Reasons to be Your Teammates’ Biggest Fan

Reasons to be Your Teammates’ Biggest Fan

Newsflash: jiu-jitsu is a competitive sport. The essence of every roll is to tap or positionally dominate your opponent. Even if you compete every week for your entire training career, the vast majority of rolls will be against a teammate. Inevitably that breeds a sense of rivalry. Whether that manifests in vying for a belt promotion or defending your place as a higher belt against uppity lower belts, you compete in your academy.

This rivalry, though, can breed a negative loop in your journey. Maybe you now avoid eye contact with that tough blue belt or maybe you dismiss a teammate’s accomplishments (“He was just lucky.”  “He had a small bracket.”  “She used a cheap submission.”). It doesn’t have to be this way.

For me, coming from a lifetime of team sports, I’ve always seen my teammates as assets. In many ways, I try to be my teammates’ biggest fans. Granted the concept of teammates in jiu-jitsu is a bit different than soccer or basketball, there are still benefits in rooting for your teammates to succeed.

If someone is succeeding, they must be doing something right. For me, I noticed Matt was blasting through all his competitions and winning a pile of gold medals. I took notice of which classes he attended (all of them), how he rolled an extra round or two after class, or asked the instructor to clarify a detail. Could I emulate his work ethic? Could I start drilling with him when the gym was closed? Could I mirror his penchant for competing? The answer is “yes” to all of those as we became great friends and created a tradition of celebrating each other’s wins.  Successful teammates can become a template for your jiu-jitsu journey.

Everyone has a mat rival. They’re approximately the same rank, size and age.  Maybe you sweep them early in the round, but they sweep you right before the buzzer. Maybe you pass their guard today, but tomorrow they dominate the under hook battle. For me, Kennith used to smash my non-existent guard, cross-face me for hours, and overall destroy me. Yet with time and effort, I started seeing his feedback as indicative of where I was in my progress. When I realized this, I started improving, catching up a little at a time. Then came a point we started sharing our struggles. “How do I pass your Collar Sleeve?” “How are you getting to X-guard so easily?” Our jiu-jitsu evolved tenfold once we realized teammates are meant to make each other better. 

Joe and I started drilling before class, focusing on a few key positions. I saw his improvement in our rolls. Joe was catching up to me. He was putting in the work and it showed as he won his first IBJJF gold medal at the New Orleans Open in 2019. I won silver in my own division. I was never jealous of Joe’s gold, but instead felt overjoyed as the ref raised his hand. I knew there were enough gold medals, belts, and stripes to go around. As a teammate, I simply wanted to share the experience of success with Joe (and others). 

One of my fondest memories is winning a semi-finals with a last minute back take and the excitement I saw in my teammates as they watched my match live. They never stopped believing in me and, if anything, celebrated my victory more than I did. Later, I was cheering as they took to the mats themselves. For me, those experiences will last longer than a snapshot of my struggles against a teammates’ flying knee cut.

Tom is currently a purple belt and in his free time he enjoys travels with his wife, Jiu-Jitsu, and better incorporating the two.

You can find out more about his adventures in Jiu-Jitsu on Instagram.