#1 - Remember, It's Just A SportSomething that I see often is people taking it way too seriously. At the end of the day, It's a sport, not a life or death event.
This doesn't mean you shouldn't give your best. It just means you shouldn't be afraid to fail. Even if you fail, you've still learned something. That's far more valuable to me than any gold medal.
As long as you keep in mind that it's a sport, it's not going to hurt as much if you lose.
#2 - Learn As Much About The Tournament As You CanTournaments can be extremely variable, so It's essential you learn as much as you possibly can. Talk to your coaches about the venue. Ask about the categories. Learn all the itty bitty details you can.
As usual, write this all down. Strategically, It won't have much value, but it'll help enormously with confidence. The more you know, the less surprised you'll be.
#3 - Use Mental TrickeryEvery morning, repeat to yourself that you will win the tournament and that you won't get nervous ten times. Do this when you head to sleep as well.
As you repeat it, imagine yourself actually doing those things. Imagine walking up the podium and taking the gold medal. Imagine walking forward with total confidence.
This leads to another mental trick. Walk around with total confidence regarding the tournament. Act as if you are totally unworried about it.
Keep in mind you still need to practice hard! Just because you're now unworried doesn't mean you should act lazy!
#4 - Work On Plans And Practice ThemIf you were told you'd have to write a college level essay on Quantum Mechanics and its philosophical ramifications and submit it in a week if you didn't have preexisting knowledge of either of those fields of study you'd be understandably freaked out and nervous.
But what if you already had the knowledge?
In most cases, you'll be forewarned about the tournament and have a couple weeks to train. Use this opportunity! As soon as nervousness rears its head, remind yourself that you've been writing up techniques, doing extensive research, and are practicing everything you'll need to know.
How do you keep busy?
Well, a good first step is to study. I have several resources here on NoobTaekwondo, ranging from sparring to kick speed, and there's a wide variety of Taekwondo YouTube channels ripe for the picking. Alex Wong is an excellent choice. Master Woo of Taekwonwoo is a good option as well.
Don't just study as in watching 'Taekwondo Knock-Out Kick Compilation'! Don't get me wrong, watch those, but get actual value out of it. Write down all the techniques and movements that are used in those.
Don't forget to watch the actual matches! Pretty much all the Taekwondo Olympic matches are available online, as are the World Championship matches. Analyze them back to back. Pay attention to how a player might've set up an opening.
Yes, they delivered an excellent roundhouse kick, but did they do something beforehand to set them up for a roundhouse? This is the stuff you need to be analyzing!
I would highly recommend a physical notebook if you can get it due to the greater variety in sorting pages and the ability to sketch out figures and techniques, but even if you can't get a notebook, you're probably reading this off a phone or laptop! Use those!
Don't forget to practice these techniques as well! When you find an interesting combo, don't be afraid to try it out! Practice it at home, then at your next sparring, give it a shot a couple times to decide on its effectiveness.
#5 - Take A NapSo you're already there, and you're terrified.
I'm going to tell you now from personal experience that nervous jitters is the worst enemy you can face. The first time I lost in a tournament I had been forced to get there on a boat, and I was fighting outside of my region for the first time. I was terrified, and It showed.
Usually, during these things, you'll have the elementary students first. If you're in high school or later, this is a good time to nap.
Heck, nap on the way there! Nap while waiting for your match if you're in the back and it'll be a good half hour before your turn!
This is a trick I love to use. It instantly lowers stress levels and unloads a ton of good chemicals into your brain. Just fifteen minutes can instantly change your worry levels, though I would try to get a full hour in if your category isn't coming until the afternoon, or it'll take an hour to get there.
There is just no reason to not nap.
#6 - Join As Many Tournaments As You CanThis is one of the best ways to normalize the experience. If you join a tournament every month, you're going to eventually get used to it, no question. As such, many of the worst enemies, such as nervous jitters and general fear are eventually going to vanish.
Don't just limit yourself to your own region, either. Ask your coach about other tournaments that the gym doesn't usually participate in, but that you could still join if you wanted to. I guarantee you, if you do one tournament just every month, it'll normalize it in no time.
#7 - Learn How To MeditateThe amount of mental benefits meditation can give is insane, and way outside the scope of this post. But for the purposes of our article, the big one is the ability to clear your mind.
Being able to instantly cast away doubts and nervousness to focus on the present is enormously useful, I'll tell you now. I had been practicing meditation for about a month when I had sat down next to my opponent. All I had to do was shut my eyes, breath in for a couple seconds, hold it a bit longer, then let it out. Boom. Cleared mind.
#8 - Be FriendlySomething I dealt with early on in my first competition was fear of my opponent. I was terrified. He seemed bigger and stronger than me. While I still won, It was a closer match then I would like.
Around my third competition, I had an idea. Why not get to know my opponent better?
To my surprise, the dude was a friendly human being! We talked for a while and he was into a lot of the music I liked and was just a totally cool dude! We often see each other in the same competitions, so we get to talk, even when we're not in the same category. I do this to all the opponents I can, and as such, I have a ton of cool friends I have a decent relationship with. On top of that, I'm no longer afraid of getting my butt kicked!
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