OK, so you’ve examined your performance on the mat and realized that you are probably too tense and have too much adrenaline in your system for optimal performance… To use the terminology we’ve been developing over the past few weeks, your arousal level is exceeding your optimal state of arousal (OSA).
So what can you do about it?
There are many different techniques out there used by athletes to calm down.With experience you will figure out which, if any, work for you.With practice you will be able to modulate your level of arousal so that you are exactly where you want to be.
Visualization: many athletes use visualization to calm their nerves.Some imagine being in a place that has calming and relaxing associations for them – hanging out at their favorite fishing hole, for example.Other athletes simply visualize using the techniques they may use in the match, calmly escaping from bad positions and working towards victory in a step-by-step methodical manner.Both methods of visualization interrupt the debilitating run-away anxiety cycle that is so counter-productive to optimal performance.
Breathing: the rate and depth of breathing has a strong influence on an athlete’s mental state – that is why it is the central focus of so many meditation methods.To lower your arousal level make sure that your breathing is slow and deep, and that you relax fully at the end of each exhalation.
Lying down: if you get the chance try lying down and putting a towel over your eyes to block out the light – now you can concentrate on visualization and breathing, just like we discussed above.The most extreme example of this tactic is MMA fighter Caol Uno, who has a trademark ring or cage entrance when he fights.He enters the ring and then lies down flat on his back, sprawled out like a starfish (a classy alternative to standing in the corner, glaring at the opponent and punching himself in the head).
Music: This is a widely used technique to modulate mental states.Bring your iPod and a headset to your next tournament and listen to something that puts you into your ‘happy place’. If you are trying to lower your arousal then you might want to listen to something on the mellow side, but everybody is unique: if you find that speed metal relaxes you and makes you happy then go for it!
I should make the point that, just like your grappling techniques, these relaxation techniques require practice too.If you are serious about modifying your level of arousal then you would be well advised to do a ‘dry run’ BEFORE you are waiting for your match to start at the Mundials…
Now it IS possible to be too relaxed – I have made this error in my competition career at least once. It was my first match in my weight division at a tournament and I was very relaxed: consequently I underestimated my opponent and swiftly lost that match.Losing this match REALLY pissed off.Being pissed off raised my level of arousal (and my blood pressure) and I ended up somewhere near my optimal level of arousal. As a result I won my next three matches, and collected gold in the Absolute division as a consolation prize.