BJJ Competition Routine

When going into a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competition you must be prepared physically and mentally. Part of mental toughness for competition is a consistent routine that will take place before and after the matches. 

I recommend getting to the competition about an hour and a half before you are supposed to compete. This will give you time to find your mat number, your teammates, coaches, the bathrooms, the warm up mats and generally get a lay of the land. I don’t like to be at a tournament all day because the energy of the tournament can sort of steal some energy from you. 

About 50 minutes before I would recommend warming up for roughly 15-20 minutes. In class we generally do a 5 minute warmup and for competition class we would be closer to a 15-20 minute warmup. So get a complete warm up in with extra attention on your hips, knees, grips, neck, back and shoulders. I would do some burpees, sprints or shadow wrestling to blow out your lungs a bit. If you like jumping rope I like that as well. Side note that one of the most famous jump ropers, Buddy Lee was an Olympic wrestler who got into jump roping to prepare him for his matches.

Then you should have about a 15 minute break to chill out, recover, listen to music, joke with friends whatever it is you want to relax. Some people like to clear their head with music, sometimes you can bounce a ball around. 

Then you will have another 15-20 minutes where you are going to start getting in the zone. 

I think mental toughness comes down to a foundational practice of Gratitude and 4 things that are common for mental toughness training as seen in navy seal training Goal Setting, Mental Rehearsal, Self Talk and Arousal Control. The goal setting, mental rehearsal and arousal control I will be going through in that 15 minutes before the match.

Gratitude

Gratitude is a fundamental piece of mental resilience and toughness. The best college wrestling program in the country Penn State wrestling, coached by Cael Sanderson is founded on gratitude. Gratitude increases mental resilience to stress, anxiety as seen in improvements with soldiers with PTSD. It also seen in Journal of Applied Sport Psychology to increase an athletes self esteem. Gratitude is the lens in which you view the world and trying to get through the rigors balancing competition and life are difficult through just willpower. Athletes with higher dispositional gratitude and higher gratitude related to playing their sport report feeling less burned out with their sport (L. H. Chen & Kee, 2008). 

I used to practice gratitude by writing 3 things that I am grateful for everyday, but the Huberman Lab revealed some more effective gratitude practices on focusing on times when others helped you or even just watching videos of when others helped others. I think this has to be a weekly habit over the course of competition prep so I like to spend a little bit of time on it the day of competition. 

Goal Setting

I don’t love results oriented goal setting such as winning a tournament because you can’t always control those outcomes. But you can set goals for effort level (moving your feet in the standup, moving your partner on the feet), aggressiveness, initiating movement. I also don’t think too much about game plan on the day of the tournament. I like to be open to the crazy possibilities that can happen and not limit myself to a specific game plan. I have obviously tried to compete with game plans before and always found that I could beat the people that I knew I could beat with the game plan, but the hardest matches always got to crazy to game plan for. 

Mental Rehearsal

While I don’t think it is bad thing to visualize success long term, the day of competition the mental rehearsal is usually just the beginning of the match, bowing on the mat, shaking the refs hand, slap hands and fist bump, good stance, moving my feet, moving my opponent, using my head pressure passing material.  Then stuff will go crazy after that. 

Self Talk

This is where you are speaking positively about yourself. You can create little rhymes for yourself to help you remember “Balanced and strong, I can fight all day long.” One of my new phrases that I love I got from one of a hockey prospect “I can. I am enough. I am glad I am here.” If you have a specific attribute that you like about yourself you can make it up about that (grip, hips, toughness, cardio, speed, etc). I remember in the book A Season on the Mat where Dan Gable routinely talked up his senior wrestler, but new to the varsity squad Jessie Whitmer – the “strongest man in the world,” who went on to win the NCAA title his first year on varsity. 

 

Arousal Control

Lastly you will also need to be mindful of your arousal level whether it is too high or too low. Generally newer competitors will be too high while more veteran competitors might be too low. Any easy way to increase arousal level is by take a big inhale while squeezing your fists sharply. You can lower your arousal level by closing your fists, but focusing on the exhale and slowly opening them. You can also deal with stress and lower arousal levels through the  Physiological Sigh, of two inhales and 1 exhale done a few times. 

Post Match Routine

So following the match make sure to get plenty of fluids and find a spot to recover, make sure to do some breathing exercises to aid the recovery process. But this is where you want to also do a quick mental review of the last match and either go over the match again if you did well, or see yourself doing the things you needed to do to win and then put the match behind you. Professional quarterbacks will visualize completing the pass after an interception, golfers will visualize the better shot or putt after missing. This will help you move on from the match and perform better in the next one rather than dwelling on mistakes.