How To Prepare for a BJJ Tournament : Mental Hacks to Clutch BJJ Gold
I try to take solace in the fact that many sports heroes fear the sport at which they excel. Bill Russell, the legendary Boston Celtics player, used to vomit before every game. Olympic skier Mikaela Shiffrin does the same. Despite this, they continue to win.
While I’ve never gone that far, there’s no doubt that the butterflies in my stomach are having a grand time. It’s gotten to the point that when I arrive at a tournament, I’m envious of the folks leaving because they’ve already finished (even if they lost). Why am I like this?
Do you find this relatable? Well, I noticed that even with all those nerves, ( you may find this to be true too) that I still do *fine* at tournaments. Did I just say “fine?” Yes, yes I did.
At the end of the day, I still have had successes despite the difficulties that I have faced. I didn’t win every turnament, but that is not the point. I competed, and I am physically fine. The reason I am telling you this is because many elite grapplers face the same problems. Doubt does NOT equal lack of success. In other words, just because you have self doubt or struggle with those issues doesn’t mean you can’t still win at a tournament.
I found that the Lizard Brain as popularized by Seth Godin, is a helpful concept in tournaments. I hear the lizard brain screaming at me sometimes. It tells me that I’m not a good enough grappler. It tells me I didn’t train well enough. It points out my opponent is better, heavier, faster, or more determined than me. For us grapplers, there’s nothing a Lizard Brain likes more than to ruin good BJJ tournament to. Yet even with it, we can still WIN.
Here are six things (in no particular order) you can do to put your mind and body in a position to succeed at a BJJ tournament (including how to take down that darn Lizard Brain).
1. Get to the tournament with MORE than enough time to prepare so you’re not rushed.
As a gym owner, I can’t believe how many people arrive at the very last minute (even though we tell them to be there 90-minutes before their division starts). There’s nothing worse than rushing to put your Gi on, weigh-in, then running to your mat with no proper warm-up, hydration, etc. “But Omar, won’t getting there early just force me to dwell upon my impending doom even longer?” Yes, it could, but I assure you, worrying about missing the start of the tournament is far more harmful than any amount of self-doubt you may have. Go in with a game plan to stretch etc. and use your time wisely.
“hack away the unnessential.” -Bruce Lee
2. Cut weight properly. Or rather, don’t cut weight at all.
At Mata Leao, we not going to judge you if you’re cutting weight or not cutting weight. We’ve all been there. But I can tell you that sometimes by the time the match started I had no energy with a cut. When your energy is gone, it makes it WAY easier to simply give up, to tap when the submission isn’t really there, accept people passing your guard, or give up on pursuing passes or sweeps that were almost there. Even if you’re mentally strong enough to overcome this, you may not be strong enough to fight through the pain of cramps or muscle pulls due to imbalance of electrolytes.
3. How To Prepare for a BJJ Tournament: Only Think Of Victory, never defeat!
This is where we address that Lizard Brain we were talking about earlier—the voice telling you that you will lose. That voice is very real, but what it’s saying…ISN’T REAL FAM.
The Lizard Brain wants to protect you, but it does so by avoiding injury. Not exactly a helpful trait. And by the way, BJJ Tournaments are far less dangerous than a cage fight. You’re literally going to walk away fine.
The Lizard brain distorts your mind and makes your opponents seem way gnarlier than they are in real life.
Lizard Brain: “This guy trains at [well known school]”
You: “So he’s never lost, ever?”
Lizard Brain: “He’s bigger”
You: “He’s slower and will gas quicker”
Lizard Brain: “You’ve never won a division”
You: “Good. That will make today’s victory even sweeter”
You gotta replace what the lizard brain says with positive self talk. It’s REALLY important at a tournament.
4. Have a game plan.
How To Prepare for a BJJ Tournament: This is one tactic that I wish I implemented earlier in my competitive BJJ career. This is not the same as a script, because things can get obviously chaotic. But knowing in your mind what specific techniques that you learned in class that you will employ in certain predictable positions will make a world of difference. Practice makes perfect!
5. Envision the victory.
Walk in with the confidence of knowing that you were dominant in your performace before it even starts. Pay attention to your body language. Are you shrinking away and trying to make yourself smaller? Are you trying to be a nice guy or girl to your opponents before the match starts? Or, are you focusing on ONE singular thought in your mind… to absolutely DOMINATE the opposition and fearlessly go into battle to submit your opponents? Have the mindset … and more importantly, ATTITUDE that you are there for one reason… to win. Afterwards friends can be made, but you are there to compete: move accordingly ( and respectfully).
6. Pay no attention to your opponents.
Don’t mind what they are up to. Don’t care about what they look like. Focus on unleashing your inner beast and get in the zone. Whatever it takes to quiet the lizard brain. Fool that lizard brain by telling yourself that you are literally ready for anything and that you will not feel pain or fear. Mind over matter can accomplish WAY more than that lizard brain can.
How To Prepare for a BJJ Tournament:If there is one thing that you can take away from this article is that nerves are natural, but you gotta learn when to just get out of your head and start going HAM at a tournament. That lizard brain is NOT real and this article has given you tactics on how to combat this and clutch the dub. At Mata Leao, we are a community dedicated to training and excellence in life and in tournaments. We have raised many champions on these mats, and it starts with a mindset. I guarantee you that out of the hundreds of champions that have won at tournaments here at Mata Leao that they went throug the SAME exact butterflies as you. The trick is… they went and did it anyway and left it all on the mats.
If you hear the call of your inner champion, please check us out in Inner SE Portland Oregon and add another gold medal to our wall! All of our champions start with our free, 30 day trial. Here’s our schedule!