Whenever I go to Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai Kickboxing, Wrestling or Boxing tournaments, I for sure always hear one thing: yelling. Everyone is yelling at someone and acting as their coach, even people they don’t know. It’s human nature to want to give advice, but that doesn’t mean it’s good advice.
In fact, I was at a BJJ tournament once and I was asked to help coach someone last minute because the rest of his coaches were helping other students. This guy was a blue belt and both him and his competitor were wearing black gis. I was asked literally about one second before his match. I had no clue who this kid was and for a couple seconds I wasn’t even sure which one to coach. Fortunately, someone who actually knew the blue belt came to relieve me.
I find it an honor to coach people and with that, here are some of my insights around coaching:
COACHING STARTS WAY BEFORE STEPPING ONTO THE MATS
Coaches and athletes share a strong bond that is forged over time. Before competing, it’s important to ask your coach if he/she will coach you. Typically, 8 weeks out is a good amount of time to establish a “camp”. This gives you and your coach enough time to figure each other out. For the coach, the goal is to understand the athlete’s limits and limitations in order to develop a strong strategy and fix holes in the game plan. For the athlete, the goal is to figure out if he/she trusts the coach and likes working with him/her. It’s kind of like dating: ask each to hang out more, be clear of what you want and your expectations, have fun learning each other.
Now, from the moment of working until competition, your jobs are to be very well in sync.
YOU AND YOUR COACH NEED TO BE ABSOLUTELY IN SYNC
Have you seen Avatar? If so, you’ll remember that when the blue characters share the ends of their braids with other animals, they almost share one mind and are totally aligned. Same with Khaleesi and her Dragon Drogon. That’s where you and your coach need to be.
There’s a movie called Choke about famous BJJ Black Belt RIckson Gracie’s quest to compete all over the world and in a competition in Japan. There’s an American kickboxer he will go against and that kickboxer’s coach says “It’s my mind in his body. I’m going to play him like a video game.” I honestly hate that. You aren’t a video game. Your mind and body can’t move as quickly and easily as a video game. You need to be aligned.
Instead, your jobs are to become malleable together up until tournament date. What this means is your coach should be putting you through the ringer and helping you reach new limitations on a frequent basis. You have to understand and develop your game plan so that a coach can just say “What do we do from this position?” rather than explicitly stating what to do for the other team to hear.
COACHES SHOULDN'T JUST GIVE ADVICE, BUT RATHER GOOD ADVICE
Your coach shouldn’t only tell you what to do, but how to do it. When I was doing Tae Kwon Do growing up, I had a teammate named Hunor from Hungary. He was phenomenal at Tae Kwon Do and could have been in the Olympics. He told me that at one tournament, he didn’t have anyone in his corner so he asked a random guy to just sit there to make it look like he had support. While sparring he heard his cornerman say “kick him in the head” and Hunor started getting fed up with his “advice”. He asked him “how should I kick him in the head? What type of kick? Where should I be to do the kick? What angle? How soon into the match?” All these questions are things good coaches think about.
From coaching and being coached, I’ve realized that good coaches help you spot opportunities. I had a Muay Thai fight a while ago and I asked my business partner and my friend Nick Cimmarusti to be my coach. When he was in my corner, he would not only keep telling me to push myself, but he helped me spot opportunities that I couldn’t see because of the adrenaline in my system. He showed me where my opponent was open and communicated that opportunity in a way that my opponent wouldn’t understand. This ultimately helped me with the fight by unanimous decision.
YOUR JOB IS NOT ONLY TO TAKE ANY INPUT, BUT ALSO TO MAKE A DECISION YOURSELF
What I love about martial arts is that it’s a one on one sport. You’ll have several people yelling at you and giving advice, but at the end of the day, your moves are your decision. My first BJJ teacher, Mark Vives told me this piece of advice “Everyone will be telling you to do something and you’ll even get advice from strangers, but your job is to take all that in and make the best decision you think.” That has always stuck with me. You as an athlete, need to be able to listen, think and react. All three need to happen. However, if you spend time working with your coach long enough, their voice should cut through the rest.
COACHING IS AN HONOR
Lastly, to be your coach is an honor so treat it like such. Find someone who you trust and respect enough that you would bestow upon them the gift of being your coach. If you were asking someone to be your family member, you would only want the best. Same with coaching. Get someone good, not just any random person.
These are my words of advice for finding coaches. Take it seriously and think about it when preparing for your next fight. I wish you luck on the mats and I hope you find your great coach and can be someone’s great coach.