Questions To Ask Your Coach That Will Jump-Start Your BJJ!
By Samuel Joseph
When training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is something we enjoy, improving is the name of the game. BJJ is not a sport where we “arrive” in so much as it is about continual evolution and growth. One of the greatest resources we can have as BJJ athletes is a good head coach. A qualified and involved coach can provide valuable insights and direction as we navigate what can potentially be a ten-year journey to black belt and hopefully a lifelong affair with the sport and lifestyle. We are often passive in how we utilize the coach as a resource when taking a more active approach can accelerate our growth. Here are a couple specific questions we can use that will help us make our coach an active part of our BJJ success formula.
Are our goals realistic?
The first question we should ask is, “Are our goals realistic”? We often say feel-good things like, “anything is possible” while getting pumped up looking at goals. I actually like the sentiment behind this but I think it should be amended to “anything is possible IF we put in the work”. We have to be willing to pay the price in order to achieve anything worthwhile. In BJJ, that price is often paid in training, conditioning and discomfort. To get good, we have to put in the time, the work and we must be able to positively process failure on the practice mat and even in competition. Those small defeats are many times the steps to larger successes.
American phenom, Gordon Ryan, whose world-class BJJ coaches include Renzo Gracie team-members Gary Tonon, Tom DeBlass and John Danaher, recently had an outstanding debut performance at the ADCC winning gold in his division and silver in the Absolute. Ryan’s meteoric rise to the top included numerous tournament and superfight titles but he also had to deal with a 2016 loss to Felipe Pena in a sub-only/no time-limit match- which was Ryan’s specialty. To Ryan’s credit, he took that “feedback” and came back better than ever- physically and technically- and enjoyed a fantastic run including the aforementioned ADCC. For sure, there are many reasons why Gordon Ryan has had so much success but one of them has to be that his goals were realistically based on factors like the amount of training he was willing to put in, his commitment to competing enough to sharpen his game for the top-level, his openness to adjusting his conditioning, etc. Those decisions, that only he could truly make, made his goal of being an ADCC champion “realistic”.
Enlisting our coaches as we evaluate our BJJ goals not only allows us to take advantage of their experience but it offers an opportunity to get them invested in their fulfillment. Whether we tweak our goals or our action plan to achieve them, we win as we take a step towards success.
What are we doing right and what are we doing wrong?
These deceptively basic questions are vitally important to our BJJ progress. Often, in the beginning of our journeys or when learning new concepts and techniques, we are uncertain of what “works for us” or “fits our games”. Our coaches can see these things with more experienced and discerning eyes. When we encourage our coaches to articulate what we are doing well, we can continue doing those things and even add to them.
Conversely, even though it can bruise our egos, we need to embrace constructive criticism on things we are not doing well. Taking to heart the idea that “the sooner we identify the bad, the sooner we can eliminate it from our games” the better off we will be. When improvement and advancement are the goals, hard truths are much more valuable than sparing feelings by holding back coaching. Having coaches we can and do communicate with on this level greatly boosts our chances for positive BJJ experiences.
Who can we be watching?
There is a popular saying, “Smart people learn from their own mistakes while wise people learn from the mistakes of others”. The lesson being that we can speed up the growth process by modeling the right people. This rings true in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as well as in life so finding BJJ athletes we can watch and learn from is very worthwhile. We have unprecedented access to BJJ matches via sources like Youtube and Flograppling that allow us to see the very best in action real-time. Sometimes we connect with BJJers who remind us of ourselves and other times we can be drawn to BJJers we strive to be like. Our coaches can help point us in the direction of both types of athletes.
Coming through the ranks I spent hours watching all the Saulo Ribeiro, Vitor Shaolin and Mario Sperry matches I could get my hands on as their fundamentally sound and tactically savvy approaches spoke to me and inspired me to train and grow. Asking our coaches to recommend people for us to watch allows us to potentially get better faster.
What are we missing?
This last question is one that has helped me a ton in my own BJJ journey. It is an “open invitation” for unrestricted feedback and that kind of unfiltered coaching often yields the greatest returns. This is the type of question that opens the door to tips and insights we may not have even considered and that can be extremely beneficial to us as we seek to evolve in the sport.
None of these questions are complex but the real power is not in the questions but in what we do with the answers. This is a simple concept but “simple” does not always mean “easy”. The difficulties rest in truly listening to the answers given and following through with actions based on the feedback and constructive criticism. When we are committed to that process of self-improvement, we put ourselves firmly on the path to successfully achieving our BJJ goals. See you on the mat! ~Samuel Joseph
Samuel Joseph is a second degree BJJ black belt and head coach at Buckhead Jiu-Jitsu in Atlanta.
He was also a writer for Jiu-Jitsu Style Magazine.