Coaching and Ego


This is one for the coaches in the audience.

Before everyone but black belts quit reading this, understand
that you really begin coaching at blue belt. You may not own a school or even
teach your own class, but you will have coaching responsibilities. Typically
the road to becoming a coach begins with in-class helping out and filling in
when the primary instructor can’t make it.

It is often stated that a person must shed his ego if he
wants to learn. This is true. On the way up the ladder you are going make lots
of mistakes and lose a lot of matches. An ego that is defeated as a student can
often reappear in the coach.

As the coach you are looked up to for having superior
technique and the answer to the questions. Students come to you to learn.
However, jiu-jitsu, judo, and grappling are sparring and drilling intensive. So
the students usually hit the mats and spar with the instructor. At first the
skill difference is so great that it is highly unlikely the student will
accomplish anything without the coach allowing him to do it. As skill levels climb
the likelihood of the student getting a legitimate throw, sweep, or submission
on the coach increases.

So what do you do when you get tapped out by your student?

Here is where the ego you thought you had killed will come back. Your mind will
ask questions like, “I went too light. I underestimated him. Never again”, “I must suck. Should I even be teaching?”, “I must be too tired from something. Overtraining maybe”.

Your ego will make all sorts of excuses and rationalizations
about the outcome. A flood of feelings like anger, shame, guilt, and inadequacy
can come into your mind. But these come from the same source that you had to
silence to get as far as you have. You have to make some hard decisions now.
Many coaches will cope with this in one of the following unhealthy ways:

  • Stop sparring with students
  • Avoid that student or select students that they
    know might “embarrass” them in front of the class
  • Quit sparring with students under their rank
  • Turn it up and go so hard with that student that
    they humiliate or injure them. This is essentially punishing them for performing well.

Why not just compliment them and continue training?

Coaches do not have to beat every student every time. If they spar regularly, which
they should, sometimes students will get the better of them. If a student
catches you in a move that you taught them you should pat yourself on the back.
Coaches are supposed to make students better. If it is something you don’t know
then you have learned from them. One of the best parts of being a coach is
having advanced students motivated enough to innovate and learn from other

Coaches are people. As people get older physicality suffers. This is an
unfortunate but inevitable physiological fact. If your school is to survive
it must have an influx of new, younger students. What you gain in wisdom and knowledge
comes with the price of time and age. Sometimes younger students are simply going to
outpace you. Get over it.

As a competitive guy, I can’t say that I will ever completely master my ego. My guess is that very few people will. I (and we as coaches) must deal with it as best we can and understand that all training experiences are learning experiences.

Remember that students tend to follow the lead of their coaches in attitude. If you have an
unhealthy attitude you will infect the gym with it. Don’t make excuses and don’t
punish people for doing well. Stay positive and remind yourself that you enjoy

Brian Jones, PhD

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