Modern Sponsorships

I was recently introduced to a newer Brazilian Jiu Jitsu brand called Enois. Founded by David Telfer who trains out of Robot Fight and Fitness in Santa Monica.

I already have a long running relationship with a well know brand but I was happy to promote some athletes that I knew would be great brand ambassadors.

Between contacting all the athletes, writing recommendation letters, and trying to gauge their interest in being sponsored.

I realized that there was a lot of confusion as far as what they would get, what all they had to do, etc.

Modern sponsorships in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a confusing topic.

Everyone wants to be sponsored.

But not a lot of people know how it works. Not many athletes have written about it for whatever reasons.

When most people think of sponsorships they often relate it to the huge endorsement deals that athletes in the popular sports get.

Sports such as football, baseball, and basketball here in the U.S. Soccer(football) for my international folks.

While Jiu Jitsu sponsorships are not quite as lucrative. I can assure you that the top guys in our sport are making bank.

There are a lot of different types of sponsorships. Many that I will talk about later in this post.

I just want you to remember that the guys/girls getting sponsored are not all athletes that compete every weekend or placed at the big tournaments.

Some own schools.

Some work full-time.

Some have a large social media following and are always posting on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.

I think I will write a post detailing what I’ve done to get sponsored and maintain my relationships with my sponsors over the years but for now let’s focus on the different types of sponsors.

Types of Sponsorships

Most sponsorships can be broken down into 2 or 3 different groups with lots of overlap. Within the different types there are also different tiers. These tiers are determined by the level of the athletes.

Lower tier athletes are generally lower belts (often blue belts and purple belts) competitors or non-competitors. Not well known or only known locally.

Middle tier athletes can be any level but are generally brown belts and black belts. More well known. Probably have a highlight video or two. Somewhat known throughout the Jiu Jitsu community.

Higher tier athletes are high level competitors. Often appearing on magazines and other branding. They need no introduction. They are widely known throughout the Jiu Jitsu community.

  • Lower Tier – Gear
  • Middle Tier – Gear, Tournament Entry
  • Higher Tier – Gear, Tournament Entry, Monetary Compensation

Gear Sponsorship

This is the first level of sponsorship that most competitors will receive.

In fact my very first sponsor was exactly like this. I won’t mention the name of the brand. But they managed to supply me with the defective gear that they probably weren’t able to sale.

I didn’t stay sponsored by them for long.

Gear sponsorships generally involve the exchange of clothing or training gear in return for advertisement at local events, tournaments and online.

The biggest brands have mastered this really well. All they have to do is release a few different items every year and people will proudly purchase without much selling.

The gear package can include everything from t-shirts, rash guards, kimonos,belts, hats, etc.

Usually there is no exchange of money, especially for lower belts and lesser known athletes.

Luckily many of the popular brands don’t have a stipulation on you selling your gear once you receive it.

I know a lot of competitors that never take their sponsored gear out of the plastic wrapping. Instead choosing to sell to the highest bidder. Usually for a large profit.

While others might only wear their sponsored items for tournaments and then sell their stuff later to pay their rent or for tickets to the next competition.

The more well known you become.

The more followers you have on social media.

The more success in tournaments that you achieve. The faster you will move up on the sponsorship ladder.

I’m sure you have seen a few lower tiered athletes on Facebook. While they are technically sponsored they also have to put in more work. Usually by posting on social media a few times a week. Plugging coupon codes and notifying all their followers and friends sales.

For example many sponsors will require that you post on social media with the sponsors hashtag at least once a week. Wear their gear at all competitions. Wear their gear for certain events. And even train in their gear.

Everyone has to start somewhere.

Entry Fee Sponsorship

As you move up in sponsorship level. The more you receive from sponsors. More perks, more gear, more connections.

Once you get to the point that your sponsor is covering or reimbursing you for tournament entry fees. Then you are are already near the top of most Jiu Jitsu athletes.

I have entry fee coverage listed as a middle tier level of sponsorship for very active and successful competitors.

But it’s still a large step in the right direction.

Think about it for a second.

You are getting paid to compete. Paid!

Most people fork over their hard earned money for tournaments without the hope of prizes or rewards.

Up and coming athletes on this level can have anywhere between one or two of their tournament registration fees covered.

Again the more well known. The more popular. The more marketable you are. The more tournaments you can possibly have covered.

This is big with sponsors because you will be able to compete more frequently. Promoting their brand to even more potential new customers.

This is true now with the different video streaming companies. They are able to reach tens of thousands of customers.

This is great for sales.

Especially when their athletes do well while wearing their gear.

Most sponsorships are the same when it comes to covering the entrance fee to tournaments.

This system generally works on a reimbursement scale. So the athlete might have to pay for the tournament(s) out of pocket initially. Then later be reimbursed either a few weeks after the tournament or towards the end of their competition season.

