Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Competition Day Strategy

This is part 3 of the series on the mental side of the game. If you haven't read part 1 and part 2  do it now, then come back.

It happens to everyone,  you train hard, you know your stuff, you can pull it off rolling, and then at the tournament you forget everything and get smashed.   It's not because your bad at jiu jitsu, and it for the sake of argument and this blog post, it's not because the other guy is better then you. It's likely because your not "in the zone" or any of the other buzz-words that basically just mean your head wasn't in the game.  

So, How do we fix this?   It's not easy, and it's not going to happen over night.  But it starts with the first 2 parts of this series and carries on with the rest of this post.

Developing your competition day routine

Sports players everywhere in every sport have there little things that keep them grounded when they compete.  They wear their lucky socks or underwear, they always have the exact same thing for breakfast, things like that.   These things that are often brushed away as being superstitious and nonsense can be really powerful mental tools.  Consistency in your habits will help you focus and be prepared for the day.

I can't tell you what works and what doesn't for you, Everyone will be quite different in this. Some people really like to be social at tournaments, some people don't like to talk to anyone.  Some people like to watch matches, some people that makes them very nervous.  The best way to figure out what does and doesn't work for you, is to keep a competition journal, and keep track of what happened that day leading up to your matches, and write down how you felt physically, mentally, and emotionally through out the day.  It's a bit of work, but it's well worth it.  After a few events you should have a bit of a picture of how what you do leading up to your matches affects your state of mind and your performance.

There will always be things that are out of your control, like when weigh ins are,  the time your division starts,  who you fight, what colour fighter you are.  But there are all sorts of things that you can control to counter act these unknowns and keep you focused.

This is a topic that examples will speak much louder then explanations, so let me give you a bit of a breakdown on the things that are part of my competition day strategy to get me focused and ready.
For the sake of the example, I'll use a local event that I'm driving to the morning of, since I think that is a more common case and will be a better example.

