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How to deal with competition nerves in BJJ

How to deal with competition nerves in BJJ

Importantly being able to deal with competition nerves is one of the hardest parts about competing in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Many of us have had the experience of waiting for our name to be called. We patiently wait in the warm-up area trying to not use too much energy just sitting there. Before we know it we are thinking about the match ahead. Starting to breath faster in anticipation we keep replaying all the scenarios in our head.
By the time your name is called and we walk out to the mat area you feel like you have competed already feeling exhausted and not ready to get after it.
There is a better way and that it what we are looking at in this article. As an overview we will look at immediate strategies to deal with nerves that are to do with breathing and posture. Long-term we will discuss the theory of Superior Performance Intelligence which will be the most effective way to deal with nerves in the long-term

Immediate Strategies


Most important to successfully dealing with with nerves on the day of the competition is proper control of your breathing. When you are calm, confident, and in control, your breathing is likely to be smooth, deep, and rhythmic. When you’re under pressure and tense, your breathing is more likely to be short, shallow, and irregular.
For a lot of BJJ athletes they have not learned proper breathing to support their performance. Performing under pressure they will often hold their breath which increases muscle tension and interferes with the coordination of movement necessary for best performance. Taking a deep, slow, complete breath usually triggers a relaxation response.
Learn to breath when you compete
A great time to use breath control can be before you are about to compete if you feel like your nerves are start to impact you negatively. The slow and deliberate inhalation-exhalation sequence of 1:2 will help you maintain composure and control of your nerves. Focus on your breathing to be less distracted, renew your energy and to take a short mental break from the pressure of competition.


How we carry ourselves can have a great effect on our nerves. Sitting down looking at the ground will usually have you feeling more nervous and less confident. Adopting a tall posture with a bouncy step will leave you feeling confident and in control.
A practice that I started implementing to deal with pre-match nerves was adopting a “power posture”. A great TED talk by Amy Cuddy expands greatly on this subject Your body language may shape who you are.
Simply put when I feel my nerves starting to get harder to control. I will inhale/exhale and raise my hands completely overhead. This completely open and confident posture is a great way to increase confidence and increase readiness for the match ahead.

Long-term Strategies

Superior Performance Intelligence

While it is important to have short-term strategies to deal with nerves,  we also need a long-term approach. While some of you may have heard of emotional intelligence. Applicable to BJJ is the work of Graham Jones  who came up with the concept of superior performance intelligence.
To fully dive into superior performance intelligence is outside the scope of this article. Though by outlining some of the key concepts I hope to help you recognize what will go into your development of superior performance intelligence.
Knowing how to maximize your potential
  • Know yourself and what you are capable of doing
  • Stretching yourself by believing in your ability to be successful
  • Sustaining yourself by recovering from failure and celebrating success
Knowing how to work with your environment
  • Knowing your environment by being aware of the rules and the competition area
  • Shaping your environment making sure you have people to support or coach you
  • Being in tune with your environment reacting to the changing conditions of your preparation or match
Knowing how to deliver high performance
  • Planning and preparing by being aware of what constitutes success, plan for what-ifs and being in the best state emotional state
  • Delivering by performing under pressure, trusting your intuition, making clear decisions and knowing when to change the plan
  • Evaluating by comparing to a set criteria, recognising positives and negatives and identifying what needs work
By understanding these areas of growth for your performance we get a clear picture of what goes into being mentally prepared for competition.


This article has looked at some immediate and long-term strategies that can be implemented for helping to deal with competition nerves. Immediate strategies to do with breathing and posture dealt with how to deal with nerves on the day of competition.
Our long-term strategies dealt with a holistic view of giving yourself the best change of superior performance over a longer competition career.
At the end of the day competing is supposed to be a fun experience where you get to test your skills against other BJJ practitioners. Finally nerves is one of the top reasons for people not enjoying the process and if we can find ways to make it more enjoyable then that is a plus for everyone.

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