So here at 5th Element BJJ/MMA in Port Angeles and Sequim, WA we quite frequently have our members participating in BJJ tournaments, Muay Thai bouts and Mixed Martial Arts Bouts. One of the most critical issues facing folks that are newer to competition is the mental and emotional preparation. This is also a topic that is often overlooked but can make the difference between having a great experience or stressing yourself out so much that you never want to do it again. Or the difference between getting your hand raised or not.
Centuries of genetics have instilled in the human being the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response in reaction to fear. When faced with a threat we can run, fight back or literally freeze. When it comes to athletic performance (especially combat sports), fear and anxiety can cause you to feel slow and heavy making your reaction time sub-optimal. Fear and anxiety can make you feel like you are drowning in concrete when competing. OR we can learn to harness our fear and utilize it as a tool to propel ourselves to amazing performances!
To keep things simple we are going to focus on 3 things to help us have a performance we are proud of:
- Breath Work
- TRAIN YOUR BUTT OFF
Breath Work – There are a plethora of techniques and methodologies that can teach us how to use our breath to fix physical or emotional issues. Breathing one of the most important things we do, yet is something that we rarely think about. I will give you just one exercise for the sake of this blog: 4 count breathing aka combat breathing. This is a very simple practice and is sometimes referred to as combat breathing because it is often taught to armed forces men and women as a way to deal with anxiety in combat situations. Here we go:
- Inhale through your nose to the mental count of 1-2-3-4
- Hold your inhale and count mentally 1-2-3-4
- Exhale out your mouth to the mental count of 1-2-3-4
- Hold your exhale for 1-2-3-4
A couple tips: Focus only on the number, this is a breathing form of meditation. If other thoughts enter your mind, let them go and return to your counting. Try to set a specific time period for this exercise or go through the proces 10-25 times. When inhaling really focus on expanding your belly/lungs. THE MOST IMPORTANT TIP-You have to actually do this!
Visualization – This is one of the most important tools that has helped me personally get over performance anxiety. But again it is something that must actually be practiced! You can practice visualization in the morning, when going to bed, when driving down the road, when working out, etc. I used to visualize all the time on the treadmill and right before going to sleep. There has been a tremendous amount of studies documenting the improved performance that visualization brings with it. At higher levels of competition this is a must or you will fall behind. So when visualizing you really want to get as detail oriented as can. What do you see, what do you smell, what do you hear and most importantly what do you feel?
For example a BJJ tournament: Your visualization should start with you getting your gi/no gi on, stepping on the scale, hearing your name called for your mat, stepping onto the mat, bowing to your opponent, touching hands, the initial adrenaline rush and lungs firing and then go through the match. Put yourself in bad situations and visualize working your way out of them. Visualize different ways your are going to win. And then really visualize getting your hand raised.
You want to do this so many times that you are ready for ANYTHING!
TRAIN YOUR BUTT OFF – This is very self-explanatory. Train as much as you can because the easiest way to lose at combat sport competition is showing up and feeling like you didn’t do your best to prepare. Then you will immediately give yourself the option to lose because you have an excuse. When training it is very important to set tangible training goals for yourself (don’t get subbed in 3 min, pull off a pendulum sweep, etc) as well as keep a training journal. Jiu-Jitsu is infinite is its options so don’t get stuck by analysis paralysis. You will have great days of training and days where you don’t feel like you performed well. Go back again tomorrow. If you can’t be on the mats then the first two things we discussed are that much more important as is high intensity conditioning.
Bottom line is whether you win or lose you should feel like you put your best out there. If you don’t win then you learn, it is that simple. Your training partners, family, coaches, etc are not going to think less of you for losing. In fact the opposite is true, they are going to respect you that much more for putting yourself out there and challenging yourself in competition. Challenging yourself is what life is all about, now get out of your comfort zone and go test yourself.