How BJJ Helped Me With Officiating Football

Okay so there have been a couple podcasts talking about and asking about how other sports and BJJ interact. Joe Thomas talked about his fishing experiences, and brought up articles of different activities and their interaction; Gary Hull related a lot to basketball as a player and coach; and Byron Jabara … well… I am surprised how little he knows about sports LOL!

Anyway, I have been officiating youth and high school football for 20-plus years, and part of being an official is being calm under pressure. How in the world does football officiating help me in my BJJ journey? I believe that attribute helped me in my BJJ journey because one of the minute, but important aspects of BJJ I quickly learned, and am STILL learning is how you have to breathe and be calm in uncomfortable situations, and as a white belt, I am in a LOT of uncomfortable situations. To the outsider, this may not mean a whole lot, but when I was placed under the pressure of side control, knee on belly, americana, and various chokes, I quickly learned what pressure is, and no doubt, I panicked at times. However, my years of officiating under pressure kicked in, and while I still had anxiety and panic, I found myself not freaking out, but rather wondering things like, “What the hell?”, “How did he do that?”, “OMG, that is brutal pressure!”, and several more things. The point is, is that I was actually thinking of how to combat the moves, whether I used proper BJJ techniques or not… mostly, I did not use proper technique, and also learned that I better keep my arms close to me, and my elbows closer! Remaining calm enabled me to rationalize the experience the anxiety as a learning experience, rather than frustration, anger, or hopelessness. Not only is important in the short term, as I get smashed in a class or two, but also over the long term, over the span of a week, month, a few months, and more. Note that I have only been practicing BJJ for 11 months. There are factors and excuses that would make people quit BJJ,, and the mental aspect of it appears to be a bigger reason that just being physically beat down is.

So has BJJ helped me with my football officiating? Absolutely! Learning to be calm in BJJ has improved my on field demeanor, because on the mats, I learned about different kinds of pressure and anxiety not necessarily experienced on the football field… or I should hope not! I would never want to find the need to place a coach in a D’arce in order to calm him down while explaining why his team was flagged for a foul! Another thing I learned in BJJ that improved my field demeanor is being humble, and that is a reflection of the quality of the professors I learn from. Sure we all learn confidence, but when you couple that with humility, your mind thinks differently, and you end up rationalizing things differently. In BJJ, it seems like if you are placed in a pressure situation, you have to be calm, remember the of ways to combat that pressure, and rationally decide what to do to relieve that pressure. So on the field, I have to think of a number of ways to deal with the pressure , be it a coach, player, parents, fans, and any play that just happened. Basically, the BJJ mindset in this example forces a way of thinking to be 1) calm, 2) to look at a situation from several angles, and 3) to make the best choice possible to deal with that pressure.

So from the football officiating POV, being calm, humble, and rational is very important when dealing with close & controversial situations and making quick decisions (foul or no foul), then dealing with the fallout with players, fans, and especially coaches. The same can be said from the BJJ POV… being calm, humble, and rational is very important when dealing with close & controversial situations and making quick decisions (sweep, grips, choke, counter), then dealing with the reaction of your opponent’s moves and counters.

Lastly, I also credit BJJ getting my legs, cardio, and flexibility at a much higher level than in years past. I don’t think I have to explain the physical part of this part, LOL! But more so the mental part of my game has improved on both my officiating as well as my BJJ fronts.

Gerald Burgos