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 The Game Plan – Approach to Mental Preparation 
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Post The Game Plan – Approach to Mental Preparation
The Game Plan – Approach to Mental Preparation
by: Lloyd Irvin

It is never a good idea to enter into ring with the intention of “going with the flow of things.” You cannot walk into a game and expect it to flow in your favor. You have to give some thought to specifics in terms of how you want to play your game and manner in which you will handle your opponent. In the absence of a game plan, all your moves will be a reaction to your opponent’s moves. Do you want to merely react all the time or do you want to play your best moves? Your chances of winning a game increase when you plan moves and use those at which you are most skilled.

Here’s a likely scenario of what might happen if you don’t have a game plan for your grappling or combat-athletics bouts:

• Your opponent may have a good open guard, and you may have problems with it since you did not anticipate it at all

• Your opponent may launch an attack and try to dominate the game at a very early stage of the match

• You may or may not be able to think up a strategy on the spur of the moment to tackle your opponent’s holds until its too late and the round is almost over

• When you finally find your momentum and initiate a submission, time may be up!

A framework for developing the game plan is outlined next.

1. Size up your opponent and Develop a Strategy –

• Analyze the history of the opponent’s performance in terms of wins or losses and skills or weak-points displayed in previous matches

• Try to recall and bring to fore any tactics that your opponent uses, so that you can build a strategy to neutralize it

2. Develop Strategies

It is essential to develop an opposing strategy prior to a game. If you merely size up the opponent, then you are only half way there. Strategies define the manner in which you plan your line-of-attack and the tactics that you will employ to unsettle your opponent. Your strategies will differ in accord with your opponent as no one is alike.

Steps for developing the strategies

A. Issues

Play to your plus points

Your strategy should revolve around what you do best, your strengths and the plus points in your skills. Analyze the styles that you are good at and select those that you believe will be effective against your opponent.

Beware of your vulnerabilities

An honest appraisal of your strengths and weaknesses will put things in perspective in your own mind as to what you can do and cannot do on the mat. You should also put in more practice behind problem situations so that you don’t find yourself powerless in an actual encounter.

Know your opponent’s weak point

Strategize your counter moves or even initiate your moves based on what you know of your opponent.

Be flexible and develop alternative strategies

Every encounter is different and, even if you are playing the same opponent again, you must be able to change strategies to throw your opponent off balance. There are a couple of techniques for this:

1. “If Statements”

This is a problem-solution method. When you use “If Statements” you paint a picture of a circumstance or a problem that you may encounter in the ring and then arrive at different solutions to tackle it.

2. Modifying your approach – Revise or reframe

This technique requires you to evaluate your moves studying order to determine whether or not you can change your emphasis in any way; increase/decrease your emphasis on hand or leg or body movements in a way that makes the move more powerful.

B. Tactics – Plan tactics to make your strategy workable. When you plan your tactics, you get into the realm of mind games. You get in to details like:

• The pace at which you want to move

• The manner in which you plan to carry out

• The level of aggressiveness that is necessary at the start, in the middle, and toward the end of a bout

• When to use your most powerful move

This is the stuff that tactics are made of in a strategy.

C. Mental Preparation Techniques - The techniques that you can apply to practice your game and fine-tune your strategy are simulation, visualization, viewing video recordings, and computer simulation.


Simulation is a technique in which you create a situation as close as possible to what you are likely to encounter in the ring. Simulation attempts to recreate the stresses under which you perform in a match. It is a method used in practice situations to imitate the real thing and hone your performance. It is a way to familiarize yourself with the experience in a real bout.

Simulation exercises

a) Get used to external sources of strain/stress

• Noise: The commentator’s voice and constant yelling and screaming from spectators, and in general, the racket at a grappling or combat-athletics event can be quite nerve-racking and downright distracting. To get to used to the noise level, use audio recordings of matches to simulate your game during practice. This will help you prepare for these sounds.

• Presence of spectators: Allow an audience into your practice area to get used to people being around the ring.

• Unknown Venue: The rings for grappling and combat athletics are different. So it helps to play at the actual venue during training to acclimatize yourself to the space, dimensions, and feel of the venue.