There might be some stipulations on what tournaments and the number of tournaments that the sponsor will cover.

For instance, most of the big companies will only cover the major tournaments. Such as IBJJF, Abu Dhabi Pro, etc.

While some of the smaller companies might cover only local tournaments.

You will know before hand what types of companies that your sponsor will cover. If you sign an agreement. It will be clearly outlined for you.

Monetary Sponsor

Monetary sponsorships are the highest tier level of sponsorships in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. The athletes at this level are often full-time brown belts and black belts competitors that make their living through Jiu Jitsu.

Many of the top competitors for big name brands receive monetary sponsorships. Especially if you see them on magazine ads and other marketing items all the time.

This form of sponsorships can take on many different forms depending on the success of the athlete.

Their fan base.

Their ability to draw customers.

Their story.

All of these determine how much a sponsor is willing to pay you.

This is why some sponsor brands might have one or two star athletes. They know these guys have huge followings. Which means more sales when they win.

Monetary sponsorships can include: monthly stipends, tournament fee coverage, win bonuses, kimonos, clothing, custom branding like an athlete specific design.

Monetary sponsorships can be further divided into two tiers. Higher and lower tiers.

Lower Tier

On the lower tier of monetary sponsorships is the win bonus. At this level the athletes only receive compensation if they win or place at major tournaments like pans and worlds.

The amount of compensation is predetermined but can range anywhere between a few hundred dollars to a few thousands dollars.

Outside of this, lower tiered athletes often will not receive any other form of direct compensation.

Higher Tier

Higher tiered monetary sponsorships are a whole other level. This is where you will find many of the top guys. The multiple time world champions and the most marketable athletes in our sport.

At this level athletes are getting paid relatively large sums of money just for endorsing a particular company.  Usually in the form of a monthly stipend. Sometimes including a generous win bonus option.

The monthly stipends amounts very largely.

I know of some guys that make a few hundred dollars a month from their sponsors.

I’ve heard of some top guys that make a few thousand dollars a month just from sponsors alone.

Enough to cover their living expenses so that they can dedicate themselves completely to their training.

A small part of difference could be a world title or absolute title. But I think a lot of athletes underestimate just how much their personality and their story affects how much sponsors will shell out for you.

I’ve covered a lot in this post. But this is really important stuff. Especially for newer athletes that want to make competitive Jiu Jitsu their career.

I mentioned a few times how a lot of what you get through your sponsor will be predetermined.

That’s because most serious sponsors will have you sign an agreement. As in legally binding agreement.

While there are ways around an agreement. If you do sign one you are committing your image. Your personal brand. To the use and benefit of the sponsoring company.

These agreements can often last from one year to multiple years.

If nothing else I hope this post helps inform and empower current and future athletes like you to understand what goes behind being sponsored.

Is it cool to be sponsored?

Yes. Depending on the brand.

If you like the sponsor company and everything check outs. Meaning you are happy with the terms. I say go for it!

But if you don’t believe in the brand or are just going along with them so that they will sponsor you. I say it’s better to turn down their offer. It will be in the best interest for both parties. You will leave yourself open for a company that is a better fit and you will be a lot happier.

Training in Sweden

I’ve been training in Gothenburg, Sweden for the last few weeks and I have to say that it is one of the best decisions that I have ever made.

I’ve traveled before to other countries but this was my first sponsored trip as a professional athlete.

Traveling and being able to train is one of the coolest things about bjj. You can literally go anywhere in the world and there will be an open mat and willing partners ready to roll.

When I first traveled and trained I really didn’t know what to expect. Would the training be hard or would they expect me to teach because I was a higher belt from a big team. I remember thinking that my Jiu Jitsu wouldn’t be as effective overseas for some weird reason.

Despite my thoughts, my Jiu Jitsu skills were intact and the people were super friendly just like my crew back home.

It’s really exciting!

Not only are you training with new training partners but you also open yourself up to new experiences.

New techniques

New teaching methods

New partners

While I was in Sweden, I spent most of my time teaching and training between two schools. One in Stenungsunds. The other in Gothenburg (Valhalla Jiu Jitsu).

Training and teaching twice a day. We would focus on one position for a week or two. Showing a few of our favorite moves from the main position. Then letting the students spar from those positions.

This was the best training ever.

Not only did it force me to take an in depth look at a lot of my favorite and least favorite positions.

But it made me more confident too!

The concept of positional sparring isn’t new, but the process of breaking down an entire match into smaller parts is one that I never considered before.

There’s a lot that happens during a match. A lot of transitions, re-positioning, etc.

But if you can work most of the common positions that you might run across in training. Imagine just how prepared you will be for the competition.

For example we worked De La Riva guard and single leg guard for two weeks.

