On COACHING your students!

by Prof. Martin Guggi

Thanks for feedback, inputs and corrections to Prof. Bert Obernosterer and Coach Markus Miedel!

Not only our school and students have to improve but also us as an instructors and as a Coach or Professor. When I think of improving my school I start thinking at the same time how can I improve as a person. When you are responsible for the preparation and progression of your students you have to work on yourself all the time. At a tournament I take it personally when my students lose because of a technical error. Something inside me is crying seeing my students lose because I did not teach them the right technique or did not address the right situation and I start right after the loss to think about what went wrong in the preparation to this point. What can we do in the next few training sessions to eliminate this problem and be ready for the next tournament?

Everyone who has trained Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has heard about the comparison between BJJ and chess. They are definitely not the same but have some similarities. Being not only an athlete of BJJ but also a Coach of a BJJ team has shown me that coaching is the real human chess. You are the one who is telling your student what to do and helping him on this way getting closer to the win. Good coaching can really help during a BJJ-fight.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to coach some of my guys at a local tournament. When you start realizing that coaching can be an extra tool to influence the fight in your direction you also notice that coaching is a big responsibility and there are a couple of things to avoid.

3 MAIN CALLS

Listening to other coaches and fighters it is easy to find out what not to say.

“Escape the position”, “do something”, “go hard”, “you know what to do”… is something you hear very often. But this does not really help your student. Being stuck in a triangle I am sure he knows that he should escape the position.

What can really change the fight are short and precise instructions. For the most fighters 3 calls are very helpful!

  1. Time – how long does he have until the fight is over!
  2. Points – what is the score, is he behind on points or not?!
  3. Move on or hold the position – According to the rules you have to hold a position for 3 seconds before the referee gives the points. This means 3 seconds need to pass before you can move on. From the outside you see the referee much easier raising his arm and that’s the time which has to pass before you can tell the fighter to continue.

 

USE SHORT and POSTIVE CALLS

If you have a student who is new to competition these 3 calls are most important. But if the fighter is more advanced and you know his game well then you can tell him much more. A more experienced fighter is going to listen more to you because he is calmer in his head than a beginner. Remember yourself when you stepped on the competition mat for the first time, you have not even heard anything because you were so nervous and full of adrenaline.

Having more experienced fighters means you spend more time with them on and of the mat. They trust you and they are also used to your voice. They can definitely use a second brain in their corner who observes the fight from the outside.  

Use short calls. “Pressure with right shoulder”, “get knee on belly”, “standup” and so on… Always try to use positive calls.  For our brain it is sometimes hard to hear “not” or negative instructions. So try to use positive instructions. – For example “do not get swept” could be changed to “keep your balance” or “stay on top”.

STAY CALM

As a Coach you should be a help for your fighter. This means any behavior that adds extra stress to the athlete has to be avoided.

  • Use your calm, regular voice! – If you flip out then your fighter starts to flip out too. Stay calm, stay cool and use your regular voice. I know that this is not always easy, especially in situations when the fight is on the edge.
  • Shouting to the referee – I never saw a referee taking his judgment back and definitely not when you talk to him in a rude way. If you want to influence the referee and the fight, talk to your student: “when you keep the position a little longer you get points”; “you did a good job and you were more active than the other guy”; “do not worry the referee knows that this was an illegal move”; This is definitely too long and too much for your student to understand, but hidden as a coaching call the referee is hearing it.
  • Coaching can be tricky. Last time my student was in side control and his arm was trapped in between the opponent’s legs. My call was: “take care of your arm, there is a triangle”. I do not know if the opponent wanted to attack the triangle but at this moment he started to do so and it looked like that he was reacting to my call. A better call would have been “take your arm out”. Short calls are more helpful for your students and not talking too much can also be better so you do not start to give tips to the opponent.

 

RULESET

The instructor is responsible to prepare his students according to the rule set of the tournament. If you do not know the rules how can you find the right strategy? On every tournament I have been so far, I saw coaches shouting with the referee because they did not know the rules.

What we do is called BJJ. Not MMA, not Judo, not wrestling and we have specific rule sets according to the event (IBJJF/ADCC/EBI) and it is the coaches’ homework to prepare the students according to the rule set. Which techniques are legal, which are forbidden? How could I get disqualified? I respect all referees who have to deal with angry coaches who do not know the rules! If BJJ is not your main sport, please do not believe that you can do anything which is allowed in our sport in a BJJ event. Again, it is not the referees’ fault when you did not to your job!!!

  1. Print the rules for the next tournament or make a map with the frequently used rules.
  2. Make a rule meeting in your school and teach them how to win using the rules in your favour.
  3. Start to roll according to the rules. (If you are a leg locker and start at an IBJJF tournament then you have to change your game!) I think it is very important to change the rules in our own gym from time to time so that our students start to focus on different aspects of the game. If you are used to fight to get the submission you do not need to worry about your guard being passed! Change the rules and forbid leglocks and heel hooks and your students have to fight different, they have to fight to get points and start to worry about passing and defending the guard position. According to this rule set they are going to develop a strong guard and strong guard passes.

