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What I've Learned Working at Jiu Jitsu Tournaments

Photo Credit: Xtreme Moments Photography, IBJJF

I will never forget my first experience working sideline coverage as a Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC) for a Jiu Jitsu Tournament. It was December 2018, and my friend asked me if I would be interested in covering the NoGi Worlds. Being out of the ATC game since 2015, I have been yearning to work as an ATC again, so I quickly responded 'YES'! Little did I know, it would be one of the coolest experiences of my life.

Bright and early, I walk into the Walter Pyramid, and see our team setting up along with a few athletes getting warmed up. As competition time nears, I start seeing crowds of athletes lining up, ready to go and I can feel the energy starting to build. We were given our assignments of mats to cover along with emergency protocols. Soon after, over the intercom a man announces "Welcome everyone to the 2018 NoGi World Championships, the matches may now begin", and it was game on.

As a student of BJJ, this gig is a dream come true - I get to be around one of the coolest sports in the world AND get paid?! Sign me up! But in all seriousness, one of my favorite parts of the job is how much I've learned about the sport. The more I work these tournaments, the more I start to understand and notice techniques and patterns - to the point where you almost start to have the ability to predict if an injury is possibly going to happen. I've literally picked up so many jiu jitsu tips and gems from simply working with and watching the best of the best compete.

Being a spectator, it's entertainment to watch people choke each other and attempt to dislocate each other's joints but as a healthcare practitioner on the side of the mat, it's a whole different world. From start to finish, we have to be ready for anything - from blood to concussions to fractures to dislocated joints - I'm telling you, ANYTHING. It's high pressured, you have to be alert, but it's exhilarating, and semi-addicting.

Our job as Certified Athletic Trainers is to respond quickly to injuries, assess the situation, and then make a decision on the spot on whether or not the athlete is safe to continue to fight. Sounds simple, right? Well, let's also take into account that at a lot of these tournaments, athletes travel from across the globe and have train for MONTHS to compete. Their passion and willingness to put their life on the line for this sport is one of the most incredible things to watch. But with all of this in mind, how do we make decisions? We tap into our human side. Under all that pressure, we take into account every factor, we put ourselves into the shoes of the athlete, and we make the call.

What I have taken away from these tournaments is beyond what I have ever imagined. I have learned to be sharp with my clinical skills, and to be fast on my feet (literally - we SPRINT to the mats lol). I have learned that in order to challenge yourself, you have to put yourself in uncomfortable situations (going from 2 years of no ATC work, to this, let's just say - I had serious anxiety). And lastly, I have learned that having an open mind for growth and improvement is a seriously powerful quality to have.

It's truly a humbling experience and an honor to serve these athletes, and I hope to be able to serve them for the rest of my life.

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