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If you can give yourself a pep talk before your match, and if it calms you down, that’s great.

But this may not work at all, especially if you are new to competing in a real competition setting.

It’s natural to feel nervous, but if you keep feeling that way throughout your match, it will be difficult for you to perform your best.

You need to learn to be OK about feeling nervous, and you need to learn how to push that nervousness away.

The first part is simple. Acknowledge to yourself that you are feeling nervous. Breathe in from your nose and breathe out slowly (I prefer breathing out from my nose, but you can do so from your mouth instead of your nose if that’s what you like). Slow breathing can help you calm yourself down.

The second part requires a specific approach to training. You could create your sanctuary and use it as evidence that you are doing well.

What? Sanctuary? Evidence?

Here, what I mean by “sanctuary” is something like a place/situation where you know you will be safe based on your real experiences from sparring. And it’s even better if you can define the tiniest element of your sanctuary that is super easy to achieve.

For me, for example, a well-established spider guard is my sanctuary. From countless sparring sessions, I know, for a fact, that there aren’t many people around my size who can pass my spider guard, at least without struggling a bit.

And if I have a spider grip on my opponent’s sleeve, this is the tiniest element of my sanctuary. I know it’s easy enough to get that grip, and I know once I get it, it will be easy to set up my sanctuary. This grip tells me that I’m in control, and once I know I’m in control, my nervousness is very likely to go away.

It’s actually a bit like deceiving yourself into thinking that you are absolutely fine, but based on your actual experiences. Sure, in real life, what happened in the past won’t always happen in the future, but in this limited context of BJJ, if you can collect these confirming pieces through many hours of training sessions, they will be able to serve you as evidence that you are doing well.

If you are a white belt, you can simply build up your sanctuary to be bulletproof against up to blue belts, for example. Your purple belt and above training partners may walk through your defense, but as long as no blue belts can do that, then you will probably be alright against white belts you will be competing against.

I’m talking about this in a defensive context, but you can apply the same idea to an offensive scenario as well. Set an absolutely-easy-to-reach goal that can be linked all the way to your desired outcome, and stick with the plan to get to that desired outcome (i.e., submission, sweep, pass, etc.).

I realize that these terminologies I used are a bit meh, but I hope you get my idea.

What I’m saying is something like: set easy goals that indicate you are doing well, and focus on achieving these goals during your match.

You have to test these goals in your regular sparring rounds, too, because they must be based on your actual experiences.

If you have any questions, please let me know.