• Weather: Training in extreme weather conditions is a big help when you actually encounter it in a competition. There cab be days when the heat has gone through the roof s well as days when temperatures are at sub-zero levels. The temperature may not be regulated at all the venues in which you play. So you may be exposed to extremes at some of them. Often times, matches in brazil are held outside in extremely hot conditions.

b) Simulate physical stress:

Recreating a match situation also has another far-reaching advantage. You will be exposed to a certain amount of physical wear and tear akin to a real match. While playing out scenarios, you usually experience almost the same level of physical distress as in a real encounter. So you have the additional benefit of experiencing a real adrenaline rush as well and can use the feeling of strength and power (caused by the adrenaline) to learn how to defend yourself and counter-attack.

c) Deal with exhaustion:

Practice and push yourself to your limits when you are tired and feeling fatigued. This is exactly what will happen to you in an actual match. You have to learn to maintain your alertness and concentration even when you are exhausted and low on energy.

d) Play beyond the time limit:

Extending the time limit is another way to push the envelope and exert both your body and your mental faculties. Continue to fight for a longer period than strictly necessary. By practicing beyond the time limit, you will learn to operate at higher levels of stamina and mental energy.


Visualization is a technique that uses mental images to recreate a game situation. Through visualization a grappler or combat athlete can create mental pictures of the moves he or she plans to make and also visualize responses to the opponent’s tactics. It builds imagery into your thought processes to recreate an entire scenario in your mind. It can be a potent tool that can be complement your practice sessions and simulation exercises. Through visualization you actually get to practice in your mind on your own time.

Developing your visualization skills

Visualization is really quite easy to understand and practice. It’s much like doing math in your head. You call images onto your mental screen – images of yourself playing an opponent, the styles that you plan to use, the manner in which you will break out of an opponent’s grip, and so on.

When you visualize, you get to see your moves before you actually perform them. Many writers make a distinction between visualization and imagery. The difference is actually very subtle. Imagery is considered to be a little more vivid than visualization, and a person who practices imagery is able to incorporate sound, smell and touch in the mental images.

Through mental visualization you are mentally getting acquainted with the form that the actual encounter may take. The pressure and trauma of the encounter is considerably reduced if your visualization conditions your mind on what to expect and this conditioning prevents going blank and freezing in tough situations.

View Video Recordings

When you are unable to visualize all moves, a good alternative is to view the many videos available. There are instructional videos as well as videos of matches played by legends in grappling. Watching the moves is a form of memorization of techniques and styles: it helps you immensely in your mental preparation, especially when you are in the process of thinking through and strategizing your game plan.

Computer Simulation

Video games are available that have a built-in computerized grappling/combat-athletics system that provides the various move options. This is not kid stuff, but an interesting way to gauge the styles that you will automatically use when you face a particular situation on the mat. In a way, it is a memory enhancer that tests your ability to call on the best moves relevant to a particular situation.

3. Focus

Focus is actually extremely crucial in maintaining good mental form and is of vital importance if you want your plan to work. Focus is multidimensional and encompasses several factors that go into the mental framework of the “complete” sports professional.

Focus is the ability to converge your mental processes into thoughts that further your chances in a game and diminish the unnecessary surface noise (irrelevant thoughts) that fills the mind. The mental processes that can help you with your game revolve around certain traits and behaviors. Everything from attitude to ego to motivation and discipline come under the purview of Focus.

About The Author
Lloyd Irvin is a martial arts coach, competitor and a businessman. He graduated from Bowie state university. He holds the rank of 7th degree black belt in Thai Jitsu, 2nd degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, 5th degree black belt in combat sombo and 1st degree black belt in judo. He is a Multiple Time National Judo Champion, a Multiple Time National Sombo Champion and after coming out of a three-year retirement he recently became the 2005 Brazilian Jiu Jitsu World Champion. In 2002 he was named The United States Judo Federation International Coach of the year. Also in 2004 he was named the NAGA North American Grappling Associations Instructor of the Year as well as The Grapplers Quest 2004 Instructor of the Year. Lloyd's coaching experience includes having taught many different law enforcement and military agencies including the Secret Service, FBI, NAVY SEALS, DEA, SWAT and Bounty Hunters.

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Tue Feb 22, 2011 11:22 am
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