Top BJJ Competition Survival Tips
Competition is stressful, whether you’re a brand new competitor or a well-seasoned warrior. However, it does become easier with experience and preparedness.
Knowing what to expect, having everything you might need, and feeling confident goes a long way toward not just surviving jiu-jitsu competition, but also thriving and proving yourself to be a serious contender.
“That’s easy for you to say,” might cross your mind. Yes, I’ve been at it a while. But precisely because I have, I’m able to impart some key survival tips to help even the most knock-kneed white belt survive his/her first jiu-jitsu competition.
Here are my top tips for surviving your next competition:
Fight at a Realistic Weight
This is and will always be my number one BJJ survival tip: fight at a realistic and reasonable weight. In the jiu-jitsu community, it’s very easy to get caught up in the “weight cutting” hype.
It’s not just an affliction in the sport of jiu-jitsu either. In wrestling, competitive weight lifting, boxing, and any other sport that has weight divisions, there will be this obsessive compulsion to be the strongest person in that weight category. How does that often play out? By people cutting anywhere from 5-30 pounds in a relatively short amount of time. Unfortunately, there’s a fine line between cutting just enough weight and feeling strong in your division, and cutting too much weight and having no energy for your opponent, or worse.
It would be ideal if we all fought at the weight we naturally walked around at. If you think about it, your best rolls at the gym or academy are typically when your body is well-hydrated and has all its nutritional needs met. But if you insist on cutting, I highly encourage you not to cut more than 5-10 pounds over the course of a two-month period. If you’re dieting, do it right, and do it safely.
Bring Extra Everything
Bring more than you might ever possibly need. You do not want to be about to enter the bullpen and realize that you forgot something. You might still be able to compete without whatever it is, but you’ve just pulled your head out of your game mindset. And if you’re a naturally anxious person, you’ve just started the ball rolling for an avalanche of anxiety that will ensure anything but success on the mat.
If you’re at a gi tournament, bring an extra gi (or two)… that fits differently – a little looser, a little longer – than the one you plan on competing in. Bring an extra set of clothes; unless you’re okay stewing in repeatedly dry-then-wet-then-dry gear that’s flavored with that special competition-nervous sweat. Bring two day’s worth of water and other fluids. No, you will likely not drink it all, but you will have plenty enough for yourself and for some poor under-packed soul on your team. Pack a range of snacks. All the snacks. Snacks you don’t even think you want. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shopped during a weight cut, then once I was weighed in, desired anything but what I’ve brought with me.
It might seem overkill, but no one’s ever said “Damn, I wish I hadn’t been so prepared.”
Plan to Use the Restroom Frequently
As soon as you arrive to the competition venue, orient yourself as to where the restrooms are. You will be using them, and often.
Scientists aren’t entirely sure why athletes have an intense need to pee before a competition. But there are some theories. One is that the pre-competition nerves active our primal fight-or-flight response. When this happens, "under stress, the [central nervous] system is activated to operate at a higher level of sensitivity, meaning that it takes less to activate the reflex," Dr. Alan Wein, a professor of urology at Penn Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Another idea is that when we become nervous, our muscles tense, which may include our bladder, according to Dr. Tom Chi, an associate professor of urology at the University of California, San Francisco.
Regardless of the reason – and regardless of whether you’re a seasoned mat warrior or a brand new competitor – you’ll need to wee far more often at the tournament than you would normally. Do yourself a favor and do it as often as you can, so you don’t end up worrying about accidentally tinkling on the mat in front of tons or your friends and strangers. That, in and of itself, will take you out of your game mindset.
The most successful athletes are those who don’t change their habits between the training environment and the competition environment. They train just as they would compete, and they compete just as they’ve been training.
This is actually deceptively hard. It’s too easy to get caught up in the behavior of those around you when you’re at a tournament. Say you’re a lower belt, and you see one of your idols slapping his/her face in the bull pen or pacing like a caged tiger. Please. Don’t. Copy. That. At least not at first. Odds are that person has developed his or her quirks – and believe me, we all have them – over years of experience in the bullpen. Just because it works for them, doesn’t mean it will work for you. Don’t worry, with enough time, you’ll develop your own weird proclivities and superstitious routines.
The worst thing you can do for your performance – both before you fight or during – is worry about whether you’re doing something right. Be yourself. Just do you. The rest will fall in place.
Hopefully these four BJJ competition survival tips will help you to have a more relaxed and pleasant competition experience. Train hard, but always, always remember: have fun.