A few things I’ve learned about coaching in a list form…
1. Have a plan.
Make sure you come into the gym with something specific to work. Sometimes you can wing it, but you will be a much better coach with preparation behind you.
2. Throw out your plan.
I’ve found that many times I need to do just that. Responsive Coaching requires that you adapt as necessary on the fly. There have been many times for me that partway through a class I realize I need to head in a different direction. As a coach I realize that I need to have the flexibility to see that and make adjustments as necessary. Last Monday I was working some plata stuff off the rubber guard. I quickly realized that people were doing some weird stuff with the plata. I dropped the rubber guard part and isolated the plata. Still they didn’t get it so I dropped the plata and went to the entry to the plata and the hip movement. We ended up doing a few different versions of a hip movement drill instead of the lesson I had planned. It was cool to be able to do that and it turned out to be a much better lesson than if I had stuck to the game plan.
3. Test everything!
The I method for me is my most important teaching tool. It has a built in bullshit meter. When I go from introduction to isolation with students I know right away if what I showed them works or not. I find this crucial. If I see problems in isolation stage I know that I either didn’t show the technique correctly, students are doing the technique incorrectly, or it is a bogus technique. I’ve had all 3 problems.
4. Don’t have all the answers.
One of the best teaching moments I’ve experienced in the gym was at one of Matt’s BJJ classes. At the end of class a student asked Matt about a new technique he found. He wondered if it was a legit technique. It wasn’t. Instead of telling him that he had the student try the technique over and over on different opponents. After repeated failures he asked the student why the technique didn’t work. The student knew exactly why. Finding teachable moments where it is possible for students to answer their own questions are golden. It creates active rather than passive learners which is huge.
5. Teach things you know differently from things you don’t know well.
I used to thing I had to only teach what I know well. I’m finding out that I can have some good teaching and learning sometimes by working something that is new to me and the students. You just have to do it in the right way. With techniques that I know well and have pulled off countless times I have a good library of do’s and don’ts. I know where someone will try to counter and how they are likely to do it. I can work this in to the lesson and watch for it in isolation stage. With new techniques however I don’t have that experience to rely on. What I find I have to do is show it as best I can in introduction stage and do some pressure testing in isolation. After a couple of rounds of isolation I can start to see some of the ins and outs and begin to draw some conclusions about the technique. I’ll often spend some time asking students what was working and not working for them with the new technique. I get some great insights that way. The point of it is that we are working much more from a collective experience rather than from my collected experiences. Often times I find some great new techniques or new applications that way. Many times I find a new bogus technique. Either way it’s all good.
6. Don’t always be the expert.
Don’t be afraid to say I don’t know. I’ve found in my life as a teacher and a BJJ coach that saying I don’t know when I don’t has gained me much more respect than making it up or trying to cover for my lack of knowledge. People spot a bullshit answer right away. Once you break that trust it’s hard to get it back. We need to dispel the myth anyway that the teacher/coach is the person with all the answers. Not knowing the answer can be a great teachable moment and an impetus to find out the answer together.
7. Give away all your best stuff.
All those tricky sweeps and cool submissions that you hit all the time- give them out. Show the counters. I used to be afraid that if I gave out all my good stuff I’d have nothing good left to give out. Or somehow everyone would start killing my game. What I’ve found is that it motivates my game and keeps me from being stagnant. As long as you are actively coaching and learning you won’t run out of stuff. Won’t happen.
8. Roll with everybody.
Tap often. Don’t make a big deal about it. Don’t kill the new guys. Demonstrate how to be a good training partner.
9. Teach progressively from most to least important.
I’ll always teach the most important stuff first and the least important stuff last. That way beginners can turn their brains off when they get full. In fact, I’ll often let students know when we reach the point in class where they don’t have to remember any more stuff. I find with beginners that if they try to remember it all they end up not remembering anything. Intermediate students will hang in there longer and get a bit more. Advanced students will have seen the material before and will pick up most of it. This is a great way to scaffold a class where you have a variety of different skill levels.
10. If a technique has more than 3 moves then you have to break it up into parts.
People have a hard time learning a new move with too many steps. I’d use the whole part method to teach more complex moves. This means that you show the whole move and then practice the parts separately before putting it all back together again. It’s more disjointed but will increase retention and allow students to explore the parts in more detail.
Oh, if you are teaching a move with more than 3 steps then you have to ask if that’s a good idea in the first place.