the various situations you might be put in.

That being said, I’ve found it equally useful to visualize bad positions and getting out of them. Everyone has a few positions they really don’t like to be put in. So go over yours and visualize your escape moves with a positive result i.e you reversing the bad position. Also the mistakes you could be making or have made in the gym getting out of these positions. And don’t forget to visualize all this with a positive ending. If done properly, this will give you a boost of confidence for sure.

Breathe, Breathe And Breathe

The human body is a complex machine which mostly runs on food and air (to put it simply). So it’s only natural you give it as much oxygen as possible. I suggest looking up some relaxing breathing techniques before your actual BJJ competition. And putting them to the test on the day of the competition.

One of the many variants of relaxing breathing techniques is the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique (also known as the Relaxing Breath) developed by Dr. Andrew Weil. It’s relatively simple set of small, timed breathing exercises stringed together. So it can be done almost anywhere and is especially suitable for Jiu-Jitsu tournaments. And a bonus, it takes very little effort and time.

Few Small Tricks Which Are Helpful With 4-7-8 Breathing

  • First, place the tip of your tongue against the back of your front teeth, or a little higher, whichever is more comfortable for you
  • Pucker or contract your lips while exhaling. This will produce a “woosh” sound which might call some unnecessary attention. So best find somewhere quiet and without many people around when you first test it out.

Simplified Version Of This Technique;

  1. Empty your lungs
  2. Breathe in slowly through the nose for 4 seconds
  3. Hold your breath for 7 seconds, counting the numbers in your head.
  4. Exhale strongly and with tightened lips and making a “whoosh” sound, for ~8 seconds
  5. Repeat the steps up to 4 times

Side note: Same technique can be applied and is recommended to try out on sleeping disorders, managing cravings, controlling or reducing anger responses.

Be Confident In Your Training

This part is pretty self explanatory. You have done all you can to get ready for the competition. You’ve already been to all of the worst positions you can be, what’s the worst that can happen? These are just a few examples of the mental exercises going through my mind before Jiu-Jitsu competition. 

On competition day be sure to remind yourself that you’ve done all you possibly can to get ready. And there is no merit in doubting yourself.

Although this might seem like a pretty obvious thought process, on the day of the competition every bit of wisdom can be lost due to nervousness. So it’s important to take not of these little mantras and keep them playing in the back of your head.

Listen To Your Favorite Music 

You’ve probably seen many competing athletes, not just in Jiu-Jitsu, wear headphones before the event. Music is an excellent distraction for the nerves, but far too often overlooked. On many occasions I have forgotten my headphones before competition. And needless to say, I really regretted it.

Don’t forget your earphones. This can help you get some much needed quiet time for visualization before your competition.

I’m sure this advice has been hammered over and over, but it just cannot be stressed (pun intended) enough. Music has a very special connection to our brains. And if you are like most people, it will help you relax before a Jiu-Jitsu match. Just have to find the right tunes. Of course choice of music is up to you. And probably some experimentation is needed, till you find something suitable. 

I would definitely try out a selection of music and make a playlist in the days or weeks running up to the event. You don’t want to start dabbling around your music library on the day of the competition. Everything should be prepared and you just need to press play.

Binaural Beats – It Has Helped Me A Lot!

Binaural beats are a form of treatment for various mental states, such as anxiety, stress, etc. Years ago, before a Jiu-Jitsu tournament, when I first discovered this method by accident. I couldn’t believe it either, but gave it a shot. I still use this method to this day and urge you to give it a try. Couldn’t hurt right?

Tip: For best results you should consider quality headphones. It has been stated that the earphone frequency response should be at least 20 hz – 20 khz (but better than that is great). Altho I’ve tested with various different level headphones. And even the entry level generic Bluetooth ones seemed to do the job just fine.

Podcasts – Two In One

Two in one – Consuming valuable information or relaxing entertainment plus keeping you from being nervous. I’ve experimented with podcasts and on occasion they have worked great. It’s just hard to find a compelling podcast which I haven’t already listened to. 

I would suggest podcasts with a bit of a humorous undertone. This might sound like a cliche, but Joe Rogan is probably gonna have something to everyone’s taste. And you might get some occasional BJJ talk from him as well, as he’s a black belt under the legendary Master Jean Jacques Machado. Another great option is “Making Sense Podcast” by Sam Harris. Albeit this can sometimes get a little overwhelming. As he truly is an intellectual black belt (also a BJJ blue belt I believe) and at times hard to grasp without a little pause. Main thing is to find something interesting so it’s easy to immerse yourself in the podcast.

Win Or Learn Mindset

This Nelson Mandela quote has often times been used in Jiu-Jitsu/MMA circles. And rightfully so. As Jiu-Jitsu is a competitive combat sport, someone always has to deal with the latter part of the quote – learning.

