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Competition Performance and Stress

Competition Performance and Stress


Last week I sent out an email asking if you would like this newsletter should come back to life, and a great many of you reached out to say yes.


Let me just say how much I appreciate you all for getting back in touch.


I also asked for questions, as the best content always comes from the best questions asked by clients, members and subscribers.


And we got a cracker of a question in, which I will reprint but anonymise.


"I have a question for you about how to get your head back in the combat game. I signed up for a local tournament last November. In hind-sight - maybe not the best timing. A lot of changes had happened... I got married, we moved in together, my [section deleted for privacy reasons] just before the tournament.


I went in with good spirits. I had signed up for [BJJ tournament] gi and no-gi. I had ONE opponent. And honestly, I was surprised when we started - she was fucking stronger than me and that has never happened before! It didn't go well and I lost in 2 matches in gi. Still felt like I was ok - in decent spirits - have always prided myself on being a good sport and you lose some...


Then had to go with this same woman again for no-gi... and honestly something in my head just switched. It was the strangest thing - I gave up, tapped to nothing because I was DONE. I was so done. I shook her hand, shook her coaches hand and then had a sort of panic attack and just HAD to get out of the building. I rushed by my cheerful gym mates asking how I did and saw their shocked faces as I ran past... I got outside and sat next to a dumpster gulping air and I just started crying. Not normal at all. I don't cry.


And I was beat UP. My face/nose hurt for at least a week after. After that I was embarrassed to show up at my gym - not cuz I lost but because of my behavior. I apologized, of course my team was gracious. But the idea of competition again ... hoo boy. I've been going to class with a focus on having FUN. And it's slowly coming back... I was paired with a 14yr old girl last night and it was great fun to help instruct and work with her and do some positional training with her.


How in the HECK do you get your game back on?? I'm literally the oldest woman in the gym. And combat sport is SO different than any other type of sport - the truly getting your ass kicked.


Curious if you've had moments like that in life and how you overcame. I'm guessing everyone is different and of course our minds and what resonates is all very different... curious if you've had to coach someone back into "fight mode" after some mental "oh fuck no". "


The parts in bold are the parts we can dig into.

In short, after a lot of personal upheaval, some good, some bad, followed by a severe loss in a tournament, our hero seemed to have a panic attack and loss of motivation, drive, we could say identity.


And now wants to get that identity back.


First thing to say is this is all normal and it happens to a lot of people.

The good part of this is the surprise at finding an opponent who is stronger.

As I'm an S&C coach, my job is getting people strong, mobile and enduring, however it is important to never forget that these attributes are the support act.

The skill is what the competition is really about. And good skill should reduce any attribute disparities such as strength.


Case in point is when I was practicing Judo with Sensei Donal Tannam. Donal is a man who is old, lighter and not nearly as strong as I am. I can literally clean and press his bodyweight for reps!

Yet when we gripped up for Randori (Judo sparring) that strength was nearly useless. Other than simply going "Hulk Smash" on him, I couldn't get a single take down.

Skills are the way we level the attribute playing field, and Donal's skills in Judo are miles ahead of mine. Miles!


However, back to our hero.

Meeting an opponent who is better than you is a good thing. This helps you identify and evaluate where you stand to make the most progress in your own performance.

Be that attributes or skills.


But what about the panic attack and subsequent identity loss?


Have you hear about the analogy of the "Stress Bucket"

We have a bucket that represents how much stress we can tolerate. As long as the bucket doesn't overflow, we are golden.


The inputs to that bucket, the taps filling it are many. Work, family, finances and so on. Often these are outside of your control.

The drains in that bucket, allowing it to empty are usually more under your control. These include sleep, nutrition, relationships, exercise and so on.

Let's not forget though exercise is stress, deliberate stress. Most of the time it is "eustress" or good for us, but occasionally it can be "distress" or no longer good.


It's always a good idea to keep some space in that bucket.

If it's always filled close to the brim, there's not a lot of space for emergencies.

But if it's empty, the bucket does tend to shrink in capacity, meaning when stress comes along we've less capacity to cope.


In real life, every now again one of those taps gets turned on full blast.

If we're unlucky, several taps get turned up.


And we are struggling.


And then we enter a competition, something we enjoy, but that is also a stressor, albeit a relatively small one. And the bucket overflows.


Our ability to compete is reduced as we're psychologically compromised. Our self identity as a competitor, and strong person is called into question.

And the weight of all the stress in that bucket becomes crushing.


So what are the answers?


That's too big and personal a question for a simple newsletter, but we'll keep it conceptual.


First, we know realise the bucket is more full than we we maybe realised.

Next we have to look at what's filling it and whats draining it.


Do we need to turn off the taps under our control?

Yes, the competitive experience became distress, but the fun based training is excellent eustress. Distress fills the bucket, eustress empties it.


Then what taps can we not control?

If we can't control the tap, can we control how we feel about that tap? Can we control how that Tap affects us?

Much of the time we can't control a situation, but we can affect how we respond to it.

We can evaluate how much responsibility, if any we need to take for that particular tap.

And when we do this, we reduce the flow into our bucket.


If we must take responsibility and we can't reduce the flow in, we need to look at what we do with that input.

What "drains" can we open to let it out, to deal with it.

Exercise works, until it doesn't

Sleep works until it doesn't

Nutrition works, until it doesn't

Meditation works, until it doesn't


"Everything works some of the time, nothing works all of the time." - Dan John


But if the they work now, that's all that matters, as long as we remember that we will have to change tactics at some point.

We still need to deal with the tap, the input, not just focus on the output.


And that, dear reader is the hard part.


Dealing with the inputs.


How we do that, or why we're failing to do that is so often found in our story. Our background, our upbringing.

In the subconscious mannerisms we have developed over a lifetime of experiences.

In my Force of Nature Program we spend a lot of time looking at Mind and Spirit as well as the Body.

As we journey through the Mind, this is where we identify our limiters that crop up and hold us back.

Once identified, we can use the Spirit to rewire them, the navigate around them, to recognise when they pop up.


In short, we learn how to better control the taps, the inputs that are filling our stress buckets, and in some cases we actually manage to grow our buckets to a larger capacity.


None of this easy.


But just as we compete to find out how better to train.

Just as we test ourselves in the gym to figure out what we are capable of doing, we must also test out our Mind and out Spirit.

All three parts need tested to find out what we need to to do to build more strength, mobility and endurance in each.


The Force of Nature program is my new signature program, running entirely online.

It's a 12 week course.

We meet via Zoom 2x / week, once for a guided learning experience looking at Mind & Spirit, and once for a review/Q&A to discuss anything that has come up through the week, either from the Monday call or from the training plan.

And of course, you get a training plan based on a movement assessment and your goals.

We review the movement assessment 3 times over the 12 weeks.


If you'd like more details of this, reach out and we'll chat.


Chat soon,

Dave Hedges


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