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What does it take to be a great BJJ coach?

A great competitor does not necessarily equal a great coach. A great coach does not necessarily need to have the most knowledge. A person with a ton of experience does not make them efficient at disseminating information. So what does make a great coach?

Let’s define what a great coach is in no particular order. A great coach is someone who has a bond with their students. A great coach is someone who has developed the communication skills to articulate nuanced points. A great coach is someone who has experience in the field and can apply that experience to answer questions of their students. A great coach is consistent, being their for there students growth. A great coach listens and always continues to learn.

The knowledge of a BJJ instructor can come from multiple places. Their instructor, other instructors, you tube or instructionals, or watching people move. A good instructor doesn’t just parrot what they have learned but strives to understand it in their own way. By doing this they gain a truer understanding of the principle which allows them to disseminate all sorts of different methods to their students. A sign of an instructor who just parrots what they have heard is somebody who says “This is the best way to do something” or “You need to do it this way”. Each body has a different challenge and each situation is different. Unless the instructor is accounting for all the variables saying definitively that something is always the best is incorrect.

Understanding the principles then applying principles to different variable sets to determine best practices in any given situation seems to be much more practical for an individuals learning. This knowledge needs to be developed through time and practice of the coach. Knowledge without the wisdom to use it however is useless. The wisdom of how much to teach, when to teach it, and how to teach it comes from being able to listen. Listening is the secret sauce that goes into being a good coach. I have experienced many coaches that love the sound of their own voice and parrot information that just does not hit home with their students. The humility to listen develops the wisdom to know how to use knowledge.

Communication is like any other skill. Some people have more of a natural gift towards it however to get great at it, everyone needs to practice it. Communication is one of those skills which should have a coach for almost everyone but rarely gets taught or understood. Communication is not just what you say, but how you say it. Communication is not just what you say, but when you say it. Communication is not just what you say but listening to the immediate response after you say it. It is a detailed ocean of information that is as deep as BJJ. In my work with MyOdisee I get the mat time to practice this daily. I can confidently state that it is going to take a lifetime to scratch the surface on how to best communicate with other humans.

Experience in the field is important but in my opinion over valued when determining what a good coach is. Experience does not mean effective. Just because a person has done something for a long time does not mean that they have done that something well for a long time or automatically know how to coach. It is very easy to get caught up in the authority of a black belt and never have people question you. The coaches ego can grow shutting off avenues of newer or better information. You need some experience to truly understand but not so much that it corrupts the ego.

Consistency of the coach is a true marker of a great coach. How often is that coach there for his students? How congruent are his words and actions on the mat? Does the coach set expectations and then meets them? If you have a consistent coach that is always there for his students in the way that they expect you almost certainly have a great one!

Listening and learning is also one of the truest markers of a great coach. Listening to the challenges of the students not only with a certain move, but in their lives. Having empathy for the challenges the students have on and off the mats. Listening to questions they may have without judgement. Listening is a skill that is developed through specific practice of it. A great coach understands this and works towards being better each time out.

In short, a great coach lives at the intersection of knowledge and Wisdom and works towards the best possible communication in any situation. Do you have a great coach? Is there something that I am missing on this list? I would love to hear from you in the comments!

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