If you particularly fear losing (underlying reasons for anxiety might vary) when it comes to BJJ tournaments, here are some thoughts to consider. First off, if you lose one of your matches, you will learn a lot more than winning the whole tournament. Although who can argue with winning. So take it with a grain of salt as losing is definitely a consolation prize, but a prize nonetheless. You just have to tweak your mindset a little.

I browsed through Royler Gracie Biography and came across a related bit of fun motivational wisdom. It’s been stated there that Helio Gracie (his father) would encourage Royler to compete with a little bit unusual incentive – win, you get 5 dollars, lose and 10 dollars. Or something very close to that affect. So this mindset has been around from the beginning of Jiu-Jitsu.

Always visualize yourself winning. This can give your brain a boost of confidence.

Everyone Is Focusing On Themselves

The sooner you realize that everyone comes to the Jiu-Jitsu competition primarily for themselves, the easier is to relax. No one has time to think about other people, much less scrutinize your match. Of course there might be your teammates and other spectators who really have come to cheer you on. But for the most part other competitors are just trying to cope with the same feelings as you are. So look around, take a deep breath and think about that for a second. Trust me this helps. 

Cheer On Your Teammates

In Jiu-Jitsu you have training partners who have helped you prepare for the competition. Chances are these same teammates are there and competing as well. Depending on the school, only coaches are supposed to corner you. But if you come from a smaller Jiu-Jitsu gym, or your coaches have not taken the trip with you, there is nothing wrong with cheering on and/or cornering for your teammate. 

Cheering on your teammates can be a welcome distraction in during competition day. Not to mention a well received help for teammates.

So giving small instructions or calling out the time left in the match for your teammate can be valuable to both. Your teammate will appreciate the help and you get to keep your mind off whatever it is that makes you nervous about the Jiu-Jitsu competition.

Warming Up As A Distraction

Warming up before matches gives you little time to be nervous. And is quite possibly the best pastime in Jiu-Jitsu competitions. Helping each other getting ready for competition will give your mind a much needed rest from nervousness. As an additional benefit, a couple of light warm-up rolls give you one last opportunity to go over your skill set and remind yourself that you’re ready. 

Tip: It’s also important to point out that you should plan your warm-up right away when getting to the venue. Jiu-Jitsu tournaments can be a hectic environment with fluctuating timetables for the upcoming matches. There have been few occasions where I’ve gotten little or no time to warm up. All due to not preparing my schedule properly.

Explore The Venue And Look Around

I’ve found this advice to be extra useful at larger Jiu-Jitsu events. Depending on the venue, there are probably many new places to explore besides the locker room or main area. Put on your headphones and just walk around the venue or listen to you favorite music playlist or podcast. I would keep the pace nice and easy, no nervous pacing around. If you see yourself pacing, just notice it, take a deep breath and slow yourself down again.

This nervous jumping/pacing around that can occasionally be seen in BJJ competitions, is in my opinion a waste of energy and can induce more anxiety than relaxation.

Tweak Your Mindset About The Competition

If you have an obsessive mind like I do, this part can be tricky. The gist of the idea is not to put too much weight on the outcome of the Jiu-Jitsu tournament. At the end of the day, it’s just a tournament and there is much more to life than winning or losing a Jiu-Jitsu match. Although yes, undoubtedly losing can be a little uncomfortable. 

It’s not so much about winning or losing as the journey itself. Although winning certainly feels much better, Jiu-Jitsu is about doing what you love. And remember, you have chosen to be there!

I’ve probably used this thought process more in the beginning, back when I just started competing in martial arts. I remember distinctly this technique being a valuable tool to control my thoughts and nervousness.

Try To Keep Your Morning Uneventful

I understand this can be easier said than done, but every little thing helps. Especially if you’re away from home in a unfamiliar city. However, if you have a particular morning routine, keep it in tact. Every new sensation and experience will just drain your batteries even more if you’re nervous about the upcoming Jiu-Jitsu tournament.

Competition day is definitely not the day to be testing out new foods or supplements. Keep your morning as uneventful as possible to keep new sensations to a minimum. This will keep you from any unnecessary and unexpected added stress to deal with. Plan out your morning the day before i.e. commute to the venue and other morning activities you might have. Visualize if you will.

Conclusion And Final Thoughts

Mental aspect of your Jiu-Jitsu game is just as important as physical, so keep the two in synergy and take care of your mind as well. By understanding and acknowledging your nervousness, you alleviate the burden, so try to pay close attention to these sensations and symptoms. The more you understand them, the easier it is to deal with these uncomfortable nervous feelings . Eventually this allows you to perform at a higher level without worrying too much about these issues.

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