I have had the good fortune of traveling to quite a few judo and jujitsu clubs throughout the United States and world. It is my sincere belief that the real heart and soul of judo, jujitsu, sambo and martial arts development is in the clubs and dojos. Dedicated and hard-working people who usually serve as the head coach, janitor, bookkeeper, and do just about anything else that must to be done head these clubs. It is these coaches who make the difference in people’s lives. Most of us who coach don’t get rich or famous, but we enjoy it immensely, and wouldn’t trade our life’s experiences for anything.
Coaching is an art, a creative process. Yes, a good coach will base his approach on rationally applied factors rooted in scientific fact and real world experience. But, coaching is an art because anytime we work with people and anytime we have to be creative that can be interpreted as an art. And, if you have any experience at all working with people, you know you have to be creative to successfully work with the many personalities that make up any group of people. So then, coaching is indeed a creative process, and if you approach it that way, it will always keep you hooked. I still get a kick out of watching good judo, really good judo, and enjoy thinking about the many ways one human body can manipulate another human body. It’s fascinating and just about every coach I know shares my opinion.
It’s not easy teaching people to do anything, much less something like judo, jujitsu or other complex skills in the martial arts. Basically, we are teaching people how to fight, and along with that comes the responsibility for us to teach them how to do it responsibly and with good judgment. It takes large amounts of discipline, skill, physical fitness, effort, humility, sportsmanship, patience and maturity for someone to find success in judo. A good coach can bring out these qualities in his students and athletes, realizing that it takes time to do it right.
Judo is one of the most comprehensive methods of physical education ever devised. Jigoro Kano was a brilliant man and he gave us a wonderful gift. I believe it’s our obligation to teach the skills of judo to the best of our individual abilities, and continue the work that Prof. Kano started. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the traits that make a good coach.
1-Organizational Ability. This includes such things as the actual class organization, class preparation, advertising of the club, recruiting new students, how often the club competes in tournaments and at what level, which martial arts organizations to join, planning and annual awards banquet, developing a booster club, getting donations for the team to travel, and all the other aspects of organization necessary for a successful club or program. It’s a job, and usually not one that pays much (if anything) to the coach…at least in terms of money.
2-The Coach’s Personality. Personality goes a long way in coaching. I have known coaches who are excellent technicians but have the personality of a bowl of oatmeal. If an instructor’s personality is unbending or inflexible, or if he can’t work well with people, then he’ll probably never be much more than a mediocre coach. Then, on the other extreme, there are the coaches who have great “people skills” but lack the technical ability to be effective. Another important point is that if the coach is weak-willed and lacks the ability to run a disciplined practice, then he is setting himself up for failure. It’s important to be a “friend” to your athletes or students, but remember, they are coming to you, as the coach, for instruction in judo or jujitsu. You need to keep a distance between you and your athletes…a friendly distance, but still keep your relationship on a professional level. Getting too chummy with your students is bad news.
3-Technical Ability. A coach should have a solid base of technical ability. He doesn’t need to have won a world title, or even a national or regional title, but he should know the skills necessary to develop students who can go on to bigger and better things, and maybe win that world title. I believe that if a coach has a good technical ability and the ability to teach skills well, he doesn’t have to possess the ability to be a great technician himself. Actually, some of the best coaches I have met (in any sport) are excellent teachers and organizers and good, but not great, at the technical applications of the sport. But…these people have the ability to teach what they know with exceptional skill and can convey thoughts through words, voice inflection, hand gestures, eye contact and other means so that the students on the mat know exactly what the instructor is teaching. This brings us to…
4-The Ability to Teach. This is the most important factor in a good coach. Coaching is teaching, plain and simple. Don’t confuse good personality with coaching ability. They aren’t always mutual. Yes, I did say earlier that good personality goes a long way, the fact remains that some coaches are “good guys” but can’t teach all that well. However, good teaching does have some element of personality to it, so a coach will find that working on people skills will enable him to be a better teacher. Some people seem to be born with a natural gift to teach. Others have to try harder. Same way with athletes; some are naturals while others have to work harder at becoming successful. Even though someone may be a “born teacher,” it would do him well to study coaching techniques and enhance his own natural ability at teaching.
The more a person teaches, the better he gets both as a teacher and in his understanding of whatever he teaches. The old saying that “the best way to learn is to teach” is often true. If you’re a coach of more than a few years, look back at the way you taught a move or conducted a training session when you first started and what you are doing now. I would bet that you have made terrific progress in your coaching ability, as well as your technical ability. That’s just the way we humans are.
Another factor in being a good teacher is the knowledge that your students and athletes will perform a skill better if they are on the same “wave length” as you. If they understand why a particular technique or skill is done, as well as how it is done, they will perform it better and with consistency.
One of the best teachers in the game of football ever was Vince Lombardi, and I always like to quote him. On this subject, he was brilliant when he said: “Don’t just show them what to do, tell them why they should do it.”
I used to attend the U.S. Olympic Committee’s coaching conferences on a regular basis and had the great pleasure of hearing Doc Councilman speak. Doc Councilman was the swimming coach at Indiana University and a legend in his sport. He is a legend in coaching as well because he was one of the best teachers who ever worked with athletes (in any sport). Something he said stuck with me. I wrote it down as he spoke so I would get it right and not forget it.
