Competition analysis is an essential excercise for competitive athletes. By re-evaluating their performances after a tournament, regardless of a win or loss, athletes are able to identify positive aspects of their performance, so they can continue to do what is working, or identify the negative aspects of their performance, locate the source of the problem, and start the process of finding a solution. Very often, competitors focus on three basic aspects of their performance: the technical, the strategic and the physical, but there is a fourth aspect that is often overlooked, which is equally important if not more important than the others: the mental.
Mental preparation is widely underestimated. Athletes often feel that they need “more cardio”, or to drill more, buy more instructional DVD’s, and invest in private classes. These can absolutely help, but the reality is that good physical, technical, and strategic training must be accompanied by good mental training. The best Jiu-Jitsu competitor of all time, Roger Gracie, stated to reporter Deb Blythe during his preparation for the 2010 Worlds: “I feel comfortable in any position, top or bottom, but my mind is the strongest part. I have a very strong mind and I think positively. I’m always very confident and I think that helps a lot.”
Often, athletes are hard workers with great discipline and perseverance, but have a hard time overcoming internal obstacles to reach their full potential and perform to the best of their ability. There are many specific mental skills that can contribute to success in jiu-jitsu and in other areas of life. Psychological skills and techniques help athletes make adjustments to their actions, thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations that will improve their performance on the mat. They can all be learned and improved with instruction and practice. M.S.T. (mental skills training) refers to the systematic and consistent practice of mental or psychological skills with the purpose of enhancing performance, increasing enjoyment, and gaining greater self-satisfaction. Mental skills include goal setting, visualization, positive self-talk, proper management of emotions & anxieties, and so forth.
Athletes MUST believe in themselves, and self-confidence is the first step. Athletes CANNOT maximize their potential and success without a high level of confidence in their skills and abilities. If confidence is how much one believes in their ability to execute a physical skill or perform a task, then confidence is derived from a baseline assessment of past performances, training, and preparation, or from the belief that they are physically talented.
An athlete in control of their level of confidence understands how they gain confidence, focuses on their strengths, and maintains confident and positive thoughts about their skills even during hard times. But they must also understand how to identify their negative thoughts, beliefs, or expectations that undermine their confidence in order to overcome the issue. By gaining control, an athlete is able to accept responsibility over their success. Gary Mack stated in his book, Mind
Game: “Learn how to use your mind or your mind will use you. Actions follow our thoughts and images. Don’t look where you don’t want to go”.
As sport jiu-jitsu competition grows in popularity and becomes more sophisticated, competitors and coaches who refuse to open their minds to the implementation of mental skills training may place themselves at a disadvantage in terms of performance and satisfaction. Mental skills MUST be learned and practiced just like physical and technical skills. An investment in mental preparation may spell the difference between the most successful athletes and the rest of the pack. Through mental skills training, an athlete should be able to self-regulate his or her own emotional and performance state, make the proper adjustments, and then finally reach their full potential and success in jiu-jitsu and in life.
Words by Gustavo Dantas
Photo by Kristen Mendes