Two weeks straight we only worked moves from those positions. Then we would spar from De La Riva.

 

Whenever someone got swept or passed we would restart and do it all over.

This training was great because there was completely no ego involved. It really forced me to focus entirely on the position and the techniques that I needed to progress. Once you add in all the repetitions and pairings. We probably did a hundred mini sparring sessions from just one position.

Maybe I will go more in-depth in a later post. But if you’re looking to get better and take your game to the next level, positional sparring will be a major key.

By the end of my trip I was lucky enough to get the chance to compete in Stockholm.

Competing in Sweden  

I participated in the Nordic Friends tournament ran by Smoothcomp and Naka Dojo.

Smoothcomp is a new tournament software that was unveiled during the tournament. Handling everything from athlete sign up to the scoring system.

From its name you can guess that it’s designed to make tournaments work smoother.

Both for the competitors and the staff.

As an athlete all I needed was a smart device with access to a Smoothcomp account (you set up an account when you register for the tournament) and you’re good to go.

Once logged in you have access to a lot of cool features that give you peace of mind.

Such as real time updates on when you’re on deck to compete. So no worries about running to the bathroom and getting disqualified because you didn’t hear your name called.

I’m sure you will hear more about this company in the near future.

Back to the tournament

I was happy that I was able to put into practice a lot of the moves that I drilled in training.

That’s always a great feeling!

The feeling of seeing your techniques work is like no other.

It’s really satisfying and pushes you to put more work in.

Much more than winning, the feeling of progressing is what keeps me on the mats. Competing is never really easy. In fact it gets tougher the longer you do it.

But if you focus on improving a little bit each day. During every training session and drilling session. You will see results.

One thing that I’ve noticed with the best guys in our sport is that they are always improving.

Always adding more depth to their knowledge.

That’s what mastery is.

It may take a lifetime but you can never give up. You just keep moving forward.

I would like to give a big thank you to my good friend, training partner, and coach Jon Thomas.

Jon is the head black belt instructor at Valhalla Jiu Jitsu in Gothenburg, Sweden and the main reason I was able to have such a good time.

Jon along with international brown belt competitor and friend, Leo Graf, are the main instructors at Valhalla Jiu Jitsu and really are setting the standard for Jiu Jitsu not only in Gothenburg but for the whole of Europe as well.

If you’re ever in Gothenburg now you know where to go train.

Shout out to all of the students that also made my trip so fun. I look forward to coming back soon to see how much everyone’s progressed.

As my friend Sam says

I have a gi and will travel.

If you or your school would like to host me for a seminar or longer training camp please contact me via email at alecbaulding@gmail.com

My schedule is slowly filling up but I should be available towards the fall of this year or Q4 for my business folks.

 

P.S. There aren’t many (or any) public laundromats unless you stay at a hotel. So if you’re expecting to train a lot make sure you make friends with someone with laundry access or make other arrangements before hand.

Competiton Anxiety

A few weeks ago, I competed in the Atlanta Winter Open. This tournament experience was a bit different than others because this time, I had the opportunity to talk with other students at the academy who were planning on competing. We discussed issues like how they were preparing to compete and their thought process that they were going through in the weeks leading up to the tournament.

A few common topics that arose were the issues of dealing with stress both before and during the tournament, uncertainties about deciding to compete, and instructors pushing students to compete.

Based on these discussions, with this post I’d like to examine what kind of thought processes occur amongst competitors leading up to the big day and also what drives some people to compete while others avoid it at all cost.

Also, having talked with some students before, during, and after this most recent anxiety inducing experience I will also give a few suggestions on how students can handle their anxiety and more importantly, how to overcome it.

 

Avoidance

A lot of Jiu Jitsu practitioners do not like competing and will avoid it at all cost. This could be for a number of reasons including:

  • Not feeling in good condition
  • Not training frequently enough
  • Injuries
  • Recently promoted

 

With beginner students, a lack of experience and confidence in their technique is often what keeps them from competing.  When it comes to more advanced students and higher belts, however, the issue of avoiding competitions becomes more complex. They might have all of the necessary skills and techniques to succeed in an competition and even if they are out of shape, a few weeks of conditioning will make them more than ready for most local or regional tournaments.

So what keeps these guys from going out there and tearing it up?

A popular BJJ saying can sum up this phenomenon, “A lion in the gym but a housecat in the tournament”.

Coming from a more competition-oriented academy, there is almost little choice about whether you will compete or not. Everything from schoolwide tournament preparation to charismatic speeches urging us to do our best in representing our team, all are aimed at pushing us to compete.

This approach works really well for the select few, avid competitors and those looking to make a name for themselves through tournament success. However whenever you focus on one subset of your school, you will begin to alienate the other students who are not in that minority.

