The shape that your thoughts take in the months/weeks/days before an event, the day before, minutes before, and even during a bout can have serious consequences on your ability to perform. And, even if you haven’t become a victim of stress. a relaxed mind can work wonders on your game.

Constructive Thoughts and Methods That Can Help in Your Game

Let’s start with constructive thoughts during a game and then work backwards to just before the game, and then go back even further to the weeks and months before a game.

During the Game

It will be great if you can completely push out all unnecessary thoughts and focus on the game at hand (like the martial artist quoted above). But this kind of ideal condition is not always possible. As per the quote, the voices of past experience guiding me is a kind of a cue that this athlete uses to prompt the right action at different stages of the game. The cue technique is a very effective method to keep yourself on track during a bout.

Cue technique: During the match, you can talk to yourself in your head and constantly cue your moves and actions. These cues can be regarding any of the following:

  • your moves at different stages of the game
  • your posture
  • motion or momentum – when you are stuck in a tough lock
  • distraction breaking cues ( say a forceful ‘STOP’ inside your head)
  • pep talk when you start losing confidence
  • cues to initiate a Submission without losing the opportunity (say ‘NOW’ inside your head)

The following quote is from another martial artist regarding a slightly different approach:

Whenever I spar I always have a bunch of things running through my mind not pertinent to the match. I have never been able to clear my mind of thoughts prior to the start of the match. Therefore as the match starts and I find myself purposely not thinking in sparring and letting my subconscious repertoire of moves come into play.

Mental rehearsal: The subconscious repertoire of moves referred to by this athlete include various alternative moves, best styles, submissions, or defense moves that you had planned to use when you strategize. All these have to bounce around on the surface of your mind to help you make the right decision. This approach works if your mental preparation has been thorough, with several repeated mental rehearsals of styles and moves, so that all the information that you require is stored in your memory. However, instinctive movement works only up to a point, and real thinking is necessary to gauge your opponent’s strategy and to deliver your moves accordingly.

Just before a game: In the waiting time just before a game, there is significant variation in the thoughts and mind states of different grapplers and combat athletes. The five prominent mind states are

  • Activated
  • Calm and serene
  • Strategy-oriented
  • Chaotic and high-strung
  • Negative

The first three states (activated, calm and serene, strategy-oriented) each has its own merits for a grappler or combat athlete. The chaotic and negative states require the most attention. The mind has no direction in these two states, and it is neither calm nor charged up for the encounter.

Activated: Some grapplers and combat athletes need to be in a high-powered, fired-up, aggressive emotional state and they even let out a few battle cries to get themselves into a ferocious mood before a game. The mental preparation for this is usually self-talk. There are also certain types of music that can raise the mood to a heightened state of being pumped up for action.

Calm and serene: Some grapplers and combat athletes have to feel calm and be totally relaxed before they enter the arena, and there are mental preparation techniques to achieve this state. This mind state is usually brought on through meditation and creates a feeling of calm readiness. The mind is ready for the challenge ahead and the emphasis is on staying cool and collected. It’s a state where the grappler or combat athlete feels. “My preparation is complete. I have to go out now and do the job.”

Strategy-oriented: In this mind state, the grappler or combat athlete is constantly thinking about the game plan and strategies/tactics. The focus is on strategies rather than on preparing the emotional state of the mind.

Chaotic and high-strung: The chaotic mind state is frantically trying to recall plans and techniques and is distracted by various thoughts not necessarily related to the match.

Negative: Just before a game is when fears and anxieties are heightened for some players. These anxieties result in negative thinking and loss of confidence.

Here’s a strategy used by a martial artist to deal with negative thoughts: “Whenever I experience negative thoughts about either my training or my fights I just think the opposite of that negative thought in the present tense making it positive. I repeat these positive thoughts. “

Three key pre-match processes:

  • Emotional state – Stay calm or activated; whatever works best for you. Recall main points in your game plan
  • Do short “walkabouts” to get the circulation going and keep your mind alert
  • Confidence-building self-talk

When you find yourself in a chaotic state, instantly do a breathing exercise and then refocus your thoughts on your “start moves” rather than trying to recall all aspects of your game plan. If you are in a negative state, turn it into positive thinking through self-talk and positive affirmations.

Day before the game: The day before the event is probably one of the toughest to endure since anticipation reaches a peak and the match is looming before you. The days, weeks or months of preparation now have to work for you. Mental preparation is extremely vital on the day before the fight.

Critical issues are to:

  • regulate mood and emotions
  • relax and unwind
  • get a good night’s sleep

In the days/weeks/months before an encounter: The mind is preoccupied with practice, fitness, diet, game plan, and strategies in the days/weeks/months before a major match. It is in your best interest to set aside a designated time each day to devote to mental skill preparation. When you build it into your daily routine and follow the techniques consistently, it complements your training and practice and improves your mental readiness for the match ahead.

Visual Role-Play:

Role Play is a technique borrowed from teaching methods in business schools. Students preparing for careers in the corporate world are asked to play out the various job roles that are found in companies and act out roles based on a given script. For instance, it could be a meeting between the sales manager, the head of marketing, and head of finance to discuss issues pertaining to a new product launch. This helps students understand the demands, behaviors, and responsibilities of corporate positions.

Let’s take a piece out of this technique and apply it to grappling and combat athletics. This role-play technique, also known as “morphing” requires you to put yourself into the shoes of your role model and visualize playing the game the way this person plays. When you visually emulate the source of your inspiration, you begin to feel different, more confident, and raise your game to a higher level in an actual match. You will find that your game takes on a new mode as you apply techniques and tactics that an achiever in your field successfully uses.

Role-play is especially useful when you have difficulty with certain moves and holds and, therefore, worry about them. You can pick a role model who is a known expert in that technique, watch some videos of his game, if available, and then play it out in your mental images the way you see your idol does.

Lloyd Irvin is a martial arts coach. He holds the rank of 7th degree black belt in Thai Jitsu, 2nd degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, 1st degree black belt in judo. In 2002 he was named The United States Judo Federation International Coach of the year. Lloyd’s coaching experience includes having taught Secret Service, FBI & SWAT. Read more on:

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