Dear Jess, I just entered my first comp

Dear Jess,
I just entered my first comp and I’m freaking out. Do you have any ideas about how to prepare? Also, I’m 60kg, should I cut weight or fight at my weight?



Thanks for the email.
Firstly, congratulations on taking this massive step in your journey. Many people choose not to compete (and thats totally fine) but you have, and it is a brave choice. You should be proud of your confidence this choice already. Entering the competition was, wether you’re feeling it right now or not, a big sign that you are able to back yourself, that you do in fact believe in yourself.
This decision was an investment in your future self. She’s totally worth it.

Secondly, I have loads of advice for your first competition but its important to remember that your first competition is very likely that, the first…(implying one of more or many).

My preparation and expectations now are very different from what I would advise to others  to start out with as I’m beyond competition #50, I am a black belt and am generally pretty hard on myself both physically and mentally (which I definitely don’t recommend for all) …so in saying so, I can offer some advice on both physical and mental game planning for your first comp now. We can revisit further competitions at a later date.
Failing to plan is planning to fail.
Make a plan. Start with the simplest…dates and timelines.
Talk to your coach. Let them know exactly which competition you are entering & how many months/weeks/days away it is. It is important for them to be aware of your timeline as you’ll need some support and acknowledgement/attention as stress kicks in nearer to comp day. You may also want them to attend the comp with you. Ask if they are available now so your planning is sorted and no surpises come up for you. If your coach cannot attend: knowing so now will give you time to organise a team mate to coach you on the day and not stress you out if you find out later.
If they are unable to attend, I would highly recommend having someone with you that also does BJJ (preferably someone that outranks you and optimally but not necessarily, has rolled with you and understands your particular choices or habits during rolls i.e., your game).
Another reason to talk to your coach early about the competition is that they need to be aware of the specific rule set you will be playing under. Many of the comps held in Australia have slight variations on length of matches, tournament structure (round robins, single elimination, weight classes, opens weight classes, merged belt categories etc), submissions allowed/disallowed and more. Your coach is well informed about different competitions, the language surrounding each type and their structure. Your coach will be able to help you plan for a specific competiton best.
Some coaches may choose a different competition for your first if they feel the rule set is not appropriate for you. Try not to be offended if this choice is made, it is very likely about your safety (I am mainly raising this as students that have not yet trained in heel hooks or knee bars probably don’t need to enter comps that allow them until they do). Best solution if given this roadblock is to ask your coach to explain it to you (so there is no upset or confusion).Training: 
 Ask your coach to set aside a time soon to talk about what your best game plan is for during the actual match and if there is anything they feel you personally should be focusing your energy and skills on – both in the lead up to and during your matches. It wont take long to have this chat but its worth addressing outside of class time so you have their full attention. Take notes, write it down, keep track of the plan. Revisit when feeling off track.
After the planning conversation, be aware that the process and application of preparation is your own responsibility & that even though your team and coach will be supportive & encouraging, this is your journey & yours to focus on. Very rarely will anyone be able to hold your hand throughout all of your competitions. I see this ignored by athletes often in preparing themselves; I can’t tell you how many new competitors I see unnecessarily disappointed in their coaches/teams involvement for their competitions and I’d like to spare you from that experience. Ask now so there are no extra surprises to have to adapt to on the day.

You should strive to enjoy the process of learning, even within a competition setting.

An aside: The thing about BJJ competition is that you are given the opportunity to compete as a white belt, blue belt, purple belt etc when for many of us the true goal should be to compete as a black belt. Remember that in your training you’re learning how to be a black belt just as at competition you are LEARNING to be a black belt competitor…even now, as a white belt.
You should strive to enjoy the process of learning, even within a competition setting.

Right now, more important than winning is the need to learn what works and doesn’t work for YOU. Any help and suggestions you get outside of support and encouragement might work for you and might not work for you, the important thing is that you discover these things for yourself. Your competition career is YOUR focus and goal (not other peoples, even if they support and share your vision). Its important to acknowledge that this is a team based yet solo pursuit. You gotta take ownership of it & not be worried if others don’t (I WISH someone told me this early on, woulda saved some heart ache and some sad scenes. It would have also helped me be more proud of my own accomplishments).

