These are some of the things I've picked up on my first ten years as an MMA Coach
You don’t need to be a Fighter.
Before becoming a coach I believed that I needed to gain as much fight experience as possible. In my mind it would affect my credibility if I hadn't been there and done it. Since opening my school I've never had a single student who cares if I had real fight experience or not. The only thing that students care about is whether you will be able to help them achieve their goals. Fight Experience can be useful and is helpful for separating the legitimate coaches from the frauds but many experienced fighters are clueless when it comes to coaching and don’t take the time to learn how to coach properly.
No Substitute for Experience.
However, my own fight career has been a useful asset for me. My experiences in the ring and cage have given me confidence in preparing fighters and an ability to understand what they are going through during their preparation. I can help my fighters avoid making the mistakes that I made during my fight career. This speeds up their learning and progression rather than relying on trial and error. I am also confident that I am not asking my fighters to do anything that I haven’t done myself. Trustworthiness is one of the most valuable attributes a coach can have. The fighter must be able to trust the coach 100% rather than doubting if he is actually speaking from experience.
Wide Knowledge Base.
What you learnt during your own training and fighting won’t be enough. Every Fighter has their favourite techniques that have worked well throughout their competitive career. When you start coaching you encounter a wide variety of students of different skill levels, personalities and body types for whom these techniques just aren’t a good fit. Students will get bored of learning your ‘A game’ every night for the next five years. You need to go back and re-learn many techniques and skills that you didn’t pay too much attention to when you were a fighter. You need to understand them so you can pass them onto your students. You also need to invest time in learning how to coach properly and be aware of the distinction between demonstrating how much you know versus passing on the information in a useful manner.
Always Keep Learning.
Don’t keep looking back to the glory days. MMA is continually getting better and more advanced and a good coach needs to keep learning and improving. Some martial arts styles haven’t changed much in the past 50 years however MMA and BJJ are continually evolving and changing, A good coach must keep up to date with new techniques so that students are not caught off guard by them, Too many coaches rely on just teaching the way they were taught. All sports evolve and improve over time and combat sports are no different. It makes sense to continually stay on top of the latest developments in the sport just as an athletics or football coach would.
Martial Arts Trends come and go.
There will always be new fads or new trends in the industry. Since gaining popularity in the western world Martial Arts has a history of going through trends where one style would be popular for a few years and then replaced by another. This was the case with Judo, Kung Fu, Karate and then Ninjitsu. MMA & BJJ are currently the biggest trend in the martial arts world. BJJ is actually a microcosm of this Martial Arts trend phenomenon where we see a new group of techniques become popular for a few years before being replaced by something else. Based on this I believe you need to be aware of the current trends in the industry but focus on the term long term rather than basing your entire coaching philosophy around whatever happens to be popular at the moment.
The Right Culture and Training Environment.
As mentioned previously, a good coach must stay on top of the latest developments in in the sport, however, Trends come and go. What is relevant and popular this year may soon be seen as an old fashioned technique that nobody uses anymore. What can persist for a much longer time is the gym culture that you create. The atmosphere and culture in your gym is the most important asset. How the students and fighters act, treat each other and behave in the gym. The training environment you create in terms of safe and effective training, and the reputation and the values of the team are more important than short term success.
Coaching Beginners is more Impressive than Coaching Champions.
Anyone can coach a fighter who is already a champion. By the time they reach Championship level the fighter should already have spent ten thousand hours training. It becomes more a matter of supervising their training and making sure they don't do anything stupid. What impresses me most is when a coach can take a complete beginner with no skill or training background and get them to championship level.
The Team is more Important than the Individual Fighters.
Obviously it is always more rewarding to work with a fighter from beginner level all the way up to championship level but this is not always possible. Fighters will switch gyms, lose interest in fighting or quit training altogether but its not a big deal. Every top level professional sports team has players leave every season, every college or high school has to start off each year with a fresh batch of players. If the right systems, culture and coaching are in place then the team will consistently produce results.
Focus on Quality over quantity.
Some people aren’t a good fit and will do more harm than good. Many coaches think that the more people they can ram into their classes or fight team the better. One bad training partner with the wrong attitude can put off (or Injure) five or six people. The same is true with building the long-term culture of the Gym. Some fighters will bring with them bad habits such as turning up late, missing classes or lazy training. If you don’t stamp it out this will eventually rub off on other junior members of the team, who will follow the lead of the senior fighters, develop the same bad habits and ultimately lose any chance of achieving their full potential. No matter how much talent a fighter may potentially have, if they don't fit with your team culture and philosophy you are better off without them.
There are no secrets.
Fighters often feel like they are missing out if they aren't training with ten world champions every day. I've trained at some of the best gyms around the world and with many of the top coaches. What I've learnt is that there really are no secrets. The most successful gyms and fighters just do the same things that everyone else does, they just do more of it and do it more consistently.
It's about more than just Winning Fights.
Training fighters to win trophies and belts is great but the novelty quickly wears off. This is especially true if you feel that the competition success isn’t having a positive effect on the fighter or the team. There are too many examples of fighters and athletes who were successful in competition but the success had disastrous consequences for their life outside of sport. Martial Arts should be a way of improving the lives of everyone involved rather than focusing on winning at all costs.