Something we spoke about in our previous post is about testing the waters. Competing. There are several reasons to consider competing and this post will cover some broad reasons and provide some tips for competing. The post below was written with a new competitor in mind, but we’re sure any seasoned competitor will be able to pick up a few points to finetune their campaign.
Reasons to Compete
So, you’ve been training consistently and you now have a good understanding of the fundamentals and have in-class sparring/ rolling sessions under your belt. What’s next?
Well, competing will be a great way to test your skills…with people outside the club!
If you train in grappling sports such as BJJ, we encourage you to test your skills as early as 12 weeks into your training. This is, of course, provided that you are training consistently (about 2x per week) and managing recovery, other training, etc. (Covered more later in the post). And most importantly, you have the blessing of your coach(es) to do so!
In striking-based sports such as Boxing, coaches like Coach Zobiah (Z) keep a close eye on our up-and-coming competitive fighters. Coach Z’s process involved inter-club sparring as a good halfway point toward competition integrated into the training program. Patience is key here. For competitive boxers, it can take anywhere between 1-2 years before their fight debut.
Preparing for competition provides a target, a goal for training. This purpose can re-focus your mindset and makes you reassess what you are doing towards this goal. This goal can also influence the non-training choices that you make as well (e.g., go to sleep or scroll endlessly on TikTok, or choose a softie instead of an alcoholic beverage the night before the competition).
Competing puts your skills on the line, plain and simple. Winning is not guaranteed but learning is. Competing gives you an opportunity to identify gaps in your skills. Consequently, this provides a new goal for your next training phase. Hone that skill and test again.
One of the Kids’ BJJ coaches, Coach Mitch has a great example of this. In his first-ever competition, Coach Mitch was caught in 3 triangle chokes. A triangle choke commonly occurs when an attacker wraps their legs around your neck with one arm trapped within the leg wrap. Pressure is then applied by closing the gap between your arm and neck with their thigh resulting in interrupted blood flow. Highly uncomfortable, this will cause you to tap out and submit…unless you prefer to see stars and nothingness…After that competition, Coach Mitch focused his training on defending triangles and getting proficient in them. Since then, his opponents have not been able to finish their triangles on him (apart from the black belts).
The last thing about competing and certainly not the least, is the new friends you make that are born out of mutual respect and passion for the sport.
Prepare for Battle
Aka learning….and lots of it.
Woohoo, you’ve decided to bite the bullet and jump on that competition train! First things first, you are never too old for your first comp. BJJ Coach Kane did start competing until he was 21 and some of our other members didn’t start competing until their late 30s. The tips and things to consider below are general and by no means an exhaustive list. These are divided into 3 phases:
- Competition day
Let your coaches know that you plan to complete.
Identify the competition, this gives you a timeline and target date you are working towards.
Learn the rules. All sanctioned event organisers have different rules, so make sure you learn them.
Familiarise yourself with the tournament software.
To illustrate, a commonly used platform for combat sports is Smoothcomp. This is where events are organised and scores logged. Brackets, time and mat numbers are released here, so you will need to know how to find this information prior to the competition day.
Selecting the right category for you
The division you compete in should work for you. In most, if not all sanctioned combat sports competitions, these divisions are categorised by gender, age, belt level, and weight, to ensure fairness for all competitors in terms of chances to win the match. In most cases, selecting the right weight division is a decision you will need to make. If you are considering making weight for a lower weight division, you need to consider if the timeline to cut weight is realistic and appropriate. If doing so is a strategic advantage to you, we recommend that you work with a sports nutritionist to ensure that you are doing so appropriately. For new competitors, we strongly recommend that you select the category your current weight falls into.
Formulate a Game Plan
Assess your current training and plan what and how you need to finetune it to optimise you for the competition (including strength and conditioning sessions, privates and recovery protocol)…hint…your coaches would be great for this!
Create your pit crew
Identify the people who are going to support you- this includes your coaches, family, training partners, physios, GPs, etc.
Consider private sessions with coaches
These one-on-one sessions are tailored to you and your needs. This is also a great way to identify what your game plan will be during competition as your coaches will be able to highlight what your strengths are and play to them. Just as importantly, identify any weaknesses and work on improving them.
