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Chapter 6. – Stuck on the silver plateau – mental training to progress from silver to gold

Most fighters who compete for a while likely have encountered the phenomenon of the silver plateau. It’s a place of ‘almost there’. While there have been many silver medals won, perhaps a few golds from smaller competitions, the big wins and/or steady progress towards higher stake events do not seem to come. This is the level one can reach with mere endurance, regular practice, suitable skill sets, and diligence. This chapter is centred around what follows.

the tournament crowd

The silver plateau is largely due to the change in the composition of the tournament’s attendees. The people you’ve competed with at the local tournament are not the same people as those lining up at the regional championship. The motivation, skill set, and character of the players all change as you progress on your competition journey.

While breaking away from the pack could be achieved at the beginning by having a good skill match, being diligent, and developing simple tactics, larger events bring about significant changes in the game because your opponents are pre-selected for similarly good skills and strong drive by previous tournaments. The more you advance in your competition journey, the less progress you’ll make with the same amount of effort, and accordingly, nuances become more important.

This change comes about in two dimensions: on the professional side, you progress toward a higher belt, and with that, you get into a more competent tournament crowd; while on the event side, you progress from small competitions to regional and global ones, where you face a more dedicated tournament crowd.

The professional journey

How the game changes toward a more competent tournament crowd:

beginner and improver

At beginner and improver levels (e.g. adult white and blue belt in BJJ), skills are quite mixed: it includes both complete beginners who are new to martial arts altogether, and people with an extensive history with different kinds of athletic disciplines. Fighters are still developing their game and techniques at these levels. Their connection with the sport is not fully established, only a very few have decided yet that this is the exact martial art they want to excel in. Training usually consumes more resources than it returns on these levels, due to the cost of equipment, the task of getting the body into shape and the stress of dealing with a lot of new information and faces.

As a result, competition is a mess. Performances vary greatly: in one match, you can have an opponent who doesn’t even know where they are, in the next one, you may get a mixed martial artist. The outcome of fights on these levels is very random and hard to link to skills. Strategically, the aim is not yet to excel, but rather to become familiar with the intensity of the fights and the specifics of a competition.

professional levels

From professional level (e.g. adult purple belt in BJJ), those who are still in the game have likely dedicated themselves to their chosen art, or at least allocate a substantial amount of resources into it. In most cases, training is integrated into their lifestyle, which provides them with enhanced self-esteem and a boost from competitions. Getting this far requires their skills to be suitable or consciously tweaked to fit their art, which means that they are much more competent opponents.

Since your opponents are also more likely to be long-term practitioners with remarkable competition history, drive, skills, and knowledge start to get matched among competitors, and the weight of mental cards begins to increase.

The competition journey

How the game changes toward higher stake tournaments:

Local and small events

Many people attend small and local events to try out a tournament and see if it suits them. A win can be achieved simply by managing stress better or having mental cards more suited to the fight. In smaller tournaments, the main objective is to become familiar with the scoring system, how competition affects you, and how well your techniques perform against the full resistance of an opponent. You need to develop your own competition game, as discussed in Chapter 4, many general techniques won’t be applicable under that kind of pressure.

National, regional and high stake competitions

National championships and other higher stake competitions are filled with driven opponents who already have quite a few wins under their belts. Their presence there is not accidental. Fighters at these events have commonly mentally and physically prepared to bear the tournament pressure. They have decided to excel in their chosen martial art and commonly aim for a professional career. They are all dedicated professionals with similar skills. The person who can maintain a fight-ready condition by keeping a balance between the recollection of their techniques and responsiveness of their body is the most likely winner.

At that level, it’s all about mental preparation. The significance of technical knowledge ends here, and a new game begins: the game of brains.

Next: The saturation graph of life

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