Saturday, March 8, 2008

Being a student, instructor and coach

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the three different roles I have in BJJ and MMA and how they really are related, but at the same time completely separate skillsets for me to constantly improve.

As a student, I am constantly learning and improving my own game. This will never end no matter how good I get and this is by far the easiest part to work on. Basically to improve as a student, all I need to do is train and spar with a wide range of different people. By doing this, I am trying to improve my understanding of all the fundamentals. I don't need to learn new techniques, in fact I probably by now know all the techniques necessary to reach black belt level, but what I need to do, is to understand them better and better. One good example is, that I watched Matt Serra's BJJ 101 videos and learned tons of new details about basic stuff such as kimura from sidecontrol and guard. So getting better as a student is not about learning new stuff, but about learning more about what I already know.

When it comes to teaching and coaching, it quickly gets a little more complicated. One thing is to understand the techniques and concepts behind the sports, but being able to communicate and organize all this information to a large group of people is really a skill that takes a lot of work to aquire. I have basically been teaching since I was a whitebelt, so I have naturally grown with the job. Everytime I have learned something new, I have been forced to understand it fully, so that I could explain it to someone else in a way that they would be able to do it as well. Just imitating what you have seen yourself is not teaching. That is more like trying to explain someone how something works by reading the manual aloud.

So, I am really working on improving as a teacher. Performing as a teacher and performing as a practitioner is two completely different skillsets. You can be an incredible fighter but suck as an instructor and the same the other way around. I have trained with some of the best fighters in the world, and - without mentioning any names - some of them have definitely also been the worst instructors I have met. They did however, easily drew a full house at their seminars, just on their name alone.

Teaching is a lot of work other than being a skilled grappler. Just the part of organizing all the information, I am planning the class to go through, and making sure that everyone gets enough time to work on all the things is a really big task, that I am putting more and more energy into getting better at. I am trying to make long-term plans of what to teach and when, so I am sure that we fill out the technical holes on the team and everyone goes through what they need to improve. This is very much about going through basic fundamentals and constantly improving peoples attention to details in these. I see almost little or no improvement of the team as a whole, if I am going too much into advanced stuff or don't reserve lots of time for drilling and isolating basics. The advanced stuff, people always figure out or seek out themselves along the way. My job is to create the training environment and focus on fundamentals that they need to prosper and evolve on their own.

The last part is coaching and this is probably the part I have had least focus on during my "career". Coaching for me is often about being very specific with one person or maybe a small group of people. Analyzing their game in details and picking out exactly what they need to learn or work on to improve. This is VERY different from teaching a class over a longer period of time. Although I have not done this much, I feel that I have really improved on it over the last six months or so, trying to work a bit on it during sparring, where I will pick someone out for a few minutes and just help them as much as I can through the roll. It takes a lot of mental energy though to focus that much, and i sometimes find it difficult to do during class because I am focusing on the group as a whole, but I am trying to push myself to do it more.

One specific example where I really have seen the benefits of coaching as a seperate skill was at a grappling turnament last weekend that we attended. For the first time at an event like this, I only had ONE thing to do; coach. Normally I have been fighting, organizing, being referee or helping out in some other way, so it has been difficult for me to really focus on our fighters. This time me (and my fellow teacher Carsten) put all our time into helping and coaching the guys on the mats, and it made a BIG difference. Ofcourse the fighters themselves should get all the credit for their wins, but I would say that maybe 30% of the fights could have gone either way and ended in our favor because of the help from the coaches on the side. It may sound elementary, but I was actually surprised to see how much I could improve someone on the mats game just by seeing details they don't notice themselves.

One of the fighters in the gym asked me the other day, wether I don't feel like fighting and winning myself when I completely dominate guys in the gym, who do really well in competition. I would actually like to fight some more myself, but honestly I see MUCH more value in putting all my energy into helping a whole team of guys improving and winning, than just focusing on myself. It is as big a feeling, if not bigger, to see someone reach their potential through my work than to improve or win myself.

I am more motivated than ever to become the best possible student, teacher and coach and I can't wait for the next tournament where we are gonna coach an even bigger team through the fights an hopefully to many more victories and happy faces afterwards. Making people smile and have a good time is what training and teaching is all about for me.

Here is a highlight from that specific tournament, it was a good day and a fun trip for everyone:

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