As an example, if you are my student or I am in the process of mentoring you this is how I would approach your first competition from a practical sense for focus during the match:
  1. Ideally you will have a clear idea of a goal from on top (your favourite pass to control to potentially a submission) plus one clear plan from bottom (get closed guard and hang on for dear life? haha or sweep, sweep might be better, control and potentially a submission).  One plan from top and one plan from bottom is PLENTY to work on.
  1.A If you only have a plan from bottom or only have a plan from top, make sure you work on leading your training partners TOWARD this on area. Funnel them to your ‘A Game’.
  1. Ensure you have a ‘match starter’ ie; Initial grips, the all the way to takedown and/or intial grips all the way to your guard. The matches will start on your feet an you need to initiate contact so grips from standing are important. If you havent yet practiced this, now is the time to start.
  3. Practice the plans. As much as is suitable for you and your sanity. Start from standing when you can as, as we mentioned earlier, the matches will also. Do 20 reps with no resistance, then 10 with 50% resistance, then 5 with 100% resistance, then one complete round. Dont get frustrated when it goes wrong, thats why you’re doing it now. It will go great on the day, trust yourself.
4. Practice escapes from places of control: side control (both), mount, back control, knee ride, turtle, north south & closed guard as they are likely positions to suck in comp. Don’t be too hard on yourself when you ‘lose’ from these positions. You’re kinda meant to..which motivates you to avoid them…think of this as your homework.
  1. Practice your attacks from postions of control.
  2. Basic understanding of the rules of a match & the length of your match.
  3. 3 goals, written down, that aren’t allowed to be winning (more on that later)
My students will focus their self lead training time 75% on their ideal set of scenarios (playing out my A game) and 25% of my time focusing on escapes & attacks.
If you are worried that you cant do this during class, just ask your team mates to start from where you need them to during rolling. Talk to your coach first if this is not something they usually allow.
My advice is pretty simple and is a check list type scenario:
-Are you travelling internationally to compete?
Consider the implications of different weight categories. Test your style at different weights during training, do test run weight cuts, make an informed decision.
-Are you competing in Australia?
Fight at your current weight. Focus on feeling fit and healthy rather than being a certain size. Unless you’re doing it for aesthetics, a challenge or the thrill of discipline.
Cutting weight in Australia is not necessary unless you’re gathering information for larger or international competitions. Realistically, there are very good girls in your division, in the division below its the same, as is the one above. I would focus my energy on getting really confident with your game plan, rather than worry about your weight, especially for the first one. Weight can be addressed at your second or third competition when you have less ‘firsts’ to deal with. It is a lot to think about ontop of everything else. Give yourself a little break and focus on things other than your weight for just now.

I know you will have made a spreadsheet or layout of your training plans/hours/days. Please ensure you add a recovery session at a spa or the beach as well as a very certain rest day. Active rest days are fine too but make sure theyre a walk with a friend or float at the beach. You MUST plan to recover or you won’t be working at your best abilities.

No, I don’t think you’re cray for entering but you might currently think so. Lets unpack that.
Nerves. Yep, they proably arrived in waves and will keep coming in waves. You likely had a surge of adrenaline when you first thought to enter the comp, when you first spoke to someone about the idea of you competing and then again when you entered online. A heads up that you’ll probably be floating on some sets that come in and some of the waves will feel bigger than you were expecting and come at strange times. Don’t worry, none will be so big to drown you. You can get through this.
You’ll get another nerves-wave when you check the bracket or see the names of the girls you’re facing…or your match times….and then again in the lead up week and very definitely on the day. Lets give you some bouys to hold on to so you don’t feel adrift:
Meditation. I would recommend taking up a practice now. A 5 minute a day breathing focused sit will do you more good than you’re expecting. Use the Headspace app. Great to do before training or at the beginning of your day.
Observation. When you’re feeling that surge of adrenaline and decide that its fear, take a moment to reflect on the last time you waited to board a rollercoaster…nerves and excitement can feel exactly the same. Thrilling is a word to focus on. Now you’re really LIVING and feeling it is absolutely an honour.
It is totally okay to start enjoying the rush as a thrill rather than a fear. See if you can train or roll a little while feeling like this. Keep a smile on your face and see what happens. Likely is your gas wont be as great as usual but trust me, you can still perform techniques when in this headspace. Why not test it out now before game day to reassure yourself?
Check your brackets just before class. It will be an outlet for your nerves and prove to you you can perform under the influence of adrenaline.
Goal Setting. Set yourself 3 goals for the competition. Write them down. None of them are allowed to be ‘winning’. Make sure you revisit these after the comp to see how you went.
(thanks Liv!, great advice that I still follow to this day)Expectations & results:
For many their main goal for their very first competition is to simply get to the comp and experience it. Winning? Meh. Awesome jiu jitsu? Eh. Maaaaybe. Great if you do but there’s more important goals to achieve here. Like BECOMING a competitor.
This comp is that first knock on the door as it were.(As a black belt, after 50+ competitions I am still discovering little details that work for me and don’t work for me. Just like training, we’re continually ironing out the bad and trying to work toward the good. Its a process, not a destination. Its a journey, not an end).Eg. of things you will learn at your first comp that you wont even realise are worth their weight in gold and will store in your vast book of knowledge for future comps to support yourself and others….. (remembering that learning how NOT to do something is equally as valuable as knowing how TO do something….)

-How long matches are for your belt level.
-Rules, well some at least.
-Some scoring elements…
-How a referee behaves (speech, actions, signals)
-How to listen to a ref when they give you direction.
-How nerves feel.
-How a bracket works.
-How to breathe during a match (or not).
-How to listen to coaching during a match (or not).
-How long the wait is to fight.
-How to pack a bag re food & drinks.
-How to coach/encourage your team mates during their matches.
-What losing feels like.
-What winning feels like.
-How to win/lose with dignity.
-What it feels like to completely blow out your forearms and grips.

-What an open weight is.
-Uniform requirements.

Every competition is going to feel like the most important competition and the most challenging youve faced. Remember that you’re simply repping it out, just like you do in the gym. Your goals are to get to the competition, repeat until it feels comfortable, advance the difficulty (usually by belt or travel or size of competition) & rep out until feels comfortable again. The idea is to CHALLENGE yourself and reap the rewards of doing so. Just like when you joined up for BJJ in the first place.

Enjoy it & send me some pics.
I’d also love to hear back from you with your 3 goals and how you went with them.

Jess Fraser
Black Belt
Head of Australian Girls in Gi

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