Let’s Talk Competition Prep!
Have you ever competed or thought about doing so? For our very first Feature Friday, we hear from active competitor and Purple Belt, Ashley D’Aversa. Ashley shares what the weeks leading up to competition look like for her and shares some encouragement for you!
Contributed by Ashley D’Aversa*
Competition is the ultimate test of your jiu jitsu. That being said, I’m absolutely terrified of it. My perfectionist self loves to perform and succeed, but oh the idea of failing while your team, strangers, parents, and friends are watching you is horrifying. I love the quote my professor told me, “Embarrassment is the cost of entry. If you aren’t willing to look like a foolish beginner, you’ll never become a graceful master.” While I may be a “foolish beginner” at my current belt, this is how I prepare myself for the next competition.
In a perfect world, I’d be training jiu jitsu six days a week, weightlifting three times a week, and doing cardio three times a week. Life responsibilities and my own lack of discipline do tend to get in the way. So, I aim to train on the mats at least 3-4 times a week and ride the Peloton on the other two days. As for conditioning, you will never feel “ready” to compete, and the best form of preparation for a jiu jitsu competition is to do more jiu jitsu! Getting those hours on the mat rolling, learning what is working and what isn’t, and working with your coach on what you can improve is essential. Consistency is key here; it is better that you train three times a week for the next six months rather than go ridiculously hard, training six days a week for only two weeks, only to completely burn out or get injured.
Regarding my training off the mats, I try to focus on what I can control. I use a Whoop fitness tracker to track my recovery, sleep, and how hard I train. The harder you train, the more consistent sleep you’ll require, so I aim to have 7-8 hours of sleep every night. Waking up at the same time every day is also important as it keeps your circadian rhythm consistent. My diet isn’t strict, it consists of prioritizing whole foods – which means avoiding anything packaged or processed – and I focus on getting protein at every meal. I drink coffee every morning with stevia and almond milk, then sort of “intermittent fast” until I feel hungry around noon. Greek yogurt, hard boiled eggs, whole wheat toast, bagel thins with low-fat cream cheese and smoked salmon are my favorite breakfast items. I keep my little brunch light and try to avoid snacking during the day. For dinner I enjoy cooking and try to not limit myself (within reason) to how much I eat, especially if it is a home cooked meal. Simply put, I eat mindfully and stop eating well before I feel ridiculously full. I have tried the diet where I eat six small meals a day, only to find myself constantly hungry and miserable. So instead, I opted for the 80/20 rule. 80% of my diet is fruits, veggies, chicken, eggs, and all other “clean” foods. But you will absolutely find me standing in front of an open fridge eating shredded cheese out of the bag at midnight if I feel like it. It’s called balance. You must find what works for YOU. The best diet is the one you can consistently stick to!
So, you’ve decided to sign up for the next competition. Cue the anxiety! I still feel that unbearable heart-racing panic when I first step onto the competition mat, even dozens of competitions in. The ONLY way to get over that feeling of anxiety is to compete more and more, regardless of the result. You can plan for every single scenario in the world, and still get smashed in the first 8 seconds. That’s life. However, I try to set myself up for success before each competition by keeping the diet, sleep and training consistent. I tend to ramp up my training in the gym up to three weeks prior, taking as many rolls as possible and focusing on finishing submissions. The two weeks before a competition, do not focus on learning the latest flashy new technique, and instead polish what you’re best at. The week before should be super light, drilling and focusing on what you know only. The worst thing you can do is get injured the week of the competition because you decided to take a hard roll that you shouldn’t have. Whatever the result on competition day, you must check your ego at the door. If it’s a hard loss, find something you did great during the match and think about where you can improve. If it’s a win, that’s great, think about what went well and still find areas you can improve.
Getting your hand raised after fighting your heart out at a competition is one of the absolute best feelings in the world. But losing – having your adrenaline dump while your opponent is on top of you imposing their will, that awful feeling of failure, the suffocating panic of trying to catch your breath as all the blood rushes back to your legs, watching your opponent get their hand raised, the faces of your coach, teammates, or significant other as you take that loss, the feeling of all that work for nothing – can make anyone shy away from ever competing again. I don’t care. No matter the result you must step back on those mats. Everyone loves the idea of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone until it is time to do it. Or they realize just how uncomfortable it actually is. It is going to suck.
These mental barriers are something that I am still working on. At white belt, I only competed once or twice. At blue, I competed much more but lost so many of my early competitions. Perhaps if I competed more at white belt, I would have learned how to get over these mental barriers faster. I learned through trial and error, still stepping onto the competition mat after each loss, until I was able to confidently walk onto the mat and secure my win. I was on top of the world at that belt, where winning almost became expected and boring…and then I was promoted. That swift reality check at my first purple belt competition loss meant I was back at square one. These girls are tough. The margin of error for my mistakes that may have been fine at blue belt were now being capitalized by my opponent in an instant. No matter the belt, you must adopt a beginner’s mindset. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been training for 2 or 20 years, that mindset is key. The beautiful thing about jiu jitsu is that there is always something to learn. And the worst aspect is that at each belt, you don’t know what you don’t know. Nobody can instinctively understand the lack of knowledge they are missing from their game until they discover that knowledge. And guess what? There is still more to learn, and there always will be.
Overall, you must discover what works for YOU. Competition is hard but I promise it is worth it in the end. Just like learning jiu jitsu, competing will take all your insecurities and bring them to the forefront for the whole world to see. It is scary and embarrassing at times but that is the only way we truly grow as individuals. And whether your own personal goals are to get in shape, make friends, or become the next world champion, just keep stepping back on that mat!
*Ashley D’Aversa is EGA’s 2nd ever female Purple Belt. She started training in 2017 at age 26 and found her way to EGA the following year. An active competitor, Ashley brought home the title of World Champion in NoGi in the Masters 1 Purple Belt division in 2021. She’s earned numerous IBJJF gold, silver, and bronze medals and is a top competitor at Grappling Industries tournaments. You will always find Ashley being an incredibly supportive training partner at the gym, loving on and supporting her family at home, and never turning her back on any animal she meets!