Improve the quality and focus of your training by adding game elements.

Gamification means finding ways to turn work into play, and to steer that play in the direction intended by the game designer.

The importance of play in human learning cannot be overstated: play is one of the most powerful tools we have for developing new skills. And unfortunately, it's a skill we sometimes forget about as we grow older.

The goal of gamification is to turn “boring stuff” like work and study into “fun stuff” like sports and other friendly challenges.

Ultimately gamification is an incentive system. Good games create incentives that guide students out of their comfort zones and into places that will accelerate their skill development.

We do this by adding game elements, which people find enjoyable, to things they might not normally enjoy.


What are “game elements?”

Game elements are, quite simply, the things you'd find in a game. This can include rules, goals, progress trackers, rewards, and many other things present in games of all types.

Have you ever used a website or app that displays a progress bar showing you how “complete” your profile is? That's gamification in action: the designers are incentivizing you to fill up that progress bar by using the system the way they want.

Some websites and apps also display badges or flair to recognize your accomplishments. This is another example of gamification: the designers are hoping you'll see value in those rewards, and that value will encourage you to use the system more.

Gamification is everywhere, whether we recognize it or not. Do you train in the gi? If so, that belt around your waist is an example of gamification. Your instructor is hoping that the prospect of promotion will incentivize you to train consistently.


Why gamify?

Gamification is a great way for coaches to guide their students toward the optimal learning path. It's also a great way for self-directed students to master their psychology and guide their own learning.

Well-designed games can create:

  • an increased willingness to try new things
  • better habits based on coaching best practices
  • more collaborative relationships with your training partners
  • a focus on fun, which increases training consistency.

Let's double-click on that last one: fun. Skill development is ultimately about consistency, and it's hard to remain consistent at anything that's not fun. Fun is one of the best long-term motivators we have.


Can you gamify something that's already a game?

Short answer: yes. You can always add more game elements to a game.

Jiu-Jitsu is a perfect example of this. Yes, it's a game, but its focus on one-on-one combat sometimes pulls us out of “learning mode” and into “fight mode.” It's hard to develop skills when your brain is in fight mode.

That's one of the beautiful things about gamification: it helps us relax that win-at-all-costs mindset and focus on learning through play.


How to gamify your Jiu-Jitsu:

As you've probably gathered, gamification is a pretty vague concept and there's no single “right way” to gamify your Jiu-Jitsu.

There's nothing wrong with building your own gamified approach as many coaches have already done. That said, if you're looking for a head start here are some coaches who have had success gamifying their Jiu-Jitsu:

  • The ecological dynamics folks often add gamification into their programs. Friend of the show Greg Souders is probably the best-known example of this.

  • Josh McKinney's “Designated Winner” system is a great way to gamify Jiu-Jitsu. It adds a level of collaboration to your sparring while also keeping the competitive elements.

  • Rob Biernacki's “F**k Your Jiu-Jitsu” system involves creating games where you intentionally put yourself in threatening scenarios. The best part? Unlike the systems above, you don't need anyone else's permission to use FYJJ.


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