Technique drills and rolling is a critical part of BJJ training, yet the mental aspect may be the most significant part of the game – and the most difficult to master. We’ve all seen it. Guys who are “great” in the gym and can roll forever, but never perform well in tournaments. Why? They have conditioned themselves so that they can only perform well “within their comfort zone.”
So which comfort zone are we talking about? Their mental comfort zone. It’s easier for people to push themselves out of their comfort zone physically than it is mentally. Physical workouts can be tough, but once you add mental stress and a healthy dose of adrenalin performance can decrease in the blink of an eye. Mental stress steals our gas and, most importantly, our ability to think and access the many techniques we have trained. Instead, we succumb to frenetic internal dialogue that is all negative.
So how do you condition you mind to deal with the stress of performing under pressure? By artificially inducing that stress and pressure in training. Here are a few ways to add this stress and take your tournament preparation to the next level:
1) Always Pick a Higher Belt: When it comes time to pair up and roll, always seek out more experienced guys with higher belts. Most guys choose their same old buddies that they feel “comfortable” with (mentally). Don’t. Every notice how you gas quicker when rolling with a Black Belt as compared to a White Belt? That’s the point – habitually expose yourself to that type of stress and fighting in a tournament will seem easy. That requires that you leave your ego at the door and are willing to get tapped out. How else are you going to learn?
2) Hold Practice Tournaments: Encourage your school to hold in-house tournaments. Invite all students, friends and families so the place is crazy and loud and you can’t hear yourself think. That will feel just like a NAGA or other major Tournament. Or better yet, ask you Professor to get paired up with another competitive local school and have a tournament for pride and local bragging rights. Get used to the pressure by living it and discover/address your problems here rather than when a Gold Medal is on the line.
3) Deal With Blind Pairings: Ask your Professor to blindly pair you up with anyone he chooses after class, with everyone watching, for a match. This should be done without warning, maybe after a tough training session so that you get a taste of that adrenaline rush and can observe your immediate self-dialogue. Is it confident? Is if fearful with doubt? Listen to what the radio station in your head is saying – a bunch of negative static or something positive and encouraging. Get used to the stress and you will deal with it better and it won’t be so unnerving and rob you of your mind and your physical capabilities!
Like all things in life, growth seldom occurs without some pain, or discomfort or effort. The journey we know as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu requires that we lean into these tougher times to make us stronger, better and smarter on the mat. Only you can realize the potential that you have inside. Make it happen!