The 3 Most Common First-Time Competition Errors


I was recently asked “what are the most common mistakes that first-time competitors make?”

BJJ tournaments in general, and ESPECIALLY your first competition, are likely to be a little bit chaotic.  So it’s a little hard to make generalizations about what you might run into…

But in a way, this chaos is the whole point!

Not knowing what you’re about to face, but going out and doing it anyway, is a relatively safe way to field-test your skills.

And, strangely enough, there are even self-defense benefits from competing!

(I can just see the angry emails arriving from ‘reality-based’ practitioners saying that tournaments have nothing to do with self defense. But they’re wrong.  Competition can teach you to successfully surf the giant adrenaline wave coming with facing new challenges in unfamiliar settings. And these fear-management skills can definitely help keep your wits about you when things get hairy in the street.)

So then, what are the most common errors I see?


The most common error is getting so stressed out that you hold your breath for most of the match.

I’ve written quite extensively about this in the past, so I’m going to keep the discussion of this error short…

Suffice it to say that holding the breath is really, really common for first-time competitors.

And this inevitably leads to total exhaustion, and not even coming close to performing up to your potential (which always sucks).

Read this article for the story of how one grappler overcame his tendency to hold his breath on the mats (it wasn’t in competition, but it’s still totally relevant nonetheless):


The next most common mistake I’ve seen is waiting around all day and not hydrating or feeding yourself properly.

In a way, this is understandable…

You’re nervous, you don’t know exactly when you’re going to be called up for your division, and you DON’T want to have a full stomach when you start your match.

But being undernourished and dehydrated really doesn’t set you up for success!

Dehydration reduces your strength, your endurance, makes your heart work harder, etc.

And not having eaten enough also makes you listless and just plain grumpy…

And these problems are even worse if you’ve cut weight before the tournament. (If you’re going to cut weight then make sure you get the kinks out of the system by  doing a trial run BEFORE the tournament.  You shouldn’t be doing anything new, unusual or untried on the big day, just in case it all goes terribly wrong.)

To prevent the tournament blahs drink regularly and eat small, easy to digest mini-meals at spaced-out intervals throughout the day.

Experiment with different foods you might be eating on tournament day by trying them out before the big day, in your regular training sessions.

For example, through trial and error I found that a single piece of whole-grain toast with almond butter sustains me for a couple hours of training but is also light enough that I’m not going to throw up if someone puts their knee on my belly…

So that works for me, but experiment until you find something that works for you!


The third most common error I see is tournament newbies putting way, way, waaaaaay too much pressure on themselves.

They’re afraid of what their teacher and classmates will think if they lose their match…

Or they’re worried about letting down their team…

Or they just don’t want to look stupid…

Listen to me!  If it’s your first tournament then IT REALLY DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU WIN OR LOSE!

Honestly, I promise that the sun will still rise tomorrow morning…

… and that if you keep training you’ll eventually earn your blue belt promotion…

… and that your team and teacher will be just fine if you lose.

As I write this I am also waving my magic jiu-jitsu wand which utterly, completely absolves you from carrying the weight of the world upon your shoulders if/when you decide to go compete.

Really, a tournament is best viewed as a learning experience, so go and learn a LOT.  And if you happen to do well, then so much the better.

But you’re a newbie so nobody expects a world class performance from you anyhow.  So what better time to get out there and make all your stupid mistakes?

Preparing for competition is a pretty huge topic, and I’ve really just scraped the surface here…

If you want to have another perspective check out this list of 18 competition tips by Grapplearts guest author Jason Scully: 

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