Dealing with the stress of competition.


No matter what way you look at it and no matter how seasoned a competitor you may be, competition is stressful.  Many times we spend weeks, months, even years, all training for a single competition.  When you spend all this time preparing for a single event, you motivate yourself each day by reminding yourself of the approaching competition.  It’s no wonder why its so stressful when you finally arrive on the day of the tournament.

Many people claim to have the perfect routine or plan to combat the anxiety of competition, but I believe the right answer for you will be unique and different than anyone else’s.  Some people have a hard time staying too calm when they compete, while others find it difficult to settle down.  Some people say mantras over and over again, some people think it through, others try to completely clear their mind.  

I believe that the routine that works perfectly for you is something you have to find on your own, but I do have some tips that I have used to find my routine.

1. Compete.

My first tip isn’t much of a secret at all.  If you want to get better at competing you have to compete.  The more times you step on the mat in a competition setting, the more prepared you will be for the next time.  Take notes, pay attention to how you felt before, during, and after the tournament.  Did you get an adrenaline dump and gas out, did you stay awake all night too excited to sleep, did you skip your warm-up and get submitted in 30 seconds?  These are all questions that will provide you with valuable feedback you can use to fine tune your routine for next time.

2. Read sports pyschology books and follow people that inspire you.

I have personally found a good number of books that have helped me with my pre competition mindset.  Just to name a few : Bounce, A fighter’s mind, The art of learning, Mindset: the new psychology of success.  There are many other books, videos, interviews, and movies all with different people and the unique circumstances that have brought them to success.  Its easy to hear their stories and find little things in their own journey that can help inspire you, and even teach you how to think more clearly in the face of adversity.

3. Control the things you can, let go of those you can’t.

Those final days and hours leading up to a competition can be a true nightmare.  Sometimes it seems like everything goes wrong at once, your weight suddenly spikes up, your flight gets delayed, you forget something you need to compete, or your dog swallows a plunger and you have to take him to the vet (ok maybe this one is a little bit of a stretch…).  What I am trying to say is these last moments can often be hell on earth.  

However, some things we can control: Make a list and check it several times before you leave, make sure your weight is good in advance (and even do trial runs if you haven’t competed before), try to develop a routine, try to keep your mind occupied (see a movie, play video games, visit family), take an epsom salt bath.  All these things can ease your anxiety and help you relax before you compete.  

If your baggage gets lost, you get robbed on your way to the venue, or if you lose your ID card, try not to panic.  These are all things you cannot control, its very important to have a clear mind when you step on the mat, try to let things roll off of you when you are a day out from a competition, you can always deal with these things AFTER you compete.

All of these things have helped me be in the right state of mind for competition.  I like to follow my packing and preparing routine, but I always tell myself to expect everything to go wrong leading up to my first match so I am prepared to let it slip by.  I try to keep my mind off of BJJ for the last few days leading up to the tourney (outside of some light drilling to stay sharp).  I like to read, watch movies, or spend time with friends to stay occupied.  All of these things help me to stay relaxed, focused, and ready to compete.  You may have a routine that is totally different, the goal here is to experiment and figure out what works best for you!

Good luck!