Guest Contributor Tim Bruce is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt and coach at RMBJJ Academy in Delray Beach, Florida. He is an active competitor in all the major tournament circuits.
Arguably, the single most important influence in determining the potential greatness of a Jiu Jitsu fighter is their instructor. The right coach can make or break an athlete. A good one will elevate an athlete beyond what they ever thought imaginable. The wrong one can cause a person to leave the sport forever. So what attributes does the perfect coach possess? What distinguishes them from all of the other coaches as a superior instructor and leader worthy of the highest praise and accolades our sport can give a professor? There doesn’t seem to be one trait above all others that makes or breaks a coach, but rather a culmination of many characteristics that lends itself to building the perfect instructor.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a sport that requires the teaching of technique, theory and knowledge. Having a coach who can convey knowledge is crucial for an athlete’s success. A coach who cannot communicate effectively to an entire class, with varying levels of skill, and even languages will only be effective to a select few. Not every Jiu Jitsu athlete who is successful can become an effective coach. Some of the greatest competitors are completely helpless and ineffective as instructors. Alternately, some of the greatest coaches may be lackluster fighters in their own right. The judge of an instructor should be their student’s progress and results. A coach who can produce a large number of high caliber fighters is more valuable than the word champion coach who may win the big tournaments, but is the only one in the gym bringing home any medals.
There are special characteristics that a coach possesses that make them more effective than others in the art of teaching and instruction. A good coach has the ability to communicate well as well as motivate. You want a coach who can inspire yet instill fear. A good coach is the kind of person that you would follow into places that you wouldn’t go yourself. A good coach needs to be approachable with questions and concerns, yet respected enough that you don’t second guess all of their decisions. A good coach will be willing to listen to the concerns and suggestions of their athletes. Not having an ego will allow a coach the ability to analyze training methods and implement suggestions that will be for the betterment of their students and academy. Not all athletes are the same so variations in training methods need to be well thought out and applied to account for differences in each individual fighter. A coach who is capable of planning a well thought out, and systematic training regimen that addresses the short, middle and long range goals of the athlete is instrumental in their development as fighters.
A good coach is committed to the long term development of an athlete should be loyal to their fight team. They are educated in the sport of jiu jitsu and can show creativity and an ability to adapt to the unpredictable. They can often create original drills and variations on positions with an eye for detail and yet remain strongly rooted in the fundamental principles of the sport. A good coach knows more than just the techniques that they are comfortable with in their own game. They can teach moves and positions to their students that may be more appropriate to a different body type with the same passion and in depth detail as their own favorite positions.
The ability and desire of a coach to stay on the cutting edge of jiu jitsu knowledge is an absolute must. Due to the nature of BJJ constantly evolving, a coach needs to be up to date to learn new techniques and training methods to be able to pass this knowledge along to his students. The desire to learn and love for the sport is a must for any good instructor. Reading, writing about and analyzing the latest positions and techniques keeps them relevant and knowledgeable in all areas of the sport. Their passion will show and influence their teaching, training and eventually their students.
As they most certainly need disciplined athletes that are dedicated to their craft, so too must the coach be disciplined in their own life. A coach cannot take days off because they are tired or in a bad mood. They must be held to a higher moral standard as they have put themselves in a position to be looked up to and respected by many others. They set the bar and their fighters are expected to follow. They should lead by setting an example of having high character and should expect the same of their fighters. The paradox that a fighter should be a good role model may confuse people, but the fact is a coach would not want their athletes going out and starting trouble which would cause their school’s name to be shadowed in a negative light. A good coach is positive and yet honest, encouraging yet realistic. A good coach will not tell every athlete that they will become a world champion, but will encourage them to train as if they are one.
A good coach is someone that you can trust and someone whom you wish will put their trust and faith into you. When you have the perfect coach, you will be inspired and proud to tell the world who you train under. You will want to fight for them and share your victories with them, as well as your defeats. You will lean against them in times of difficulty, and looked to be hoisted up by them in times of triumph. It is difficult to find any single person who fits so many of the criteria that makes a perfect coach. The reason I feel that as Jiu Jitsu fighters we are so blessed is that in my many years of training, I have met a number of people who have demonstrated these traits and dedicated themselves fully to the sport and their students. Ask yourself, what do you find makes the perfect coach? If your answer describes your own instructor, then you have found yourself a home in the sport of Jiu Jitsu.