Sports Psychology Tips for Brazilian Jiu-jitsu

For those people who train Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, both as amateurs or professionally, it is important that not just what they do is enjoyable, but also the results. In order to achieve a good result, a person must put enough effort into achieving it. He must also be consistent, have a strong character, have patience and in some circumstances, a will to win. All of these things depend on the person’s psychology. This being so, a person must develop his psychology as much as his physiology (you can read how to improve your conditioning here). This article discusses what sports psychology can do for Brazilian Jiu-jitsu athletes.

By Lance Corporal C. Warren Peace - The United States Marine Corps website

By Lance Corporal C. Warren Peace - The United States Marine Corps website

SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY HAS THE ANSWERS

Despite the relatively young age of sports psychology, the effect it has on the athletes is huge. Fairly recently, I was talking to a very well-known kickboxer. He mentioned that despite his stellar record and an immense talent, his last loss, which was over a year ago, has impacted him in many negative ways. Now, despite being better than his opponent in every way, he sometimes freezes during a fight. This results in him being hit more than he should.

In order to succeed in BJJ and in life, you must have a fighter’s personality. Therefore, psychology is important not just for those who wish to succeed in their personal life, but also for those who wish to succeed on the mats.

Sports psychology is a science that draws not just from psychology, but also from kinesiology, physiology and biomechanics. It also studies how various psychological mechanisms form and manifest. In addition to the conversation above, remember when you felt that you could pass any guard, sweep any passer and submit anyone (similar to the “flow” state about which you can read here). All of this can be achieved by using the ideas from sports psychology.

WINNING LEADS TO MORE WINNING

There is a saying that it is all in the little things and according to sports psychology, it is indeed true. Unfortunately, many people believe that one loss means that they are no longer as good as they ought to be. I have certainly experienced that. Fairly recently I competed at my first competition in a gi after years of not wearing one. Unsurprisingly, I lost within 3 minutes by way of some lapel choke that I still don't fully understand. This led me to believe that the years I have spent training have been waisted as I should have won the tournament.

That thinking, however, is not the correct way to think according to a Russian psychologist, Maxim Vlasov. If you have ever won a competition, however small, or even submitted anyone, you will feel happiness or fulfillment (I have written about extrinsic motivation here). Once you feel that, you will feel your strength and your abilities, which may even seem limitless. This way, that feeling of success, regardless how small or big, will set your mind onto more success.

The moment you see yourself as a winner, you will feel that winning the next competition is in fact not as difficult as it seems. This state of mind helps to develop the mindset of a champion. A great example of this is Connor McGregor, the UFC superstar and a two-division World Champion. In one of his tweets, he said:

"Winners focus on winning. Losers focus on winners."

After Connor McGregor defeated Eddie Alvarez to become the Lightweight World Champion, he was asked whether anything surprised him. He answered:

"Not one bit. They are not on my level. [...] You have to have some attributes. If you are coming here any other way, I am going to rip your fucking head off. Eddie is a solid competitor, Eddie is a warrior, but he should not have been here with me."

Whilst this may sound arrogant to some, it is an example of what having the mindset of a well-developed champion can do. Obviously, it wasn't just the mindset that got him to where he is, but it was a big part of why Connor McGregor kept going despite his difficult beginning as a professional MMA fighter.

PRAISE IS A POWERFUL TOOL

Another powerful way to instil that feeling of being able to defeat anyone that should come from a coach or teammates is praise.  Praise is a careful suggestion with a goal to make a person believe that he is a strong person and anything is possible if he decides to do it. That is a very powerful mechanism to form the psychology of a winner. Interestingly, it is irrelevant whether a person has indeed achieved anything significant, because, as noted above, it is possible to see success in anything.

This kind of praise can, of course, be a bad thing as a person is able to believe in anything with enough praise. It is never desirable to form a person's view of himself in such a way that thereality does not reflect a person's idea of what he is capable of. This can lead to dire consequences.

A great example of this is Ronda Rousey, a former UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion and a Olympic Judo Bronze Medalist. She won 12 consecutive MMA fights, all but one in the first round, before her first loss to Holly Holm. It has been speculated that the reason this has happened was due to her coach's Edmond Tarverdyan's praise when there should have been none.

After her latest loss at the UFC 2017 against Amanda Nunes, her opponent has said in an interview:

“He like put this in her head and make the girl believe in that,” Nunes said. “I don’t know why he did that. She has great judo and then she can go more forward in this division but he put some crazy thing about her boxing and then her career started like going down. . . . I’m the real striker here. This is the only thing I want to look at him to say.”

On the other hand, who has an adequate understanding of his own limits? Do people who consider themselves as losers have an adequate understanding of their abilities? Every BJJ athlete constantly opens and develops his abilities, but the limits of those abilities are not known even to the best. 

According to Jeffery J. Huber, an author of Applying Educational Psychology in Coaching Athletespraise has to be given correctly. It has to given in a way that not only provides information about performance, but also about the person himself. For example, in addition to praising how good the sweep is, there should also be praise about some other quality, like intelligence.

Huber provides an example of good praise: "Jerome, way to think. That’s the way to make the correction the first time!". This provides information about improved perfomance in addition to praising intelligence, effort and capacity for change. Contrast this with Edmond Tarverdyan's, Ronda Rousey's coach's, praise during the above noted UFC 207:

"Make her miss, miss, miss! She’ll fade. Be patient! Pick your moments! Head movement! Head movement! Head movement! Head movement! Head movement! Head movement! Head movement! Yes, move! Hands up! Hands up! Catch her! Please! Head Movement, good jab! Move, move! Move, please! Move, move, move, clinch, clinch, clinch! CLINCH! CLINCH! CLINCH! No! NO! NO! NO! NO! Move out!"

The former praise makes significant and long-lasting difference in athlete's notion of his abilities and performance, whereas the latter is simply noise. Not all praise is created equal and a coach who is training athletes to have a psychology of a champion must realise that.

WINNING IS NOT JUST PHYSICAL, BUT ALSO MENTAL

Being athletic and having great technique is only a part of what makes a great athlete great. Having mental skills and a mindset of a champion is what drives a person to improve and win. Although a popular phrase that winning is 10% physical and 90% mental is perhaps greatly exaggerated, it has a lot of truth. A careful and well-thought out approach to develop mental skills is paramount for any type of athletes.

Although, sport psychologists are expensive and very often unnecessary unless BJJ is not just a hobby, there are many things that can be used to improve the results on the mat. Taking small steps and recognising success is the first step towards becoming a champion. Receiving constructive praise from a coach that provides information about performance as well as the person is another. A champion's mindset is achievable to anyone.

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