Saturday, September 18, 2010

Gameness: Are You Born With It?

Is gameness something you're born with? Or can it be learned? I recently read a post by Liam in which he interviewed a few head coaches heavily entrenched in the Manchester MMA scene. I loved both interviews, but the conversations he had with them about the mental toughness of the athletes they train really caught my attention.

Liam asked the three coaches what the most important attributes are in fighters and Gavin Boardman answered, "The most important is what many people refer to as gameness. The ability to step up no matter how tough the situation seems. To a large degree this can't be trained, you either have it or you don't. You can toughen up training with hard sparring, but once you get in the cage it might not be there for you."

That got me thinking. Do I have gameness? Honestly, I don't know. Tournaments intimidate me. I am willing to do them. But I am usually terrified when I step on the mat. I know of all the things that need improvement, my mental toughness is one of my weakest areas. I doubt myself.

Even more troubling for me is that Gavin said this sort of thing can't really be trained. You either have it or you don't. If that's true, what does it mean for people like me? Am I a hopeless case? Or can I toughen up and learn to be a lean, mean, grappling machine?

Obviously, I am not planning to go into MMA professionally. But I want to learn how to approach tournaments and challenges with a better mind frame so that I can do well at competitions and maybe even--MAYBE--enjoy them. This is on my mind quite a bit since I am hoping to compete in October, if my neck is well enough.

Georgette recently did a great blog post about calming nerves before a tournament. What about the rest of you guys? Do any of you have similar qualms about tournaments? And how do you deal with the mental aspect of competing?


sbonewicz said...

There's a book called "Wrestling Tough - Dominate mentally on the mat" by Mike Chapman with a forward by Tom Brands. I highly recommend it. Even though its wrestling the concepts are the same. "Mental Toughness" comes in many forms like from training, cutting weight, preparation, motivation, etc. This book covers them and tells stories about athletes who have that "gameness" sorta speak. I hope it helps you. It helped me and I read it all the time when I need some inspiration too.

Also read about Dan Gable, his wrestling career and coaching career.

I don't wrestle, but the books are inspiring and full of good information

Georgette said...

I have several times tapped in tournament matches because I mentally gave up. Other times I have this internal dialogue about "what the heck? oh hayell no I ain't tappin' to this lousy ____!"

I hope gameness comes with confidence in skill. I hope it grows over time. :)

sbonewicz said...

Doing drills where you start off in bad positions helps. When we do competition training we start off in chokes, having our back taken, mount, etc. You cannot tap and you have to try to escape. It helps a lot and gets you over that fear of being choked. Armlocks and such are different though and you just drill escapes for repetition. Good Luck! You will get there.

Zen Mojo said...

...hey Allie - you step on the mat then you have more "game" than 98% of people on the planet. Gameness isn't an absence of fear or anxiety, it is just stepping up and doing what needs to be done in the face of fear.

The biggest part of gameness is simply "showing up" for the hard stuff and giving it what you've got.

When you show up for a tournament you already beat everyone who didn't show up before you even have your first match.


Kalle said...

I disagree with the notion that gameness can't be cultivated. While it is true that there are some people who are born with preposterous amounts of mental toughness to begin with, I don't think that us mortals are incapable of developing similar traits.

I, for example, was a wimp when I was a kid. At the first sign of trouble or resistance I would quit whatever was giving me a hard time because I was very much a "path of least resistance" kind of person.

That began to change when I, for a reason that is still unknown to me, decided that I wanted to wrestle in high school. At no point did I decide that I wanted to become tougher or develop some work ethic, but I did decide that I really wanted to be a good wrestler. It took a lot of getting beat up, but after some time I had simply acclimated and didn't notice.

In the end, what I think was most important was not the desire to become tough, but the desire to do and enjoy whatever it was that required toughness. If you set out looking to do something difficult because you want to get tougher, I have a hunch you'll fail because all you can think about is the end product rather than enjoying the process.

In this case, I think that translates to competing just for the sake of competing. If you step onto the mat because you want to develop some attribute you will probably have a miserable experience. However, if you set that aside and put yourself out there for love of the game enough times, I'm guessing you'll look back and find that you've toughened up a whole lot without really having to think about it.

A.D. McClish said...

@Sharon: Thanks! I actually wanted to get something to read on the subject because I am hoping that I CAN develop a better mental attitude. I love BJJ. And part of BJJ is being able to have confidence in what you've learned. I can learn all the techniques in the world, but if I don't have confidence in my ability to execute them, they won't be worth anything.

