How to Build a Successful Competition Preparation Routine

7 min
Do you ever wonder what to do before a competition? How should I warm up, how should I mentally prepare, or should I just wing it… If so, here is what to do.

How to Build a Successful Competition Preparation Routine

Do you ever wonder what to do before a competition? How should I warm up, how should I mentally prepare, or should I just wing it… If so, here is what to do.

Location: Moose Jaw Saskatchewan, Canada

Photo by: Jode Kivol Photography

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

I was having a conversation with a fellow coach on the topic of competition and how to treat the days leading up. Our chat dealt with how it is normal to experience nervous self-talk that you may have trouble shaking. I thought about my years of experience in the grappling world and how my competition days have evolved to help me be more successful. Here, I will lay out a few key components that I have found to be helpful in competition preparation.

Warming Up 

My newfound appreciation and understanding of the importance of warming up have become more evident. Even more pronounced is the understanding of what happens when you neglect a proper warm-up in your competition routine. There are tremendous benefits to a suitable warm-up, not only physically but also mentally. Warming up and being ready for competition will allow you to utilize your techniques and movements to be at your very best.

There is a great importance of getting a proper warm-up that is more than just running around a few times and doing a couple jumping jacks. According to Walker (2016), “Warm-ups have evolved to also serve as a method of enhancing performance and reducing or preventing the occurrence of injury. In most of these professional and elite environments, the days of a simple 2-minute jog around the field, followed by some poorly coached and light-hearted static stretching, are rapidly vanishing due to modern knowledge and the accessibility of information.” 

On competition day, I make sure to give myself plenty of time to warm up the body and get the blood flowing. Bucci (2020) states that “As your muscle temperature increases, you’re helping your muscles adapt to performing while under stress and the oxygen requirements that come from performing certain activities. Over time, your muscles will begin to grow accustomed to this new state and relax over time.” By being physically ready to jump into your competition, you can perform at your highest level. 

In the past, I have had terrible warm-ups that have cost me the match. In 2018 No-Gi worlds, I was too busy watching Gordan Ryan perform. I lost track of time, and the tournament was moving faster than anticipated. I got called to the bullpen and had to run down to get checked in and then compete shortly after. I got literally five minutes of a rushed warm-up and then had to go immediately compete. I performed well but not to the best of my ability. If I had a proper warm-up, I would have performed much better. I rectified my mistakes the following year by giving plenty of time to warm up properly and was able to medal in 2019.

What should I be working on during my warm-up time? Should I be trying a new move that I saw on the internet? These are some of the questions that need to be addressed. You want to practice and go through the techniques that you work on in the practice room. You need to get your game plan in order as to how it looks and feels. According to Cohn (1990), “By becoming habit, athletes can ensure effective preparation and execution of these general, but all-important motor skills whilst maintaining concentration on relevant, related cues, rather than becoming caught up in any distractions and applying attention elsewhere. A warm-up, or Pre-Performance Routine, ultimately provides an athlete with a built-in coping strategy by (providing) familiarity and control through repetitive and sequential behavior, which subsequently, internally, regulates arousal.” You want to make sure you have your best moves in check. Many times, the hours spent in the training room have allowed you to get your own flow ready. You need to work on your individual game plan, fine-tune your game, and get loose. 


When it comes time for competition, I found that I no longer change a thing; my trick is to keep the same daily routine as I would any other day. You want to sleep the same, eat the same, warm up the same, etc. The reason for this thinking is also simple… if you don’t get the ritual perfect, it plays tricks on your mind and may adversely affect your performance. In the past, I have made mistakes. I have tried to eat a certain way, regulate caffeine, and have super intense music to put me in a hyper state. And in my experience, I found that I burned out faster because I had an adrenaline dump. 

Keeping everything the same has allowed me to remain calm, focused, and composed during competition times. I focus on a long proper warm-up and self-talk on how ready I am for the matches, thinking about what I will do and how ready I am to compete. When asked about competition, world-famous Jiu-jitsu coach, John Danaher, responded with, “Many people when they think of competition tend to think of it as an extraordinary event. I got my training here, which is ordinary and every day, and then here is the stage, which is extraordinary, which stands outside of what I normally do. My whole emphasis is that there is no difference. And so, as the competition gets closer, I remind them more and more that what they do on the stage is exactly what they do in the basement every single day.” (Great clips, 2021)

My normal routine is as follows: I make sure that I get a 30–40-minute full-body warm-up. I start by jogging around and follow it up with dynamic movements. After some general movements, I put my focus on individual Jiu-Jitsu movements. I will then grab a partner and work on grip breaking, stand-up setups to takedowns, guard pass, guard pull, sweeps, and technique transitions. The progression of the warm-up starts slow and gradually builds. I then progress to situational sparring, followed by match sparring. I have seen a variety of warm-ups that others do, ranging from none at all to super intense. I have been gathering information from years of being on the mats and competing. Everyone has something different that works for them. I have found that having a gradual warm-up helps me to feel prepared. 

Mental Preparation

For most people, competition plays games with your mind and sets your nerves out of control. It is important to get your mind ready to endure what competition brings. I found that when I hear the little voice in my head telling me not to compete, I sign up immediately so that the negative self-talk doesn’t take over. The only way to build your confidence is to compete as much as possible and put yourself outside your comfort zone. “Competing is mostly a mental exercise. Of course, thorough preparation and strategic planning are factors that make tournaments what they are, but dealing with the emotions that come along with it, is a pretty difficult workout as well. Don’t dwell on outcomes. Close your eyes and take long deep breaths in moments of intense tension. Focus on what you can control, and disregard what you can’t” (Grappler Z, 2020). 

You need to enhance your control of the nerves and anxiety by working on stress management techniques and understanding your irrational fears. You need to focus on your job and on what you need to do. You need to channel energy positively and learn to relax. Fear is natural and what you do with it is in your control. 

Now go out and perform! 

Let’s face it, competitions are nerve-racking. I love to talk to students and fellow competitors about what they do for competitions. The advice that I give is to not change things about your normal routine. There are so many benefits to getting a proper warm-up. You will be ready mentally and physically and ultimately be able to perform the best you can. The mental aspect of the game is one of the greatest components and needs to be addressed to help with anxiety and nerves. To be completely ready for your competition, you need to practice what you know, and that is your own movements and techniques that you use every day in the practice room. There is no way around becoming nervous and anxious before a competition. If you train your body to adapt to the stress, you will overcome these negative feelings and perform. 



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