The Art Of Listening And Not Listening During Competition

Published on by Samantha Faulhaber


Your coach is yelling at you. You’re three minutes into a match and stuff is happening. Lots of stuff. The venue is loud. Some guy is mumbling into a microphone. The ref is standing over you. Your hands are holding tight to…something. You may have some idea of where your legs are. Or is that your opponent’s leg? The person who you’re tangled up with has a coach, too. That coach is yelling. Why is everybody yelling? What do you do? What do you pay attention to?

The more experience you have, the more the answer is whatever feels right and is aligned with what you want. You’re the one in the ring/on the mat. You’re the one with the grips. You are in the best position to know exactly where you and your opponent are expending most of your muscular efforts at any given second. Whatever you do has consequences based entirely on those forces.

Your coach has your best interests in mind. But they’re not you, in that moment. Every piece of advice given is on a time lag from what you feel. Where you hold tension and pressure is perhaps the hardest thing to discern from the outside but the most important thing in the match. You drop your weight into your hips to stop your opponent’s bridge. You keep constant upward pressure on a bent arm so if your opponent lets go for a second they will immediately succumb to an armlock. The second you stop fighting for posture you get caught in an armlock yourself. Two positions may look the same but are entirely different depending on the forces involved. Your coach will do their best to advise you where to put your efforts. But you’re responsible in the end for your actions and what you listen to.

Here’s a basic rule I think applies across the board: don’t listen to anything that sounds completely wrong based on what you’re feeling in the match. Do listen to anything above that. I’m not saying to ignore your coach and just go with your gut the whole time. If that were true there would be no reason for coaches at all. Realize that your coach knows more than you but is still fallible and if it doesn’t feel right it may not be the right advice for that moment.

Discussing a game plan and knowing your strongest positions will help make your coach’s job easier. The less you know about Jiu-Jitsu, the more important your coach’s advice. Work to understand yourself and be well-rounded so you understand your opponents. Then you’ll have some ground to stand on when you explain why you didn’t go to the negative when they told you to. If you don’t have a good reason, don’t send your coach after me!