“The coach is the most important link in sports. If not for the coach, then the sport would die. The coach is the person who recruits people into the sport, teaches them skills and lessons of life, and can assure success…or failure…in society.”
He went on to say that an athlete could succeed even if he has inferior training facilities, lack of financial aid or poor equipment. But if an athlete has a bad coach, then that athlete will be stymied from ever achieving his or her potential, either as an athlete or as a human being. A bad coach can do more harm to an athlete than bad facilities, no money or lousy equipment. Doc Councilman put it all in perspective.
The Two Primary Tasks of a Coach
Something else I believe strongly is twofold. A coach can influence the life of anyone who trains with him, whether it is a young child or an adult. Throughout this book, we will discuss the many ways a coach can be a positive influence in other people lives, but the two primary tasks that a coach has are the following:
When we really get down to it, a coach’s job is to help people raise their own expectations of themselves and to create opportunities. If you, as a coach and role model, expect a certain level of behavior or a certain level of expertise or skill, more often than not, your athletes or students will do everything they can to meet that level you expect and try to exceed it. If they don’t, then talk to them, coach them, be honest with them, and get them to want to raise their expectations and then do it. The key here is to make sure the expectations you want them to meet are reasonable and something attainable. Also, you, as a coach, can create opportunities for your athletes and students. If you’re a coach of a junior judo team, do your homework and find local and regional judo tournaments where your kids can compete. Talk to other coaches and arrange for clinics so that your team can be exposed to different skills and approaches to training. If you have an athlete who is really outstanding, talk to your judo organization about getting this kid to a national training center for more advanced training. Not only can you help with training and competitive opportunities, you can talk to other people in your community about educational or job opportunities for your athletes and students. As a coach, you wield influence. Use it to your team’s advantage.
Specifically, raising expectations means that the coach himself sets standards that his athletes or students must meet. An “expectation” is a standard way of behaving or pattern of living. To some degree, you could call them “goals” but that defines the concept too narrowly. Goals are specific usually. Raising expectations is more general in terms, but a definite pattern of behavior that leads to positive lifestyle choices. Part of the students’ daily training is to meet and exceed the expectations (or goals) that the coach has established. I’m not always talking about how many miles somebody has to run or how many throws must be performed each practice. Coaches should establish a specific pattern of behavior and expect his athletes to act within the limits of that behavior. A good example is not allowing athletes to show up late to practice without being expected to pay the price for it. If a young man or woman shows up late, he or she knows there will be a price to pay. The coach sets the punishment to every behavior according to its importance to him.
Discipline really isn’t a natural thing to most people and one of the ways of raising expectations in others is to teach them to be disciplined. This eventually leads to self-discipline and when a young person becomes self-disciplined, it means (to the coach) years of training have paid off. Eventually, the athlete or student will not only attempt to meet the expectations of his coach, he will set his own. When your athletes have gone beyond only trying to meet the expectations you set for them and begin to expect more of themselves, then you, as a coach, have successfully accomplished a major task in the positive development of this person’s life.
Sometimes, creating opportunities means that you have to create events or activities that will help develop your athletes. Opportunity is like riding in a car. If you know where you’re going, you’ll usually get there. If you see (or create) an opportunity and know how to take advantage of it, you’ll achieve your goals.
You, as the coach, are an important person in setting levels of expectation for your students, so you should be actively trying to create more opportunities for them. Even if these opportunities have nothing specifically to do with winning judo or sport jujitsu matches, they are still very real in the lives of everyone concerned. An example that quickly comes to mind is how many times I have talked with prospective employers when my athletes have used me as a job reference. Literally hundreds of young people have asked me to be a job reference and I have always complied. In other cases, athletes needed direction in their education and opportunities were found in getting them their high school equivalency. This has nothing to do with winning judo matches, but as a coach, I was able to help in creating opportunities for their education.
Sometimes, it only takes giving a young person a chance to prove himself. A coach doesn’t have to “pull strings” or “know somebody’ to create opportunities for his athletes. Just giving a young person a chance to prove himself is often the break that will impel this athlete to go on to bigger and better things. A coach creates an opportunity for an athlete every time he prepares him well on the mat and sets him in a positive direction off the mat.
Coaches should keep in mind that just because you have created the opportunity, it doesn’t mean that the athlete will take advantage of it. An old saying that has a lot of truth in it is; “You can lead a horse to water, but he has to drink it for himself.” Don’t be too disappointed when somebody doesn’t step through the door you opened. Hopefully, your athlete’s expectations of himself will prompt him to take advantage of positive opportunities, but if he doesn’t, he simply doesn’t. Don’t give up on him, but don’t be too disappointed either.
You Don’t Have to be a Saint, But…
One other thing is important and should be mentioned. If you plan on coaching, then you had better lead a life above reproach. Kids, and adults too for that matter, look up to their coaches. You, as the coach, set the example and that example should be a good one. You don’t have to be a saint, but you better be a decent human being if you want to be a good coach. Whether you like it or not, you are a public figure when you are a coach. What you say and what you do will be remembered for a long time, even a lifetime, by your athletes.