@Georgette: That happened to me in class on Thursday afternoon. I was grappling a higher belt who is one of the best in the school. I made a mistake and he got my arm and I tapped. I didn't even try to escape. What the heck was that about?!?! Just because he's big and scary I tapped? GARBAGE!! lol

@Zen: If you can still have game and be terrified, then maybe I have a little bit of game! lol I've done ok in the tournaments that I've competed in. But everyone still makes fun of what my face looks like right as I'm stepping out onto the mat: gigantic round eyes, ashen color, nonexistent lips. If nothing else, maybe my opponent will be scared of the crazy-looking standing in front of her. ;)

@Kalle: Yaaay! Glad to hear your story! And a lot of things you said relate to some other things I've been thinking about. I might have to do another post just about those things! Thanks so much!

MC said...

It's absurd to think that gameness cannot be learned. Are there any veterans at your bjj gym? Any books about war heroes at your library? There is an entire profession whose success relies on the ability of its members to develop and maintain mental toughness and moral courage.

There are some people who seem to be born tough. That may be true. But I bet many of these people had parents or other role models who told them repeatedly from a young age, "my son/daughter doesn't cry," "never give up," "life without honor is worthless," “control your fear,” or something similar. It’s a lot easier to be tough when you’ve been practicing from the time you can barely walk, than if you don’t start practicing it or even thinking about it until boot camp or when you take up bjj. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn gameness, or moral courage, or toughness. Think to yourself, what would I do in such and such a situation? Is that the right thing to do? If not, change your answer, and when that situation presents itself, you are better prepared to meet it. If you are in a position where you can’t do something/ last any longer/ take the pain anymore, wait just two more seconds, take just two more steps, reach two more millimeters before giving up. Then wait two more, step two more, reach two more. Then realize that you have done more than you thought you could.

Having had my arm popped out once already, however, I tap to armbars when I know I’m had.

Anonymous said...

I definitely disagree. with the comment that mental toughness cannot be learned. Somewhere out there is a quote/saying/definition about being brave or couragous doesn't mean not being scared, it's about doing something even though you are scared. And I think that is the same as this "mental toughness" stuff. You can can still be scared/nervous and be mentally tough. Its what you do despite being scared/nervous that determines how mentally tough you are.

Liam H Wandi said...

Many thanks for the mention. Interviewing these guys was a very interesting opportunity. As for gameness, I replied to your comment on the post but here is a small follow up:

Gameness is in direct proportion to what's-on-the-line-ness.

Rigan Machado once said that Brazil is full of great fighters, both technically and physically. The ones that do the best are the hungriest for it.

I'm not hungry. I have no deep desire to constantly win. Hell, I even question that there is anything to be won. I live a good life and my training is driven by my love for the game and my passion for playing it and that's why I can't see myself becoming a world champion. It simply doesn't float my boat.

Does that directly mean I have no gameness? Try to forcefully grab my wife or hit my younger brother and we'll see about that :o) suddenly something else will be on the line. Something real.

Gameness is in direct proportion to what's-on-the-line-ness and thanks to training alive, I have a sense of calm and confidence about my ability.

Ronald said...

I think gameness is something we are born with it... There are some who voluntarily do it but there are some who needs some push because their gameness is not yet awaken. I am like that... A late bloomer. I still have to see a lot of things before I realized that I am into it.

A.D. McClish said...

@ MC: Good points. I can see a little bit how I have been gaining more confidence and I have only been training about a year. So that's at least some progress! I likes what you said about endurance: "If you are in a position where you can’t do something/ last any longer/ take the pain anymore, wait just two more seconds, take just two more steps, reach two more millimeters before giving up. Then wait two more, step two more, reach two more. Then realize that you have done more than you thought you could."

@ Regina: That's good news for me! lol I think I heard somewhere also that fear and excitement look the same chemically in the brain. It's just how you react to the rush of emotion. Makes it sound a whole lot easier to deal with when you put it that way than it is in real life! ;)

@ Liam: Great point. I've thought about that too. In a real-life self defense situation where either myself or someone else was in danger, I don't think I would back down. In a tournament, it's completely different. I'm not angry at the person. I don't feel like my life is being threatened. I am voluntarily going into a fight. Completely different motivation!

@ Ronald: I think Fabio, my instructor, likes to push people like you are talking about. He says that if he likes you then things will get tougher for you. I think he tries to bring out that gameness spirit in us by pushing us to our mental limits.

brg said...

awesome blog post. thanks for sharing - love all the responses. I'm very new to jiu jitsu and just trying to soak it all up.

Gavin Boardman said...

Hi, I have just come across this post.
I am not saying you cannot become mentally tougher over time through training, I have seen it happen many times.
What I am saying is there are some people who just have something different -and this you cannot get through training.
It depends on what you are defining as gameness, but in certain people I see something I do not see in everyone else.
Unfortunately, I am not one of these peolpe, but I am lucky to coach a few.
I have also coached the opposite type - awesome in the gym, but no matter what they try and do, they fall to pieces in a fight.