It seems like it was just yesterday, but I often forget the jitters I had before my first muay Thai fight back in 2007. As a coach, I constantly have to remind myself on how to best prepare my students for what to expect and how to cope. I do this because I never had anyone who was able to explain how to handle first-fight jitters. And I really wish someone had, as it was a rather steep learning curve.
I have many students who ask me about which strike they should try to land or what game plan to use for their first fight, when the truth is, your training should do that for you. You fight like you train, and you train like you fight.
I’ve heard people coach “being confident” in the ring, but how can you expect someone to be confident when this is his or her first time fighting? You have to believe in your training and believe in your techniques.
Ask your coach to work with you a little bit on fight-specific training, such as a mock-fight in your sparring, where he or she corners and talks to you between rounds.
There is a very distinct feeling you will get as soon as you step off the scale for weigh-ins at your event. It’s like your mind realizes what it’s getting itself into and tries to talk you out of it. I’ve heard many names given to this feeling, such as “the darkness” or “bitchassness,” and I believe giving this feeling a name is a great way to recognize and embrace it.
Everyone has this feeling, all the way up until the point of entering the boxing ring, cage, or mat. It’s a fundamental part of competition that you will learn to enjoy with experience.
Being comfortable in your space is vital to believing in your techniques and embracing what it is that you are about to do. I personally like to walk out to the ring before an event and practice entering it, imagining how it will look and feel with an audience present. I’ll do some light shadow boxing to help create a mental anchor for what I’m picturing in my mind. This way when it comes time to compete, I’ll have the proper reaction if I experience that point in a fight.
Getting comfortable and practicing in the ring is vital. I suggest working it into your training. Get comfortable with the competition setting.
The last, but most important part, is to remember to have fun and enjoy this experience. I had one of my coaches tell me as I entered the ring, “Enjoy every second of this, remember how much you love to be in there.” Hearing him say that, it felt like I was back in the gym, relaxed and ready to fight. I went back to my mental anchor from training, I got comfortable, embraced my feelings, and believed in my technique.
When you can take yourself through this process, you will outperform yourself, which is the ultimate goal. After all, our greatest enemies are ourselves.
Photos “Amateur Muay Thai” by Attribution-NonCommercial License.