Judo is a sport that requires both physical and psychological excellence. It is a martial art which needs fast reactions and cautious moves at the same time. The balance between the two aspects of the game is the most important psychological skill for a Judoka. This balance is determined by your core techniques, your grip, and your opponent’s moves. You develop this skill with practice, reflection, and experience.  It is a combat sport which needs the right amount of aggression, movement, and confidence. I stress on the right amount of ‘confidence’ because anything can happen even in the last 10 seconds of a 5-minute Judo bout. You have to maintain that confidence and control until the last second.

Focus on YOUR game

Generally, Judo players and coaches focus on the opponent’s game and strategize accordingly (Santos t al, 2015). This strategy might work at an elite level but it is important to focus on how you can control your opponent using your strengths. It does not matter who your opponent is, all that matters is how you will use your skills to execute your technique and score a point. Obsessing over your opponent’s game could result in mental blocks (Galvin, E. & Chase, M. 2014). Nothing is certain till you get on that mat and hold the grip. All Judokas should work on focusing on what you can control rather than thinking about how you can come out of your opponent’s control. Achievement Goal Theory explains ‘task orientation’ which focuses on mastering a skill and ‘ego orientation’ which focuses on doing better than similarly skilled athletes (Nicholls 1984; Nicholls 1989). Focusing on mastering your skills and applying them will make you feel more confident during the performance.

Weight is Not the problem

Many combat sports athletes focus on losing weight and competing in lower categories because they think they would have a higher chance of winning in a lower category. Research suggests that there is not much difference in the amount of time spent grappling, moving and resting during a Judo bout in lower and higher women’s weight categories (Challis et al, 2015). If you think that being lighter will make your game easier, that is not going to be the case. Your techniques and tactics can make you win. Work on improving your techniques rather than focusing on losing weight. It is important to feel comfortable while executing your favorite technique. If you need to lose a few pounds to feel comfortable then go for it but don’t lose weight with the notion of improving your chances of winning. Judo is about using your opponent’s weight to your advantage. Work on the strength you need to execute your technique.

Learn new techniques

Anticipation is a game changer. If your opponent is well prepared for your techniques, you need to have some surprises ready to be used. It’s all about manipulating your opponent and misleading their anticipation. Most Judokas might face the same opponents on various occasions during their competition season. Do not think about your previous matches with the same opponent, let your new techniques surprise them. Ideally, changing from a hand technique (te-waza) to a leg (Ashi-waza) or hip technique (Koshi-waza) would be surprising and much more difficult to anticipate. The off-season is the best time to learn new techniques. When you can throw someone who is 20 kilos heavier than you and 20 kilos lighter than you with your new technique during a practice match (Randori), you have come close to mastering that technique.

Start practicing the new technique from a standing position even if you have a black belt and know the technique very well. Once you have got the technique right from a standing position (uchikomi) in several training sessions, then you can start using movement. Many Judokas move onto movements before getting the real feel of the technique. If you want to use the new technique in competition, it has to become automatic in the standing position and then be used in movements. Movements should resemble those similar in competition situations. When you can manipulate those movements and control the opponent to execute the technique successfully, it gives you some insight into the dynamic moves you need to develop in order to control your opponent.

It’s not all Common Sense

The points that I have mentioned might seem like common sense. However, my own experience has taught me that bringing your tactics, techniques, and confidence together for a tournament requires a lot of practice, hard work, and commitment. You have to train your mind to make the right decisions on the mat and the dynamic nature of the game will never hint you towards what’s a right or wrong decision. You have to take some risk and trust your skills.

Below is a video that I found really inspiring. It is world famous Yushiro Yamashita talking about his competitive moments. Watch this video to get some INSPIRATION!

In my next blog, I will be suggesting more tips, tricks, and strategies for overcoming mental challenges in competitive Sport.

Hope you have been able to take something back from this blog. Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments section and I will be more than happy to offer my opinions.

Until next time… stay motivated!

Sarah Majid
Aspiring Sports and Exercise Psychologist
Former Judoka

References

  • Challis, D., Scruton, A., Cole, M. & Callan, M. 2015, “A Time-Motion Analysis of Lightweight Women’s Judo in the 2010 World Championships”, International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, vol. 10, no. 2-3, pp. 479-486
  • Galvin, E. & Chase, M. 2014, Mental Blocks
  • Nicholls, J. G. (1984). Achievement motivation: Conceptions of ability, subjective experience, task choice, and performance. Psychological Review, 91, 328-346.
  • Nicholls, J. G. (1989). The competitive ethos and democratic education. Cambridge, M.A.: Harvard University Press
  • Santos, L., Fernández-Río, J., Almansba, R., Sterkowicz, S. & Callan, M. 2015, “Perceptions of Top-Level Judo Coaches on Training and Performance”, International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 145-158

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