Things Every White Belt Should Know Before Competing
Starting Jiu-Jitsu completely independent of any friends who train can be a scary thing, especially since you have no idea what to expect nor do you have anyone to give you advice (with the exception of social media and blogs like yours truly). Despite having a lot of friends who were already training before I started, there were a lot of things that I wish I knew as a white belt. One of the main things, which 9 years later, I still haven’t got a good grasp on, is competing. Had I known a lot of things that I know now (by trial and error and watching others succeed), I think that my approach to competition would be quite different and so would my results.
So here are some things that every white belt should know before competing to help set you up for success:
Remember that competition is not always a good indicator of skill level. You might enter your first competition under the impression that you are going to kill it because you’re killing it in sparring against other white belts. A quite common misconception is that doing well in competition equates to skill level. This is not true, as there are many factors in which someone could do well in training rather than competition. Case in point: nerves, strength, and competitive drive. Someone who might be good in training may not be good in a high pressure situation such as competing. So in the case that you might not do as well in your first competition as you had hoped or thought, don’t give up. Or don’t doubt your skill set. On that same note, don’t blow your ego up either in the case that you won (promotions don’t always equate to winning competitions).
Don’t give up. Just because you didn’t do well in your first, second, or tenth competition doesn’t mean that you’ll never be a champion. It takes a lot of learning to understand how to compose yourself and get mentally ready for competition. Most high level competitors will tell you that competition is 90% mental and it is. The more competition experience you put under your belt, essentially the easier it becomes. This is not to say that competition will always come easy or naturally… because sometimes it won’t for some people. However, experience is what you make of it. It’s entirely up to you.
Don’t half-ass competition training. I get it, you work full-time, go to school full-time, have a family, etc. Everyone has responsibilities. But I can tell you one thing, if you are competing, it is your responsibility to put 100% into your preparation for competition. No, I’m not saying to go balls to the wall in every single training, but what I’m saying is, BE READY. Train hard and smart. The preparation that you put into your training will definitely show on the mats. You gassed out in competition? Yeah, it might have been an adrenaline dump but what about the warm ups that you missed for 80% of the classes you attended or the 3 out of 5 training sessions that you missed during the week a month out from competition? Could that have made the difference in your cardio? 100%. Oh, and don’t skip out on those hard rolls either. If there’s someone who always gets the best of you in training, keep training with them. You will get so much better when you are challenged rather than taking the easy rolls out.
Don’t rely on other people to tell you how you think you’re going to do. I get it, your teammates are your biggest supporters. But not everyone is gonna tell you straight up that you need to train more or get your mind right before competing. Remember how competition is 90% mental? Well, it doesn’t mean to feed yourself (or your ego) with your teammates pumping you up. Yes, that’s part of it, but don’t rely on it. Good training partners will not only pump you up this way, but they will be the first ones to help you TRAIN and get ready for the damn thing.
Have a game plan. This is pretty much common sense but not always. Make sure you have a game plan from start to finish. Unlike in training, competition starts from the feet not the knees, which shockingly, many people aren’t prepared for. So when I say “game plan,” have a plan that starts from the feet, whether you’re pulling guard, taking someone down, getting taken down, or getting guard pulled on you. Not to mention having back up plans when your Plan A doesn’t go accordingly. While it is super overstimulating to try to go over every possible scenario, stick to what is familiar and most importantly, know how to defend and recover your guard.
Be realistic with your goals and expectations. We often put too much pressure on ourselves to succeed. The reality is that Jiu-Jitsu is hard and BJJ competitions are even harder. Remember that as a white belt, you started doing BJJ for fun, to get in shape, etc. You’re not going to turn into a professional BJJ athlete overnight. If this is something that you want to work towards, start working on your technique and moving up the ranks first before entering every single competition that comes up. If you focus on competing more than your actual BJJ, your skill set won’t improve as quickly…
The great thing about being a white belt is that nobody has any expectation of you other than to survive and stick around. Competing alongside of your team is an awesome feeling, but so is helping them get ready for competition as well. I believe that every white belt should compete at least once. You don’t have to like it or do it again, but it’s definitely something that will have an effect on your BJJ journey as a whole.