Schedule your recovery THEN training
Prioritising recovery mitigates injuries. Chances are, if you are planning to complete, you’ll be increasing your session frequency and/or intensity, which essentially increases the load on your body. Flipping the script and scheduling recovery (and following through) allows your body to recover properly and get you ready for the next session.
Fuel your training and recovery
Eat and hydrate adequately. Under fuelling can result in poor recovery and sports performance. What and how much you need will differ depending on when you are eating.
Chat with other competitors
Ask them about their experiences and what they’ve learnt. You’ll find that most people are more than willing to share what their experiences are and provide great advice to consider.
If at all possible, spectate a competition, preferably by the same organisers as your target competition. Observe how things are run, and what the atmosphere is like, and have a go at tracking the matches on the competition software (e.g., Smoothcomp). Doing this ahead of your competition day will help decrease some of the nerves on the day as you are not going into a completely new environment.
Check the brackets
Brackets/ matches and the competition schedule are usually released 24-48 hours prior to the event. Organisers will also usually send competition managers/ club representatives the floor plan and housekeeping instructions. Check-in with your coaches and make sure you know what time you have to be at the venue. Ensure you give yourself enough time to weigh in, refuel and warm up.
This starts the night before, eat well and sleep well. Ensure you have your bag packed including but not limited to gis, rashguard, shorts, mouthguard and intra-competition fuel. A note on fuel (i.e., food and drink) for competition, ensure these are foods that you’ve had before and don’t include something new/ you’ve never tried before. During a competition is not where you want to find out that the fandangle new energy bar sits in your stomach like a rock…not great when you have to be quick on your feet, roll around or invert.
On the day:
- Check-in and weigh-in as soon as you get to the venue. Getting this done first thing is best if you are worried about ‘making weight’
- Let your gym representative/ coach know you have arrived. This is helpful as they will be able to brief you and point you in the right direction.
- Set up camp. Find a place to set your things down, relax and watch other matches.
- Roll with the nerves. The first fight is huge! You feel all eyes are watching you, you don’t want to mess up and you don’t want to lose or get knocked out (Which hardly happens)! That’s completely normal. And guess what? Your opponent is feeling the same!
- Get in the zone and warm up. When it’s time, head over to the warm-up area and start preparing. Hint: Headphones are great here, to tune out the noise.
BJJ Coach, Kane Stone starts his warm-up routine 20 mins before his first scheduled match, this is when he starts “visualising the win and what I’m going to do while I get warmed up”.
- Listen to your coaches. During the competition, your coach will not be too far away and will give you advice from the side lines. Listen and put that into action.
- Embody good sportsmanship. Always, and we mean ALWAYS, thank your opponent(s), their coaches, the referees and other event officials.
Professor Kyle says, “Whether you win or lose, do it with grace and dignity”
- Be the support. When your matches are over, you can leave, should you choose to, and that’s ok! However, if you can, stay and support other team members competing. Some members get to the competitions early to watch and support others before their matches. (Hint, this is a great distraction and helps manage the nerves!)
Debrief with your coaches. Analysing how you went is more than just counting wins and losses. It includes how each match felt, what part of the game plan worked well and what can be improved. It is not only an opportunity to look and what you were doing, but it is also an opportunity to look at what your opponents were doing too. Knowing their strengths can help you in your future competitions by including that offensive technique in your toolbox, or what Coach Mitch demonstrated earlier, improving defensive actions against those techniques.
Replay the videos. If you had the opportunity to have someone there watching your matches during the competition, they may also be able to help video your matches.
Professor Kyle says that doing so allows you to “go back to analyse so you can better yourself.”
Focus on the learnings. Allow this to drive your training sessions going forward.
Coach Kane’s biggest advice for competing, particularly at the white belt for BJJ is to “detach yourself from the outcome and make it about learning!”
If you didn’t get the hint already, here it is plain and simple. Treat competition as a learning opportunity. Once you do that, the outcome becomes less significant. The focus is on progression in your martial arts journey- it’s a long one if you want it to be.
Leave the ego and expectations at the door both at training and at competitions. Focus on training and going out there to win. Put in your best efforts and don’t give up.
Focus on the positives and have fun! When something is enjoyable, we tend to stick to it or come back to it. Highlighting the positives help, think about what went well and celebrate those small wins!
Head back to training hungry. Put in effort in training and train hard!
A final word from Professor Kyle:
“You can’t always win, but you can always deserve to.”