It’s important to note that there will be times when it is unwise to compete, especially when it comes to rehabbing injuries or conflicting obligations. But when these reasons become non-factors, then the situation changes.

There will always be a sizable number of students that will never compete and there is nothing that an instructor or coach will be able to say or do to convince them otherwise. However, there will be a few that you will be able to motivate to at least give it a try. Competing, while stressful is a great way for your students to test their technique in a safe environment against similarly aged, sized and skilled opponents. That’s as fair as it gets folks!

Later I will go over ways that you might be able to motivate those who avoid competition to step outside of their comfort zone, but the choice should still be an individual one.

 

Competing Not to Lose

If you force students to compete (competition avoiders and non-avoiders), you might be leading them to compete for all the wrong reasons.

As an instructor, it’s difficult to figure out when it is the right time to motivate your students to compete. On one hand you want to be supportive and let your students do tournaments because you know that the more that they compete, the better they will become. However, if you push your students too hard, you might run the risk of putting them off of competing entirely.

Many times during the preparation for this competition I heard a few of the students, ones that were training hard consistently and with a good chance of actually doing well, putting themselves down as if they had no chance of winning. Even though their instructor reassured them of their abilities, I believe they lacked confidence in themselves because they were ultimately competing for the wrong reasons–competing to please their instructor, competing because they had to, competing not to lose.

If this isn’t a self-fulfilling prophecy then I don’t know what is.

Competing not to lose or because your instructor forced you to sign up might seem doable at first. But once you step out on the mat against an opponent that you have never seen before in a packed gymnasium, the initial confidence doesn’t really hold up.

All it does is ensure that you won’t ever want to compete again, or if you do, that it will not be an enjoyable experience and worsen your competition anxiety.

I’m not saying that you need a super strong reason to motivate yourself compete like some cheesy 80’s movie plot but the reasons you have should be your own.

 

Do it for yourself

If you decide to compete, it should be for your own reasons and motivations. Competing has many positive benefits such as forcing you to clean up your diet, pushing your training outside of your comfort zone, and most importantly, putting your skills and abilities to the test.

When you compete you are out there by yourself

One important thing to remember is that when you compete, you are out there by yourself….no coach, teammates, or significant other will be out there with you. When you step on to the mat with your opponent on the other side of you, you really get to see what motivates you to compete. If you were just trying to compete not to lose, your mindset would be closed off because you are already thinking about losing. This might force you to play it safe and not open up your game to its full potential.

Compete for yourself because you want to compete. For years, I thought if I competed and won a lot of tournaments, people would respect me more and my instructor (s) would be proud of me. Soon enough, however, I got to a point where I realized that none of that mattered. I learned that my reasons had to come from within myself. As long as you have some reason driving you, be it wanting to win your first tournament or hitting that new sweep that you have been drilling for the past two months, the you’re on the right path.

 

Handling Anxiety

Everyone views competition in different ways. It’s safe to say most people experience some kind of anxiety when a tournament is coming their way. I wish I could say that it gets easier the more you compete, but that’s dependent on you as an individual. Some competitors thrive under pressure while others might have a harder time dealing with it.

While there are a few quick remedies that one can make use of such as medications, massages, etc, I believe that the most reliable and actionable treatments happen the weeks leading up to a competition.

One of the most important methods in dealing with anxiety is preparation. Not only do you need to prepare your body through hard training, drilling and conditioning sessions, you also need to prepare yourself mentally. A great resource to help with your mental preparation are sports psychology books and the autobiographies of famous athletes. Study how they were able to perform at the best of their abilities when faced with mounting odds and do or die situations.

Reading, absorbing and applying the lessons that you get from these books will take time so you will have to start well in advance of any major tournaments.

Visualization is also a major key to preparing yourself that takes little investment on your part…this can happen in as little as ten minutes each day. It’s important that you visualize with a purpose. For example, if you know that you tend to become really nervous before a competition, then use visualization by envisioning yourself at a competition during warm-up or the match itself and reminding yourself to stay calm and confident. If you’re able to do this say 500 times, or even 1000 times leading up to your competition, then when that magical day does arrive, you will be more than ready to deal with your anxiety because you will have already have “experienced” the tournament.

Outside of visualization, actual tournament experience is the best way to get over any uncontrolled anxiety that you might experience. Compete multiple times during the span of a few months and you will see that it becomes much easier each subsequent tournament and you will be more relaxed and natural.

Conquer anxiety through proper preparation and by putting yourself in those uncomfortable, uncertain experiences until you learn to thrive and succeed.

 


During any sporting event, the outcome will be uncertain. No matter the level of competition, some days you will be on fire while other days you will have to struggle for an average performance.

I’m sure you remember the first time you started live training or your first time rolling with a really good upper belt. Did you feel any anxiety leading up to those moments?

First, it is obvious that competitors will start to feel anxious before a big tournament. Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.