Regardless of the sport, competing is probably one of the most stressful activities a person can do. In a competition, you're putting your training to the test, you're pitting your skillset against another opponent or opponents, and you're often battling your own demons in the process.
Especially in a jiu jitsu competition, your mental state of mind is probably the most important variable that you can control. Yes, you CAN "control" it, at least to some degree. Here's how:
Know Your Competition Mindset
Sports psychologist Jim Taylor has identified three different pre-competition mindsets used by the best athletes in the world: aggressive, calm, and clear. You might be familiar with the "aggressive" one, especially on the jiu jitsu mat; a big, muscle-bound dude jumping up and down and slapping his own face to "amp" himself up. Of course that's on the extreme side of an aggressive mindset, but if that works for you, cool. If you like to chill out in a corner, listening to soothing music, then you're more on the "calm" side. Or maybe you like to take your mind completely off your upcoming match... then you prefer a "clear" mindset.
Train Your Brain, Too
Just as you train your body, you need to train your brain as well. Yeah, jiu jitsu training does a marvelous job of doing both at the same time, but just as I've argued in previous blog posts, you should also seek outside resources. With the brain, you're looking to optimize your cognitive efficiency - basically, trying to improve the time it takes for your brain to assess an action and direct a reaction. Surprise, surprise... computer games are great for this, as they help to "improve pattern recognition, high-speed decision making and focus." This will allow you to make those split second decisions that put you a step ahead of your opponent.
Develop Positive Mental Qualities
Slightly different from the "mindset" described above, it's important for you also to actively develop certain mental qualities that will keep your mind from sabotaging you leading up to, and during, your match. These qualities, according to Breaking Muscle, are:
- Persistence - endure to the end, no matter the setbacks
- Positive realism - make the best of a bad situation or challenge, and know where your limits are
- Humility - don't under or over-estimate your abilities
- Vulnerability - accept making mistakes, and learn from them
- No regrets - don't focus on what you did or didn't do in the past, focus on the now, and your future goals
Recondition Your Idea of Competing
You've probably heard this a million times, but your biggest opponent is yourself. You have no influence on your opponent, and as much as you might be able to study his/her game, odds are it won't play out exactly as you've imagined. So the best thing to do is essentially "forget your competition" and just focus on what you CAN control. If you're a top player, work on your takedowns and throws, your passes, your submissions, etc. If you're a bottom player, work on your guard pulls, your sweeps, your submissions, etc. If you worry about reacting to your opponent, you'll be a step behind him/her. Impose your game first.
Of course, no single way to prepare for a competition is "the best way". What might work for someone else, might not work for you, and vice versa. The only way to know for sure what yours is, is through experience... and the only way to obtain that experience is to get out there and just do it.
Train on. Oss.