How to Master your Pre-fight Nerves and Battle like a Champ


Reading time: 4 minutes

What you’ll learn

  • Why nerves and self-doubt are normal before a fight

  • How responding to your fight or flight response impacts your performance in the ring

  • Three tips on how to manage your pre-fight nerves and fight like a champ

In some gyms, and on social media, experiencing nerves or self-doubt means you can’t fight or shouldn’t fight; it’s seen as a weakness that an athlete shouldn’t have.

Nerves, fear, worry, anxiety and self-doubt are part of our survival mechanism. Our mind wants to keep us safe and that means staying in your comfort zone.

Going into fight is a physically threatening situation which means our mind does its job to keep us safe by going into a fight-or- flight response; that’s when the nerves, anxiety and doubts begins. Every fighter has this response; just that some fighters view knots in their stomach, clammy hands, increased heart rate as a sign of being ready, whereas other fighters experience it as ‘I am stressed and anxious, I shouldn’t anxious, why am I anxious?....’.

Our thoughts are quicksand

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Our thoughts and emotions are similar to quicksand; the more we try and fight them or get rid of them, the more we will sink. That means the fighter who responds to their clammy hands and knots in their stomach as feeling anxious, stressed; questioning why they feel like that, when they should be feeling something else leads to them ‘sinking’ in their thoughts and emotions. Whereas, the fighter who notices and understands this response is normal before a fight can focus on what he needs to get done and let’s these emotions pass.

Wait, so can I do something about my nerves?

Three ways to manage pre-fight nervous:

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ONE: Improve your self-awareness with quietude

Self-awareness is a vital part for high performance and well-being. That means learning to notice the thoughts and emotions you’re experiencing. This is important for fighters as moments before you get in the ring you are totally alone with your thoughts and emotions. These moments can be critical; so create moments like this in your daily life. 

Spend 3 minutes a day just sitting with no distractions and just notice what thoughts and emotions come up. Once you have noticed them; redirect your focus on your breath or on the parts of your body in contact with the chair or floor. Start with 3 minutes and build it up to longer. The point is to practice non-judgement of thoughts and emotions and improve directing your focus; this will help you do the same before the fight.

TWO: Refocus on the process with a clear fight plan

Before training or a fight, if you notice unhelpful emotions or thoughts; try not to judge them as good or bad, just notice what they are and then refocus on what you have to do in the moment practice this non-judgemental approach and then refocus on what you have to do in that moment; if it is before a fight refocus on what you have to do to win; e.g. coming forward, responding to every kick, etc. I find doing this whilst shadow boxing before a fight extremely helpful to keep me focused on my game plan, my strengths and brings me back into the moment instead of getting lost in my own head.

THREE: Use cues to direct your attention

If you find your mind wonders a lot use cues to bring you back into the moment. That can be putting something visual on your gloves or arm; stamping your feet or hitting your gloves together; these are all things you can practice using in training. Using cues means you don’t get caught up in unhelpful thoughts or emotions; and helps you to refocus on what you have to do in the moment.

Main Takeaways

  • Nervous and doubts are part of our survival mechanism and every fighter experiences them to different degrees.

  • The more you fight thoughts and emotions the stronger and more stuck you become.

  • Practice noticing your thoughts and emotions without judgement and refocus on what you need to do in the moment. Using cues can help you to refocus.

About the Author

Lena Kessler is the founder of and professional Muay Thai fighter and performance consultant. Her mission is to help individuals to maximize their performance and well-being to unlock their potential and thrive in their sport, job and life.

Instagram: @Lena.a.k

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