7 BJJ Tips To Calm Your First-Tournament Nerves

Your first jiu jitsu tournament can run you rampant with confusion, stress, and andrenaline.  I have yet to see someone enter their first competition and get full of questions, cotton mouth and nerves.  Here are some tips to help  make the process more enoyable than stressful.

7 – Rehearse the Unimportant

When you get into a new situation – especially one where you know you’ll have conflict – it can be stressful on the mind and body.  Grappling competitions are in no way an un-stressful first-time experience.

You have a lot to take in…travelling, weigh-ins, practice, signing-in, wondering how the matches will unfold, finding a hotel if you’re out of town, etc.  You need to give your brain a break from some of that, so do so on the things you can familiarize yourself with.

Depending on the tournament, you can usually show up a little early and get on the mats and do some shrimps and roll around a bit.  Take it a step further and stand where you will be standing when they call you, pretend they called your name, walk out to your position, visualize getting the rules from the ref, bumping fists and going..repeat as necessary.

The point to rehearsing is to get familiar.  Ask anyone that’s had tournaments and they’ll almost always tell you that the nerves started when they found out they were going next – when they were standing on the edge of the mat and saw their opponent.  A large amount of that has to do with unfamiliarity.  Nobody ever gets nervous when they’re about to lay in bed – they’ve been there, it’s no problem.  Familiarize yourself with all the processes within your control and it will be a less stressful experience.  I have no research on the this, but I’m willing to bet with all else being equal, the guy out putting his body through the motions and visualizing is going to beat the guy sitting in a chair in the corner for 4 hours.

6 – Have a plan, but be ready to abandon it

By “plan”, I should say, “know your game”.  If you’re a good guard-passer, look to take down and work from there. Better on the bottom? Look to pull guard, sacrifice throw or get thrown (I wouldn’t suggest the latter, but if you’re into that, you’re a unique individual).

You know your game so play to your strengths.  But if you’re planning on throwing, passing guard to kesa gatame, moving north-south and finishing with a sick kimura that you learned last month, I wouldn’t count on it.

Against a grappling dummy or a dummy at grappling, you can absolutely plan out your entire attack…but that’s not who you’re fighting, you’re fighting a guy with his own plan and his own unique reactions, so if you plan that whole attack sequence and you get rolled, well then what?  Are you going to stick to trying to roll him back and continue on with that sick kimura?  If you do, you’re in for a surprise and it most likely won’t be gold.

Plans are great, everyone has them.  Mike Tyson even put it simply, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”  So having a plan is absolutely something you should do, but when it goes south, abandon it and play jiu jitsu.  Speaking of which…

5 – You’re Playing a Game – Enjoy It, and Win

Don’t let the words “tournament” and “competition” bother you.  It’s literally a bunch of people getting together to test what they know….that’s it…you’re allowed to tap at any point and so is the other guy, so what are you worried about?  You bump fists prior to fighting, and hug it out afterwards…same things happen during pick up basketball matches, flag football and park soccer…all games.

Tournaments are done by weight, age, and rank for one reason – to keep it competitive.  That guy doesn’t know anything that you don’t and he’s probably just as nervous…yep, nervous about YOU.

At the same time, remember that you are competing and the point is to win.  Do you let the other team score on you at will at basketball or soccer?  Of course not, it’s not good sportsmanship.  Even though it’s fun, have a sense of competition and discount anyone that tells you, “…it’s your first tournament, you probably won’t win anyway…” – that’s the wrong kind of motivation and it’s just plain negative talk.

You can win.  You’ve trained to win. You’re capable of winning.  You have lots of tournaments in your future, so enjoy them and be competitive.

4 – Drink Lots of Water The Night Before

But don’t drink it all THAT day.  People’s understanding about water is, well, kind of misunderstood generally speaking.  Because you slam a glass of water quickly, it doesn’t make you good to go that instant.

They – scientists – found that water consumed starts showing up in the blood stream within 5 minutes of drinking some…nearly half is found in the blood in just under 15 minutes.  It was fully absorbed at around 120 minutes.  Two hours after drinking it.

That means that hydrating the night before will put you at the “very hydrated” level which allows for more sweat, better muscle performance, and only the need to replace what you lost in sweat of the match – easily replaceable in 5 or so minutes…not to mention it’s just one less thing off your mind (#7).

If you try to hydrate while losing water through sweat and constant matches, you’ll be playing a very bad game of catch-up…not to mention muscle cramps and possibly dehydration.

3 – Go Through Some Positions and Loosen Up

Nothing out of the norm here – stretch, get warm, and have a partner pass your guard or you pass his.  Go through the motions of armbar from guard and mount..throw in some chokes…just move…”flow roll”…get a good sweat going.  You won’t get dehydrated because you hydrated the night before, right?

Moving is important.  Going into a match cold is a bad idea…the only thing on the other side of that fence is defeat and injury.  There are usually mats put off to the side to enable competitors to warm up.

2 – Don’t Sit Around (you’ll second guess yourself)

This was a big part of what I found caused me to choke (pun intended) early in my competitions.  I would get there in the morning around 9 a.m. to watch our kids compete then sit around, move and watch other competitors until I went 4 hours later.  By that time I had seen guards pulled, single leg takedowns, double-legs etc.  It took me off of my plan to use my judo and I started thinking of how I could nullify the takedowns that seemed to be a habit that day.

As my match came up, I was prepared for the single or double-leg.  My opponent faked for one and I went to sprawl as he shot in for a fireman’s carry…classic “awwwwwwww shiiiiiii….” moment.  I ended up in bottom-side control and lost via americana extremely fast.  Had I stuck to my game plan I could have countered that better as he stood up from his fake..or at least abandoned my plan when we tumbled to the ground and went from there.  Point being, I was taken out of my plan by second guessing myself and it went down in history as the worst beating I’ve ever taken.

I’ll still get caught now like everyone else, but not because I psyched myself out.  I’ll get caught because they pulled a good move and that’s just part of the game.  Now I listen to my music and try to avoid watching matches and it has worked wonders…

1 – Listen to Calming Music

“Pump up music” gets different views and it’s arguable (feel free to argue the point in comments).  Some people believe that you need to get amped-up for matches.  Others believe that you want to keep the nerves down and let the adrenaline flow when your match starts.

Either way is viable and it’s definitely up for contention.  I have used both and the calming music works wonders.  I’m not sure if it’s an adrenaline dump from death metal that wears me down or if Beethoven is just the shit.  Either way, I would suggest calming music to keep your nerves at a minimum.  After all, that’s why you’re reading this list – to keep the nerves down.


Contributions from Hidden Valley MMA Team Sylvio Behring, and redditor users mmafightdb, righbackalley and jbjj

Categories: "Top" lists, EVERYTHING (in no particular order), Jiu Jitsu and Judo

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3 replies

  1. Thanks for the sensible critique. Me and my neighbor were just preparing to do a little research on this. We got a grab a book from our local library but I think I learned more clear from this post. I am very glad to see such magnificent information being shared freely out there.

  2. Great tips! I agree that you should be well hydrated before the big event. That way you don’t experience muscle cramps, dehydration, etc. The same thing goes for stretching. This two things will definitely help you prepare for a tournament and can help lower your risk to injury. Thanks for sharing!


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