Across 17 chapters, mental preparation concepts and techniques have been discussed in detail in this book. We now look at how to bring it all together in an easy step-by-step approach for a grappler or combat athlete to start applying these methods on a regular basis. Some key points from earlier chapters will be highlighted here to emphasize their importance in a comprehensive mental preparation program. The steps outlined here take into account all aspects of mental preparation discussed in this book. It gives you a complete and integrated approach to mental preparation. Grapplers and combat athletes who believe that they are already good at some aspects of mental preparation can choose the ones in which they believe they need help.

Twenty Steps to an Integrated Mental Preparation Program

STEP 1: At the very top the heap, the very first thing you should do is goal setting.

Several aspects of your mental framework are dependent on the goals that you start out with in your grappling or combat athletics career. Your goals will

  • decide your motivation levels
  • define you career track
  • define your ambition
  • indicate your level of commitment to the sport

Goals have to be set over an extended length of time (i.e., long-, medium-, and short-term goals), to give you the right perspective on where you are headed. You have to also periodically set performance-based goals based on your assessment of the skill areas in which you are deficient. Let’s take a look at an abridged version of the key issues in achieving your goals.

Achieving your goals:

Your long-term goals (5-10+ years) are your vision for yourself and path that you hope your grappling or combat athletics career will take in the coming years. Your preparation has to start now, both mentally and physically if you want to participate in a national title or world title in a few years.

Getting mentally ready for major tournaments is a composite of your preparation and experiences over several years. Learning and skill development go through a gradual progression in eventually preparing you for the cherished big fights.

Medium-term goals (1-5 years) require that you constantly assess what is happening within the grappling and combat athletics fraternities, look for opportunities, evaluate the competition in terms wins and losses, and so on.

Short-term goals (6 months), given their immediacy, will require planning the exact dates when you should practice, train, and get yourself physically and mentally ready. The fitness regimen that you will follow, your diet program, your mental preparation, and the coaching sessions that you plan to attend all fall into place when you do the planning to achieve your short-term goals.

Performance-based goal setting:

This requires that you and your coach make an objective identification of weak areas or deficiencies in your and go about finding ways to improve your skills in those areas. These deficiencies could be in technique or they could even be in mental skills. You basically have to identify those aspects of your preparation that need enhancement to deliver peak performance. Since this type of goal setting is performance related, players feel motivated enough to see it through and overcome the weak, in their performance. What emerges is a goal-directed, mental skills training program, whereby the goals that have been set could be measured over time.

STEP 2: Commit yourself to consistency in mental skills preparation and follow the techniques on a regular basis. Mental skills work best if they are practiced and applied regularly. Develop a daily regimen. It can be as low as half an hour per day, but the positive results will be evident within a few weeks.

STEP 3: If you nurse a bloated ego, tone it down much before the match begins. A bloated diminishes the urge and ability to learn during practice sessions. You need an ego in order to develop the right competitive frame of mind, but too much of an ego can eventually pull you down. Use tips provided in Chapter 7 to deal with a big ego.

STEP 4: Sizing up your opponent is the next thing you should do in your mental preparation.

a) Analyze the history of the opponent’s performance in terms of wins or losses and skills weak points displayed in previous matches.

b) Try to recall and bring to the fore any tactics that your opponent uses, so that you can build a strategy to neutralize them.

STEP 5: Apply the four-point approach to strategizing.

  • Play to your plus points
  • Be aware of shortcomings and vulnerabilities in your opponent
  • Be aware of your own vulnerabilities
  • Be flexible and develop alternative strategies

Build-in “If statements” to make your strategy as flexible as possible. Also, develop specific tactics to make your strategy workable.

STEP 6: Use simple methods like writing, audio-recordings, or computers to store your plan and strategy and commit it to your memory. Writing things down is one of the easiest ways to commit something to memory. Your recall of the information will significantly go up. It is also readily available to you for reference whenever you need to refresh your memory.

STEP 7: Use simulation to recreate the challenges and stresses in a real match.

STEP 8: Learn to visualize in order to mentally extend your practice time and to rehearse your moves in your mind on a regular basis.

