‚The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.‘ Muhammad Ali
In my first post I want to talk about one of the most important issues when it comes to competition – the so called ’mind game’. If I’m honest it took a while for me to learn how to step on the mat at tournaments focused and with a opened mind. In my first 3 tournaments I was totally pumped with adrenaline that even my muscles and veins tightened together already after the first of mostly 3 fights. But what really pissed me off was that I got distracted throughout my fights and couldn’t remember any details afterwards such as how it started, how it ends up on the ground, how me or my opponent got points… and so I wasn’t able to learn from my mistakes.
By the way, if you have the chance to get your fights filmed by your teammates, take it! It might seems strange watching yourself fighting because it always looks completely different than it feels, but it can really help you to analyze your strengths and weaknesses.
Of course I’m still very nervous before every fight but this is totally okay. If you wouldn’t be nervous, it wouldn’t mean anything to you. The answer is how to handle and control it at the right moment.
It all started when I recognized the key words ‚mind game‘ and ‚mental toughness‘ more and more through different articles and interviews. In the beginning I was very sceptic about all that ‚hocus-pocus-positiv-thinking-blabla’ but after a while they got my interest and I started some research about it. Then I found a very interesting article called ‚Controlling the Controllables‘ from Brad Jurica, a professional mental trainer from the U.S. and it totally changed my performance to the positive. He gives a very simple instruction about how you can control your thoughts to stay in THE ZONE, before and during the fight. The key is to learn how to focus on internal variables (your effort and attitude) you CAN CONTROL and fading out the external variables as your opponent, the referee or the crowd noise which often results in counterproductive emotions as fear, anger or frustration.
The only thing you have to do, is to remember these five items while you on the mat. To keep it simple and easy to remember, I summarized the major topics for you.
THOUGHTS are the first variable you have total control over.
If you find yourself thinking about future thoughts as the outcome or results, take a deep breath and ask yourself ‚can I control this?‘ If yes, then focus your attention on the internal variables and choose one specific you can control as f.e. your effort and let that be the product of your thoughts. If the answer is no, than choose one of your preferred controllable variables and give 100 % on the mat! Reminder: always keep your thoughts present, positive and simple!
EMOTIONS To control your emotions you have to learn to recognize whether your current emotion is helping or hurting your game. When it comes to competition and you have a lot of time to wait until your weight class is called, many athletes find themselves thinking about past events as losing a dominant position or losing a fight. Thoughts about the past often result in negative emotions such as anger or frustration which can lead to underperformance. To control your emotions, the second question you should ask yourself is ‚where is my mind?‘ The mind is always either in the past, present or future. Future thoughts lead to nervousness or anxiety, past thoughts lead to negative emotions as anger or frustration.
Reminder: recognize where your mind is, evaluate if it helps or hurt your game and modify it to positive present thoughts!
‚every decision you make either takes you closer or further away from what you want‘ Brad Jurica
You have to figure out what you really want and concentrate on decisions that will help you reach your goals. The decisions you make will lead your thoughts, feelings and actions. Make sure that you set your goals in reachable steps to provide yourself some feelings of success now and then.
Poor-Decision-Making often leads to struggles which take you away from what you want.
Reminder: you have to be more calm, confident and in control!
ATTITUDE is everything!
Your emotions and your attitude are closely related, it often is a combination of your thoughts and feelings. A positive attitude will fasten your progress and success as an athlete.
Reminder: your mind controls your body!
Most athletes compete with the desire to win. Of course you want to have fun, challenge yourself and figure out if you are able to use your technique and skills under pressure, but nobody steps on the mat with the idea of losing the fight.
Reminder: to maximize your potential and perform your best, think positive, believe in your ability and trust your decisions.
I hope that this will help you to improve your game for the next training, tournament, or even in a difficult situation at your job or personal life. For me it really worked, I invested a lot of time in my mind preparation and the first outcome was the gold medal at the German NeWaza Championship.
Try to practice this skills as often as possible to get used to it and tell me your experience on that. I would love to hear your success stories!
If you are interested in reading more about this topic, I can really recommend the book ‚roadmap to the zone‘ by Robert S. Neff and Michael K. Garza. This is a step-by-step introduction how to define your goals, get in the zone and never loose it again, and of course reach your sub-goals, which helped me a lot!