Fight or flight. A term commonly used to describe an individual’s reaction to a threat—whether real, perceived, or in competition. Typically, the response is fueled by fear and adrenaline. In sports and competition, that fear may be the fear of losing, of looking bad, or not meeting your own personal expectations. Regardless of how long you have been competing or how many tournaments you have taken part in, your body will routinely go through the fight or flight response. However, there are things you can do to control your response and overcome the powerful feelings (and hormones) that go coursing through your veins.

Controlling your emotions and response on the fly can be difficult, so to avoid troubles before or during a competition, practice these skillsets to utilize when the time comes.

  • Accept that an adrenaline dump can and will likely happen. It happens to nearly everyone and its ok that it will. Accept that your opponent could be more skilled, better trained, or luckier than you are. Accept that the match may no go the way you want. Once you are at peace with the forces outside of your control, the effect they have on you will lessen.
  • Learn to control your breathing and thoughts. Your fight or flight may not be suppressed but its intensity can be controlled when you exert control over your body. Breath long, deep breaths and visualize a calming image. Focus your thoughts to the task on hand only—your opponent, how to strike, how to counter.
  • You’ve probably heard it all your life—practice makes perfect. Practice also makes routine, muscle memory, and instant, desired responses to a particular action. Practice what you are good at and practice what you are not great at. Become a better well-rounded grappler to keep your opponent from taking advantage of a weakness.
  • Once you are able to resume control over the emotions the fight or flight response can inflict, harness the power that adrenaline can provide. Faster movements or responses, added strength, and the ability to perceive more than what is immediately in front of you. Think of the fight or flight response as that little superhuman energy boost.

You can’t always prevent a fight or flight response but you can change how it affects your grappling and competition skills and mindset.