Every time I referee at a grappling competition, I see certain behavioral patterns among competitors.  These are things I know I have done, and sometimes still do, and some of these behaviors are mistakes.  I’ve identified 5 things competitors do that are counter productive:

  1. Spending too much time on the feet.  I get it.  You don’t want to get under someone who wants to be on top of you.  You think that maybe, just maybe, you can get them to pull first. Here’s the thing: most competitive matches have a time limit of less than 10 minutes, and you only get 2 points for the takedown.  If you don’t see an easy in for a takedown why not just pull guard and get things moving? From watching competitors of all levels I’ve noticed that if someone pulls in the opening moments of a match they are more likely to win than if they wait a while, and if someone lets themselves get taken down before attaining a guard their statistically likely to lose.  I’m not saying everyone should pull guard, but a transition should be made to the ground as quickly as possible and if you’re not going to take the other person down, just pull guard.
  2. Being impatient/not securing position.  As a referee my obligation with scoring points is to give the defending competitor a 3 count to escape.  Also the positions of back control, mount and knee on belly require certain factors before the referee will award points.  For example: if Joe takes Bob’s back, holds position for 2 seconds and then crosses hit feet, no points will be awarded, if Joe then uncrosses for a second and recrosses, STILL no points will be awarded.  The position needs to be held per the competition guidelines for the entire 3 seconds. If there’s a transition to a submission and the the attacker gets bucked off… guess what? No points unless position was held for a three count.
  3. Not Understanding the rulesThis applies in so many different scenarios.  Sometimes heel hooks and/or reaping are legal when you wouldn’t expect them to be, sometimes they’re forbidden.  Sometimes the point system isn’t what you’re used to. The competitor is responsible for understanding the rules, and if they have questions those questions must be asked prior to competing.  Don’t expect the referee to educated you, their job is strictly to officiate the match and score it.
  4. Getting emotional.  As a referee I watch people all day, and I see the ones who are letting their opponents get in their heads.  I had a situation on one of my mats at a recent event: one of the children competing was doing great, winning every single match, then he slammed another little boy, so I had to disqualify him.  He was very upset by this and started crying. I came over and told him that he didn’t do anything morally wrong, it was obvious to me that the slam was not malicious but was certainly a disqualifiable offense, I told him to take a deep breath that he had plenty of matches left.  He came back and lost most of the rest of his matches. He allowed his one mistake to ruin his day. If you lose, don’t let that set the tone for your whole day.
  5. Not having a clear strategy.  Again, as a referee I understand what I’m watching.  Some competitors come out onto the competition mat and it’s clear that they have a plan for how they want to win.  Others, not so much. If you fail to plan you plan to fail. This includes communicating with your coach, having an understanding of the rules and literally everything else imaginable.  Competition is a game, some people play that game better than others and those that do, win.

Refereeing is a difficult job, but I learn a lot from doing it.  I highly recommend that anyone purple belt and up try their hand at refereeing as it will lend perspectives that may not be readily available from the sidelines or as a competitor.  

Watching competitions from the middle of the mat one sees a lot of minute details of competitor mindsets and conduct.  What are some things you’ve noticed about competition? What are mistakes that you’ve made or seen made on the competition mat?