Steps 9-14 have to be learned and applied almost simultaneously for the best effect. These steps address the many issues related to the critical mental process of achieving “Focus.”

One of the most critical aspects of mental preparation is in applying all the mental skills required to achieve the multidimensional quality of focus.

Multidimensional facets of focus:

  • If you are motivated, it brings focus to your game.
  • If you have a healthy ego rather than a bloated ego, it brings focus to your game.
  • If you concentrate on the task on hand, it brings focus to your game.
  • If you are alert and attentive, it brings focus to your game.
  • If you have a winning attitude, it brings focus to your game.
  • If you have ambition and killer instinct, it brings focus to your game.
  • If you have passion for the game, it brings focus to your game.
  • If you shed mental baggage and negativity, it brings focus to your game.
  • If you are consistent with your training, it brings focus to your game.
  • If you develop your memory retrieval skills, it brings focus to your game.

STEP 9: Identify your motivators. Motivation is the fulcrum on which your sports career hinges.

If demotivated, use the tips provided in Chapter 7 to tide you over the depressed feeling. For instance, never view a single failure in isolation-you have to take a collective approach to your triumphs and failures. Your self-assessment has to straddle a set of tournaments rather than any one tournament where you could not achieve a win.

STEP 10: You can learn the “Distraction Breakers” and/or “Concentration Builders” to improve your involvement in your matches. When you concentrate, you will be able to use your mind at optimal levels to call on all aspects of your preparation and prepared at all times. Each of these can bring a high level of focus into your learning process and your performance in a match.

STEP 11: Analyze your attitude to the game and toward competition. Attitude is all about developing the right mindset and outlook to play in a competitive game. Attitude actually comprises three distinct traits:

a) Professional approach to competition: The “Assertive” approach is without a doubt the most professional approach to competition, and it is the best way to develop a winning attitude.

b) Determination and grit

c) Passion for the game

STEP 12: Override negativity by getting rid of mental baggage such as injury trauma, game failure, or problems in your personal life. Regain control over your thought processes and move ahead.

STEP 13: Make good use of practice sessions to develop both technique and mental skills.

  • Prior to starting your practice, spend a few minutes thinking about what you would like to do, learn, and improve. Clearly outline issues that you want to deal with, such as styles, moves, concentration, intensity, alertness and so on.
  • Display proactiveness and drive during training and treat it like a real game.
  • Exercise control over your thought processes during training in much the same way that you will have to do in a match.
  • After the practice session, spend a few minutes reflecting on what you learned and what you can follow up on in your spare time.

Maintain a performance monitor diary or audio recording.

STEP 14: Improve memory retrieval to efficiently apply the mental skills techniques.

Learn to use the “Image Cue Technique” and the “Structured Memory Technique:” They will help you with quick retrieval of your game plan, your styles, and your moves, during a match.

Steps 15 and 16 have to be followed a lot more diligently in the last few days before a match begins because that’s when confidence wanes and stress sets in.

STEP 15: Use confidence-building techniques like positive self-talk, and “weeding-out,” to build confidence in yourself. Learn to believe in your abilities.

Confidence + Belief in Self = Toughness

STEP 16: Relax: Try out the many relaxation techniques outlined in the book.

STEP 17: Deal with emotions-anger, fear-using the techniques provided.

STEP 18: Continue to use mental preparation in the few minutes before the game. These include breathing exercises, visualization and self-talk. The breathing exercises will help you stay calm visualization will bring top-of-mind the key styles and techniques that you want to use, and self-talk will maintain your confidence at high levels.

STEP 19: During the match, concentrate on the game as it unfolds, play your game as you planned it, be proactive and aggressive, pay attention and gauge your opponent’s strategy, and be wary and alert at all times. You should also refocus as often as necessary so that you don’t lose track of your game plan. Use breathing techniques if necessary to assist you in refocusing.

STEP 20: Post match review – Be brutally honest with yourself when you evaluate your performance. It will help pinpoint any weaknesses in your technique or mental skills. You can then run these weak areas more often in your preparation for the next match.

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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