Competing in anything is stressful. Competing in something when someone is trying to submit you is another level of stress. Over time people grow accustomed to it and some even learn to Love It.
Most people's first competition is a nerve racking affair. I came from a Wrestling background but for my first Jiu-Jitsu tournament I was very nervous. What do I do if I get caught in a submission? What about the ref? What are the rules again?
I actually drove to San Antonio for my first Jiu-Jitsu tournament. I had never been there so that brought up even more stress. Paul and I managed to find our way to the tournament. During the tournament I was lucky to submit all my opponents that day. And it was just that I was lucky in my division to be the best guy. Plus all the wrestling tournaments over the years helped make sure that I was mentally ready. Over the years I have made a lot of mistakes competing. Here is my top 10 tips to help you compete in your first Jiu-Jitsu Tournament.
1. Choosing the right venue for your first tournament:
I would choose one of two options. A small in house tournament put on by either your instructor or someone your instructor suggests. A lot of times the in-house tournaments are run with idea of just having fun. And not taking themselves to seriously. The reason this can be helpful is it is less pressure. It is hard to compete. And anything you can do to make it easier is very helpful.
The second option is a professionally run tournament like the IBJJF. This is more expensive then a lot of the other local tournaments. And there aren't as many of them to go to but it is a case of you get what you pay for. The refs at IBJJF are the best. It also runs on time. This might not sound like a big deal but after sitting on bleachers for 8 hours waiting for your division to go it will be. The downside is that it is single elimination so you could have just one match that day.
2. Your Gear:
Having a IBJJF legal GI is mandatory. Check with your coach to make sure your GI meets the requirements of fit and collar thickness. Plus it can't be a wore out GI it doesn't have to be new but it does need not to be tore ect.. Your belt needs to have black bar at the end, even the white belts need this. Guys you have to wear underwear of some sort. You can't wear a rash guard in under your GI to compete in. No Shoes, but you will need shoes or sandals to wear to the edge of the mat. Don't take your GI off until you are out of the competition area. They can and will disqualify you if you do this. Bring a back up GI. If you are GI doesn't pass they will disqualify you.
3. Your weight:
I wouldn't worry to much about your first tournament cutting weight. There is enough stress competing without worrying about making weight. Whatever you weigh I would go in that weight class and focus on everything else. Once you become a tournament veteran then you can worry about cutting weight.
4. What to eat the morning of the tournament day:
I am a big believer in eating what you normally eat. Maybe slightly healthier but not changing it up to much. Pay attention to how you feel when you train and what you ate that day. I would try to duplicate what I ate on the days when I felt the best in training. Everyone is different on how food effects there performance. So I think looking at how you feel and trying to replicate that is huge. What snacks are you going to bring the day of to the tournament is important also. The food at the Tournaments is usually limited so healthy snacks are very important.
5. Headphones are amazing:
Wearing headphones listening to music to help drowned out the stress of being around everyone is helpful. I think putting together your own playlist that helps gear you up. Helping to put you in the right frame of mind to compete is a under rated part of competing.
I have had teammate watch there teammates lose. And then when it comes there turn go out there and not perform to the level that they should have. So sometimes it is best to show up before your division goes do your warm up then compete. After your division you can help support your teammates and friends. But before I think it is probably in your best interest to focus on your match.
6. Game Plan:
What this means is your plan of attack! Are you going to pull guard? Are you going to shoot? What are you going to do if he pulls guard? What are you going to do if he takes you down? I am a huge fan of having a game plan. This way when the time comes you don't have to think, ok I didn't expect that. This can be the difference in-between winning and losing. For your first tournament the simpler the game plan, the better. You will have enough to worry about and as you progress thru the belts you can use a more complete game plan.
7. Technology makes things better.
At the IBJJF run tournaments they have monitors that are updated with how long it will be until your match goes. And what mat you are going to be on. This is a huge advantage. You can plan your meals for the day. Complete your warm up. You can also let your coach know which mat and what time you will be going. That way then can be sure he or she is there to coach you.This is a huge advantage make sure you use it.
8. Rest more than you think you should.
Being at a tournament with all your teammates competing and all the action going on, it is hard to rest. Forcing yourself to unplug and leave the venue if needed is key to being rested once your matches start. I know that you want to be there for everyone but remember you need to be rested once your division begins.
9. The Warm Up.
I think it is very important to warm up properly. There is nothing worse then being in a match and not be able to keep moving because you haven't hit your second wind. I would encourage you to try to max out your Heart for a few seconds. A couple ways to do this are sprints, running stairs, jump squats. What ever it is that will bring your heart rate up. And then bring it all the way back to a resting heart rate before you step on the mat. You should be sweating when you walk on the mat. This way you are way less probability of getting hurt.
10. I'd do it all again in a heartbeat.
I have been competing in combat type sports since I was in the 6th grade. During that time I have won, I have lost. But it has made me into the man I am today. Without that one on one competition I wouldn't be where I am today. So if you are on the edge thinking about competing take the dive and jump in.
Conclusion: There are no losers in competition. Either you win or you learn. I learned how to win by losing. Those loses have helped shape who I am today. I like who I am. I have a great life teaching Marital Arts and raising my family. Take away one of those loses and I might not be here writing this to you. All the wins all the loses help to make up who I am as both a coach and as a Human.
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