The night before:
  1. pack my gear back with everything I need, including, but not limited to:
    1. 2 gis, my mendes gi, and one other one, ussually a red star
    2. 2 pairs of shorts, 2 rashguards, 2 sports bras
    3. a full change of cloths for afterwards.
    4. mouth guard, camera, extra battery, nail clippers, a fresh package of hair elastics
  2. pack my non-gear  bag
    1. snacks including protein bars, granola bars, some fruit
    2. gatorade, usually a 6 pack, almost always grape g2.
    3. a bit of candy or chocolate for quick energy and a post-fight reward
    4. often i'll have some chocolate milk (the kind that stays good not in a fridge, weird, but tasty, and a good recovery drink)
  3. pick out my cloths for the morning, ussually a comfy pair of jeans, my pura t-shirt, and a sweater, you never know how hot or cold the venue will be, and layers are the best way to get warm, and stay warm, but not roast when your done. Also: my competition socks, not always the same pair, but always an interesting pair, and almost always mismatched, and knee highs.
  4. print out the directions, any registration confirmations, schedule, and the list of my team mates that are competing so we can keep track of the day.
  5. Shower and get to bed nice and early (I like to be in bed and relaxing by 10pm, but it doesn't always work out).
Competition Day: Before the tournament:
  1. Wake up about 45 minutes before we have to leave.  
  2. Get up as soon as the alarm goes off (If I lay around in bed I get groggy and get headaches)
  3. Check my mail, facebook, twitter.
  4. Put anything that was in the fridge in the snack/lunch bag and double check my bags
  5. Get breakfast, usually at mcdonalds. I know, it's weird, but I love breakfast burritos and orange juice on fight morning. 
  6. Drive to the venue! I like to give myself at least lots of time to get there, generally if it's less then an hour drive, i double the time, if it's more then an hour, I give myself an extra hour to get there.  
 At the venue
  1. Check in / Register right away,  pick up my free t-shirt if there is one and stake out a spot in the bleaches/stands.
  2. If it's all bleachers, I go for the top of the most central place. This way you can see all the mats, and you don't have to worry about people stepping on your bags b/c your at the top.
  3. I'll check my weight on the scale right away, and depending on how that is, have a snack, or not.
 More then 1 hour before my fights
  • The time way before my fights I'm really relaxed, I'll be social, I'll listen to music, I'll watch the fights.  
  • I tend to just be relaxed and not thinking about my matches, my division, whom i'm fighting and whatnot.
  • I like to watch my team mates,  video them, or take pictures.   
 Less then 1 hour before my fights
  • At about the hour mark, I'll get changed into my gi, and check my weight again, just to be sure.  If i'm good, I'll have another snack, likely some of the fruit, and gatorade. 
  •  At this point, you never really know when exactly your going to be up, even at the most organized and scheduled events.  (except maybe IBJJF they are pretty particular about their schedules).   So  I like to be pretty much ready to go about 1/2 hour before i'm scheduled.  
  • I'll put my headphones in both ears, but not loud. I listen to mostly metal, rock, alternative.  Pre-fight is a lot of stuff like In Flames, Korn, System of a down, avenging sevenfold and killswitch engage.   I have a lot of the same songs on my car's usb drive that I do on my mp3 player.
  • At this point I get a lot more anti-social, I'll still chat a bit with my team mates but I'm starting to think about my matches, and doing some visualization and whatnot.
 After my divisions has been called up
  •  Music on, socks on, sweater on.  
  • Generally I'll pace and do some light stretches before the matches, just staying warm, but not spending a lot of energy.  I'll close my eyes and do some serious visualization and self talk to.
 I'm up next
  • Head over to the mat,  pacing if there is room, or just standing beside it, staying loose.  
  • headphones, sweater and socks come off just before I step on the mats and it's go time.
 Match Time:
  • Check the score board, make sure it's clear and the match time is right.
  • Shake hands with the ref, shake hands with my opponent, and say "ooos".   This is something I've done since my judo days, back before ooos was said at the end of every sentence, on every picture that has anything to do with jiu jitsu, and before it was completely watered down.   It's me saying "Thanks for coming out, let's fight hard, and do what we came to do".  It puts my brain right where it needs to be. 
  •  FIGHT!
Between matches
  • Put my socks back on right away, ussually put my music on in one ear. 
  • drink some gatorade 
  • shake hands with the coach(if they are around) of my opponent and congratulate them and the coach on a good match.
  • I'll chat with a team mate or two between matches, but generally stick to myself, keep warm, and listen to music.  I don't think about the last match, and I re-focus myself with some visualization and whatnot.

So that's generally what I do,  If it's a tournament I have to travel to, I stick to this, but of course drive to the tournament, sleep in a hotel, but It's mostly the same.  This strategy, or plan, or set of habits, whatever you want to call it, is key to me being ready mentally and physically for my fights.  It's been in development since I was about 16 or 17 years old competing in judo tournaments.   It's shifted over the years but hasn't changed a lot.

For you, it might be quite different!  You might be social until right before you step on the mats,  maybe you like to sit at the bottom,  maybe you can't watch your team mates because you get to excited and nervous and it wastes all your energy.    It's going to take some experimenting to figure it all out, but once you do, you'll have a very powerful tool to help you perform the best that you can.

Alright, this blog post is long enough, I was going to talk about game plans but I'll save that for another day.   If you have any questions about this stuff please post a comment, or message me on facebook, or twitter, or email me or whatever.   I'm more then happy to share my experiences and the stuff I've learned in courses with fellow competitors.

I'll be running a new, much easier to enter contest on my fan page to correspond with this blog post.   All you have to do is Share my blog on facebook or twitter, like my fan page, and post on there that you shared it(There will be a post to comment on to say you shared it. if it's twitter, i'll need a link to the tweet, just to verify it) Alternately, you can just share the post from my fan page that has this blog on it, if that is easier for you.  OR, if you got here from twitter, give my tweet with the link a retweet and I should see it.    The winner will be chosen randomly and will win a VVV rashguard of their choice! Contest closes October 24th.


  1. I always try to do the same thing at all of the tournaments, just watch the matches, don't eat a lot, don't drink a lot, until after I weigh in, gorge on pizza after the tournament.

  2. Some good ideas....let you know how it works after the in-house!