 

Not coachable students

  • You can only coach students who trust in you and who are listening to you at the gym too. I have some students which I told a lot of times what to do and what not to do. In the gym they never cared about my advice… but before the tournament these students wanted to know from me what to do…. The coach has to have trust in the student and also the student has to have trust in the coach’s advices, but this cannot start on the day of the tournament.
  • In my eyes you cannot coach someone who has no endurance. The condition is part of your game. If you gas out in the first two minutes of a 5 minutes fight then you cannot expect your coach to help you. You can try to help making a good tactic going into the fight… but if your condition is bad and you cannot finish the fight in the first few minutes then nobody can help you. Technical superiority comes because you can focus on the techniques and not when you are worried about your breathing and endurance.
  • If the student has the wrong mindset you also cannot coach him. If he stops to fight then you can stop coaching him. Coaching is only an extra helpful tool and not the reason why you win!

 

Good coaches take responsibility when they did something wrong in the preparation of his fighters. But good fighters also take responsibility when they lost because of a mistake they did and do not blame their coach! (For example, they did not work enough for their conditioning and the coach told him already 5 month ago that he has to improve his endurance before anything else). I always tell my students that it is my fault when they could not defend a submission because they did not know the submission at all. What you do not know you cannot defend. Sometimes this can be we very hard too when new athletes compete with a modern BJJ game against your students. But I prefer my students getting a good base first and probably cannot defend a berimbolo at their first tournament but know how to defend basic attacks and escape the basic positions. Of course I take it as my responsibility when they lose too, but on the other side I am responsible for their process as well. And this means basics first!!! It is definitely better to have a hard time competing in the beginning and later it is getting easier. If you only use modern techniques which white belts do not know in the beginning you can win a lot of tournaments in an early stage but later on it is going to be harder because the other beginners improve too. Do not build your game on sand, build it on a solid and strong base.

Do not be too proud about yourself changing your coaching or preparation training for a tournament from time to time. It is all based on the trial-and-error method!


Rethink everything you do and do not take anything carved-out-of-stone.


Different language:

Standing and coaching from the sideline I really like to hear my opponents Coach too. When I understand his coaching I know already what they are trying to attack. Having a different language or different words for certain situations can be very helpful. The problem is you do not compete abroad all the time. In another country it is easy and the opponent normally does not understand you.

One tactic could be to use a certain terminology which not everyone understands: for example go back and use Judo terminology. Ashi Waza (leg techniques) or Shime Waza (choking technics) can help to use to hide your next coaching calls. I think Judo techniques are great because they are much more precise. In BJJ we are not so precise –for example: Side Control is Kesa Katame, Ushiro Kesa Gatame, 100 Kilo or even Knee on Belly…. In Judo there is a term for every different position and technique and most schools or Professor do not spent the time thinking about a different language and terminology at all they just use the usual terminologies. 

Accurate language:

“Go to 69 position” or “put your dick on his face” are in my eyes calls which should be avoided because you make your art down. You want regular people to train with you, you want to improve people’s lives with your art, and this means also you have to use an accurate academic language. The students are always a mirror of the coach and the way he behaves most of the time. When you coach everybody can see and hear you. In BJJ we say you cannot hide yourself, you always express yourself and the same occurs even more when you are coaching and screaming on the sideline where everyone can hear you.

 

 

Does the Coach need to compete?

Can you teach a language if you do not speak it by yourself? Can you teach a move which you did not practice and understand yourself? The answer is NO!

I think a Coach or Professor needs to compete to understand the game, the art, the competition situation and the pressure students are facing in a tournament. But you definitely can be a great Professor or Coach without being a world champion by yourself.

BJJ as I train it for myself is for sport competition. I am not an expert on BJJ for pure Self-defense. There are definitely better instructors out there. I know the basic for Self-defense but my focus is sport BJJ for Gi and NoGi. I also know basic MMA Grappling but I am definitely not an expert on this field either. I can help my students’ lives when I improve their training in BJJ and at the same time I try to work on their personal development as a person. In life we always have to overcome challenges and that’s why sports can help us in many fields. Being now a Professor for a team I need to work much more on myself to improve my school and students. Helping them to win a tournament, looking in their eyes after a hard few month of preparation is really satisfying.

Success as a martial arts teacher is not about producing cool looking moves for YouTube, it is by improving my students’ lives in a positive way (improve their self-esteem, their feeling of security, fitness, health and so on). Success as a business man, running a BJJ school, is when I can have a good quality of live for me and my family and on the competition sport side I am successful when I can produce champions.