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How to Deal with BJJ Competition Nerves – Meditation and Visualization Techniques That Actually Help

How to Deal with BJJ Competition Nerves - Meditation and Visualization Techniques That Actually Help
pic from a recent competitionof mine (photo by kyu lee)

How to deal with BJJ competition nerves?
If you’ve ever competed in a bjj tournament or competition then you know that the nerves and anxiety are real.

These techniques will help you if you are trying to figure out the best ways to deal with bjj competition nerves.

I have a degree in Psychology from Rutgers University and have competed over 30 times in BJJ.


Like others, I have also suffered from bjj competition anxiety and thought that there has to be a better way to deal with the roller coaster of emotions and be able to perform at my highest potential.

Why Does Managing your Competition Anxiety Matter?

Many people don’t want to hear it, but if there ever was a secret to getting better at BJJ faster it is, unfortunately, by competing as often and as frequently as possible.

Bjj competition nerves can be dealt with by using visualization to imagine detailed, positive outcomes and meditative breathing to focus on your breath and calm yourself.

If you have no background in wrestling or other similar sports, you’ll quickly find that going out to a bjj competition brings with it a massive amount of adrenaline and for some, like myself, the feeling of having a bladder of an 80 year old man.

Failing to manage your competition nerves properly, not only limits your performance, but also your possible, future improvement in bjj.

If you have bad competition anxiety it may stop you from competing in the future and severely limit all the growth that comes with going out to a tournament.


For more info on how to get ready for your first competition check out our post here

What is Positive Visualization and How Does It Help Performance Anxiety?

During my undergraduate psychology degree, I took a class on “Sensation and Perception” which deals not only with the sensory processes but also the perception of events which directly relates to competition performance.

Positive Visualization is simply visualizing positive outcomes.

This Sensation and Perception class lead to my own further exploration of visualization.

While this is broaching on pseudoscience and things that are definitely immeasurable, stick with me for these one or two paragraphs that could have possibly been written by your whacky aunt that wears too many bracelets.

So the basics of visualization is however real and detailed you can create an image or event in your head the more likely the event will come to fruition.

I get it – this sounds pretty far out there, but if you can visualize all the details of you hitting all the techniques that you have been practicing on the mat these will count as “mental repetitions”.

I use visualization in two ways:

  1. Scenario Visualization – to picture myself feeling clam and confident in the competition setting
  2. Performance Visualization – perform mental repetition of all of the techniques and submissions I want to hit at my bjj competition

1. Scenario Visualization

For an example of this:

Picture yourself arriving to the competition…

..calm and ready,

..hearing your name being called to the staging area and becoming excited

..stepping out onto the competition mat confident,

..the feeling of the padded mat on your feet,

..shaking the ref’s hand

..being ready to hit the exact moves you have performed effectively both in training and
in hundreds of mental repetitions.

2. Performance Visualization

Imagine the exact feeling of your body in space hitting your favorite sweep or the feeling of the exact moment when you have your favorite submission sunk in on your opponent and you know that the tap is inevitable.

You can perform these visualizations during quiet meditation at home, on your way to the venue, or just before stepping on the mat.

To put it simply, the more you go through these positive outcomes in your mind the better you will feel.

The alternative of these is having your mind being over taken by images of embarrassment, injury, and shame when you go out there to compete.

Again, this isn’t scientific or even measurable but give it a shot.

I guarantee if you fill your mind with positive visualizations as opposed to negative outcomes you will feel much less nervous and able to better perform.

Meditation Techniques That Work for BJJ Competition Performance

If there’s one thing I’ve learned through my study of psychology and meditation, its that we often get in the way of our own optimal performance.

Our mind wants to fill itself up with anxious thoughts and unrealistic outcomes. It constantly wants to conjure up images of failure or embarrassment.

So in addition the the first tip about visualization, I recommend practicing some form of breath awareness or mindfulness.

Mindfulness, in the meditative sense, is simply focusing all of your attention on your breathe. Other thoughts will come into your mind, but just gently bring your focus back to your breath and the exact sensation of air flowing in and out.

I like to focus on the very tip of my nose and of the air flowing in and out of it.

If I’m home I will usually plan for ~10 minutes for mindfulness meditation whenever I have some down time.

You can also include counting with your breaths if you still find it difficult to focus.

Many people have success with “box breathing”. This is when you are counting during each breath.

For example:

  • You would inhale during a count of 4 seconds
  • Hold your breath for 4 seconds
  • Exhale over 4 seconds
  • Then hold your breath for 4 seconds before starting the cycle over again

These breathing techniques are meant to clear your mind and bring you back down to the present.

I use these techniques during a bjj competition, usually just before stepping out on the mat.

You can also use these same techniques in combination with positive visualization at home or when you are relaxing before your matches start.

Just before my first match, I tend to feel like my mind is racing so by focusing on my breath it helps to keep my body calm and my mind at ease.

The last thing you want is your body filled with adrenaline and going into overdrive before your first match even starts, and this helps to avoid doing just that.

Bjj competition nerves can be dealt with by using visualization to imagine detailed, positive outcomes and meditative breathing to focus on your breath and calm yourself.

Some Other Quick Competition Tips to Help with Anxiety

Try to maintain your same sleep schedule and meals/meal routine the day before and day of the competition

Make it a point to shake your opponent’s hand prior to stepping onto the mat – this helps humanize both you and your opponent and bring some of your unrealistic fears back down to reality. Generally, I will greet my opponent if I see him in the staging area and thank him for showing up.

This final tip is a little unorthodox, but if you really struggle with competition anxiety and want to go out for your first competition, I recommend signing up for your first tournament and purposely go out there with the goal of getting submitted or losing by points – really doesn’t matter how you lose as long as you lose….every…single….match.

I know this sounds strange and may seem a bit counter intuitive, but in reality, this is a form of exposure therapy.

Exposure therapy is exposing yourself to an anxiety inducing experience (usually a little bit at a time) and realizing that “hey this really isn’t that bad”.

If you don’t want your coach or teammates to witness this purposeful, miserable failure of a competition performance, you can sign up for a bjj tournament an hour or two away.

I promise as you’re leaving the tournament you will be laughing to yourself when you think about how nervous you were about competing.

Plus now that you experienced your first tournament you can go into the next one all the more confident.

Final Word on BJJ Competition Nerves

In the end, it honestly comes down to the more you compete the easier it gets.

While BJJ competition nerves never really go away, these visualization and meditation techniques have helped me manage these feelings and get out there time and time again.

If you continue to compete, and I hope you do:

  • You will be accustomed to the feelings of a competition match and all the adrenaline that comes with it
  • You will experience a lot of different outcomes of different matches
  • You will be putting yourself through your own private version of exposure therapy (whether purposefully aiming to fail or just getting out there more often)

 After doing several bjj competitions, you will notice yourself becoming much more comfortable and less nervous before or during a competition.

For me, I distinctly noticed at around my 10th competition, I was drastically less nervous and was finally able to replicate my results in the training room in a competition setting.

So my goal for you is to use these techniques and continue competing until you get to that comfortable point – it may be at 5 competitions, it may be at 10 competitions, but you will, eventually, realize that there isn’t all that much to be afraid of and that you do, in fact, have the skills to go out there and do your best.

Hope these tips have helped you and if they have at all or if you’ve like to get some further insight into my own mental competition prep feel free to drop me a line at:   zack@heavybjj.com

Thanks for reading all! – Zack


If all else failes here’s our post on how to best deal with a compeition loss (i’ve been there)