Competing in tournaments is a hard thing to do for many jiu-jitsu practitioners. Even in the higher belts, the nervousness and pressure never really goes away. But for beginners, competing can be one of the most daunting things they have ever done. Tournaments bring a combination of challenges; the pressure to win, avoiding injury, many people watching you, and an inexplicable feeling of anxiety – a fear of the unknown. Each of these challenges has solutions, some easier to solve than others. Once you have learned how to deal with them mentally, you can start to enjoy competing and even the anxiety that comes with it.
Pressure to win is probably the most common challenge one faces when entering a competition. Everyone has an innate feeling of not wanting to disappoint their instructor and teammates, even if they never actually put any pressure, such as telling them they have to win. But these practitioners have to understand that you will never really disappoint them. It is only in the very rare situations, perhaps for top jiu-jitsu competitors, that real pressure exists. If you’re not a professional, and you’re not building your reputation for a career, then there really is no reason to fear losing. No one will put that kind of pressure on you – so if you think that pressure does exist, put it out of your head. Most jiu-jitsu practitioners in the world are recreational athletes. They train only because they enjoy it. So if you compete and lose, it’s okay! You really have nothing to lose and a wealth of experience to gain. This single thought can help you overcome this particular challenge.
Avoiding injury is more of a fear than an actual challenge. A lot of beginners, especially after their first tournament, feel the intensity of competition and it leaves a bad impression. This is especially true for older beginners, who are usually more prone to injury. Because the intensity is so high in tournaments, most injuries happen during scrambles or during quick submission catches. At the academy, you usually hold back on the speed of the submission to not injure your teammate. In tournaments the competitors don’t want to take any chances of losing the submission, so they crank it at full speed and power and only release if their opponent taps in time. These are both very valid and real scenarios. But the truth is your chances of getting injured in tournaments are probably not that much higher than in the academy, and as your jiu-jitsu improves, so will your ability to anticipate the dangerous scrambles and minimize your chances of getting injured.
The anxiety that people get when many people are watching you in action is actually an interesting concept which I’m sure psychologists ponder upon on a regular basis. If you think about it logically, it doesn’t make any sense to be nervous if many people are watching you, especially in jiu-jitsu. It’s not like you are competing against all those people watching, and most of the people don’t even know who you are. That means that if you perform poorly, no one will actually care. There is only one person you really have to think about and that person will be standing across the mat from you.