Sports Psychology for BJJ, MMA & Submission Grappling

*** A Sports Psychology Question from a Reader ***

Hi Stephan,

I was listening to your interview with Ryan Hall and I was wondering about which Sports Psychology Books you had read or would recommend. You and he seemed to use a lot of the same terminology and phrases.

Thanks in advance for any info…

W.

 ======== My Answer ========

Hi W.,

My interview with Ryan Hall has generated a LOT of feedback, and you’re not the only person to have contacted me about it.

(Click here to read or listen to my interview with this world-class BJJ and Submission Grappling competitor.)

There are lots of books books on sports psychology, and all of them probably have at least a couple of nuggets that are directly applicable to grappling and MMA.

I haven’t made an exhaustive study of the topic, but my favorite books on the topic (so far) are

1) ‘Wrestling Tough’ by Mike Chapman, and

2) ‘The New Toughness Training for Sports’ by James Loehr

And in addition to these great books let me share something that always comes to my mind whenever I think about the topic of sports psychology.  I first heard this training in Judo back in my university days:

“Small successes lead to large successes.”

What this means is that large successes are built on a foundation of having achieved a series of smaller goals.

It also means that you can’t just go from zero to hero.

If your goal is to win gold at the Mundials then you’ve got to put in your time doing well in medium-sized tournaments…

…And the way to succeed in medium sized tournaments is to first succeed at a number of smaller local tournaments…

…And to succeed at small local tournaments you first have to succeed at achieving other, even smaller goals.

These small goals might have nothing directly to do competing.

They may be as simple as

  • “I’m going to train 4 times a week for the next month,” or
  • “I’m going to take my 400 meter sprint time from 1:15 to 1:10,” or
  • “I’m going to improve my bench press from 225 to 245 by the end of next month,” or
  • “I will NOT eat at MacDonalds for the next year,”
  • or anything else that’s concrete, measurable and achievable.

 

Although your final goal may be earthshattering (winning gold at the Mundials or becoming UFC middleweight champ) the steps to get there have to be small and manageable.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step!

Here’s something that’s often overlooked.  The smaller goals you set for yourself need to navigate the fine line between being a) challenging, and yet b) achievable.

If the intermediate steps are too hard to achieve, and you usually end up failing to achieve them, then you’ll teach yourself at a gut level that you can’t achieve the goals you set for yourself.

But if they’re too easy you won’t have the pride and confidence that comes from achieving something challenging and difficult.

So if you set and achieve a series of smaller yet still challenging goals then you can look back at where you came from and see all the other challenges you’ve already succeeded at.  This will re-enforces the belief that yes, you CAN clear the next hurdle.

I’ve written about my long solo canoe trips.  And a lot of people tell me “Oh, I could never do that…”

But I didn’t just jump in a canoe for the first time and paddle across the country by myself.  That would be stupid (and unlikely to succeed).

Building up to those big trips took years.  I first did shorter trips with friends.  Then 2 week trips.  Then I started doing a few short solo trips.  Then I tried slightly longer solo trips.  Then I acquired the necessary whitewater and navigation skills.  And only when I had a series of smaller successes under my belt did I start seriously planning the longer trips.

The same goes for almost any goal worth achieving, whether on the mats or in other areas of your life.

“Small successes lead to large successes.”

Take care
Stephan Kesting

P.S.  If you have any other suggestions as to books, websites, etc. that’ll help other people’s psychological performance in a BJJ, MMA or submission grappling context, please share them in the comments section below!

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