“Who’s coaching for you?”
This is a common question heard at any BJJ tournament.
For the majority of Brazilian Jiujitsu academies, the head instructors or higher belt students are given the role of coaching the competitor during his or her tournament matches. Most of the time, there is not a need for me to coach students and my coaching experience is on the light side but growing slowly. However, each time I do, I actively work on improving my coaching style.
I am a competitor, and I’ve been on the receiving end plenty of times. I’ve heard good coaching and not so great coaching during fights I’ve had and have watched. After hearing some pretty irritating things, I promised myself to never yell those out to my competitor.
I’ve come to know what I like to hear and what’s really helpful. With that in mind, I really try to maximize my skills as a mat-side coach. In between competitions, I watch how other coaches coach their students and snag the best strategies possible in attempt to further develop my own style. Drawing upon principles of psychology, of course.
In the moment when a competitor is fighting, his or her fight-flight system (where the adrenaline rush comes from) is activated and thus, the body goes into acute survival mode. The ability to process complex, detailed sentences is drastically minimized. Let’s not forget that the noise level of the crowd makes it very difficult to hear much more than a few words. Short, simple sentences, like “keep the cross face” and “posture up” are easy to understand. Key words that refer to technique that the competitor knows well, is the way to go. That way, the opponent doesn’t cue in on the strategy suggested. I’d say that 10th Planet Jiujitsu has the most creative naming system for techniques.
My Coaching Strategy:
- Communicate with your athlete before and after the match. I discuss the game plan. I review major points about grip fighting and keeping pressure, or whatever is most relevant.
- Make sure your voice is heard by your athlete. I have a small voice and it’s difficult to be heard. Mostly, I have to remind myself to find quieter moments within the match so that I’m heard clearly. I also try to make some eye contact and perhaps show the move I’m suggesting has been a good alternative.
- Use short, precise commands (or suggestions). Cannot emphasis this enough. A long string of movements, i.e., “move your right leg into their left hip and start to sweep”, just sounds jumbled. If instead I said, “single leg X”, now the competitor immediately understands and can tap into their memory for the technique.
- Don’t start coaching too soon. I try to let my competitor do what he or she has been training for over the past weeks or months. Their job is to start the match and to progress forward. At some point when the match slows down or shifts toward or against my competitor, that’s when I begin coaching.
- Offer encouragement when up, offer technique/sequences when down. It’s always nice to hear some praise when you’re up on points or just executed a nice take-down or sweep. Some encouraging phrases always pumps up the competitor’s confidence and performance during a match. However, when your competitor is behind on points or in a bad position, I like to remind him or her that there is still time on the clock, to focus or refocus on technique, or guide them step-by-step to execute a counter technique.
- Get some feedback. After the match, I like to ask if my competitor heard me well or found the technique/phrases/hand gestures useful. That way I can adjust my strategy for the following matches of that competition.
As I continue to refine my skills for coaching matches, practice makes for better performance. I’m applying these six points to help me coach on a smaller scale – during non-competition practices or open mat training. Looking forward to where mat-side coaching might take me.