Pain Under Pressure

Pain: it seems almost inevitable if you want to perform well. It can be either pain from exhaustion, from the burning in your muscles, or from injuries you sustain during BJJ. Dealing with pain can be hard, since our instinct is to shy away from pain. When you cut your finger, you stop cutting. When you burn your hand, you take it out of the oven. But when your muscles are burning during a match, you want to keep on going. This can be difficult and mentally challenging. Sports psychologist Daniëlle Vermeulen from Animo Sportpsychologie has some answers on how to deal with pain.


Pain is a signal your body gives you, telling you to stop. To take it easy. Te recuperate. But in competition, you don’t have time to take it easy or recuperate if you want to perform well. To be noted, there are various types of pain that you shouldn’t ignore, so make sure not to break yourself. That can be a challenge for the enthusiastic athlete, I know! You often do feel in your gut when you are crossing a line and when you should stop to avoid prolonged injury, so sometimes it’s better to think twice if you want to keep on going. However, there are certain types of pain you do want to ignore to perform well, like burning in your muscles or exhaustion. How do you do this?

How do I deal with pain?

When you feel pain, that is often all you can think about. Some people try thinking ‘I don’t want to think about the pain’, but that never works since you’re still focused on it. These three tips might help you to work through the pain in your next training or competition:

1) Distraction

In a way, it is very healthy to focus on something that hurts, but in training or competition you sometimes want to ignore it for as long as you can to get more out of it. One simple way of doing this is to think about something else entirely. When you focus on the pain, you focus on something that is happening internally. By focusing on something external, like your opponent, fellow athletes or music, you take your mind off the pain. This does have a downside however, since there’s the risk of getting so distracted that your mind is not in the game anymore.

Picture by Guardeiras

2) Focus on something relevant to your performance

Finding some form of distraction in the outside world can help take your mind off things during practice, but when you want to beat your opponent, you want to stay focused. It can happen that you notice it doesn’t help to be distracted by something completely different. It might work better to focus on things that are relevant to your performance. One of the most ideal things to focus on is your technique. What steps do you take to set up the next sweep? What do your hands do, what does your body do? By focusing on specific aspects of your technique, you take your mind off the pain, and at the same time you’re doing something that helps your performance. When your mind is filled up with useful technique points to focus on, there is no more room for pain. It works best if you already think of the technique points you want to focus on before competition, so you won’t have to do it while you are competing.

3) Formulate the pain in a positive way

Pain can lead to a lot of negative and annoying thoughts: ‘I’m not gonna make it’, ‘I’m too exhausted’, or ‘I can’t do this’. Often, it is not the pain that makes you perform less, but it’s the thoughts that make you decide to give in to the pain and stop trying. Therefore, it can help you to think about the pain in a different way. Doesn’t pain also mean that you are ‘Giving it your everything’?, or that you are ‘Working incredibly hard’? By thinking about the pain in a positive way, it will help you to keep on going and really give it your all!

Picture by Guardeiras

Want to know more? Follow Animo Sportpsychologie on Facebook or go to their website. Do you have questions or want to know more? Just send an email to! (for Dutch and non-Dutch speakers).




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