In this article, Luca Senatore, founder of and Head Mind Coach at MMA Mind Power, will share why athletes may train well and perform well with some coaches, but not with others. He will also look at how a coach can make the best of an MMA athlete and also how a fighter can maximize his work with a coach.
Natural Born Coaches
What makes a good MMA (or any martial arts) coach?
Having been training martial arts since a relatively young age, I have seen many coaches, some better than others. Some coaches can take a medium-skilled athlete and turn him/her into a winning machine, taking him/her all the way to the top of the division. These types of coaches seem to be able to build winning teams and get most athletes to win competitions and fights.
Some other MMA coaches seem to experience more difficulties; for some reason, their athletes seem to fall short most of the time or end up leaving the club to join another one. These types of coaches, as well as their athletes, would probably blame circumstance, bad luck, unfair decisions or the athletes themselves for the shortcomings. However, the truth often is that these shortcomings come from the coach that we are training with.
Although it is a known fact that there are questionable MMA coaches around, this article is not about them, it this about the good coaches that for some reasons seem unable to get some of their athletes to perform and get wins. In the lines that follow, we will look at why this happens, how coaches can increase the percentage of athletes who do perform, and how these good athletes (who keep falling short) can prevent and/or change the situation. Remember that this article is out to solve the problems of poor performance of good fighters who are coached by good MMA coaches; it does not take into account low-skilled athletes or not so good coaches.
Why Does This Happen?
Quite simply, this is down to three main points:
1. The coaching style of the coach
2. The rapport the coach has with the athlete
3. The ability of the coach to understand the personality and drives of the athlete
The Coaching Style Of The Coach
There are rigid coaches, funny coaches, serious coaches, talkative coaches, introverts, extroverts, analytical coaches, and the list goes on and on. When at the age of 14 my karate master left the country after being my mentor for more than four years, I tried three different gyms in the space of three months. All the coaches were great, high caliber athletes and accomplished karate masters. I was a great Karateka too, black belt at 14, fourth at my first Italian championship, and still, I gave up Karate and started doing kickboxing just because I found a coach that better fit my style even though I liked Karate much more.
Some coaches talk a lot to elaborate on a drill or whatever else you are working on, some others prefer to demonstrate, some others may adopt more unorthodox ways of getting there. Some coaches incorporate a large chunk of physical preparation into each training session making the sessions longer, some others do nothing at all but drills and expect you to do the prep during your personal time. I have seen coaches sparring at every single session, some only spar on certain days. Some coaches become your friends, some others simply stay coaches to whom you will look up to, but simply will not socialize with.
Considering that we are talking about good coaches and good athletes, all of the above styles can be good and, at the same time, all of the above styles can be bad. They can all be good for some and not so good for some others.
So how do you know which style works for you? We have prepared a short indicative checklist of questions which may help you out. Ask yourself:
• What do I like about my coach?
• What would I change in my coach/coach’s style?
• Why would I change the things that I would change?
• Are those desired changes matter of personal preference or are they rational?
• How do I feel at the end of each session?
• How would you like to feel instead (if any different)?
• If these changes were to happen, would I become a better fighter? Why?
• How many of my coaches do I not match with?
I know that the above seems obvious and yet, you would be surprised to know how many athletes seem unhappy about their coaches until they put down answers (in writing – always) to these questions. At that point they often realize that they have to make some changes and not the coaches. Other times, it turns out that although the coach is amazing, he or she is not the right one for him/her. If it turns out that you are happy, but there are changes that in your opinion would make the coach even better, I would strongly recommend that you talk to your coach; something like “Listen coach, I am amazed by the things we do and how you can extract the very best out of me, but I just have one question. I am not experienced in MMA coaching as much as you are, but when it comes to XXXX, I wonder how did you choose to do A instead of B?”
Again, you would be surprised to see that most coaches would not only react well to this type of question, but they would gladly either give you a very satisfactory answer or they may actually realize that, although they are already great, they can be even better by adopting the change that you subtly suggested. You should not have problems talking with your coach. If you cannot talk to your coach then you have just given yourself the most indicative answer.
I personally have three main coaches, all pro fighters, accomplished with great records. I am lucky as I get on with them all. I like their styles although they are different from one another. They are able to understand what drives me and truly extract every single resource out of me.
However, in the past I had one coach who, although amazing with an incredible fight record and a very entertaining way of coaching, did not totally match my style. He would talk a little too much for my liking, taking a little too long to explain what needed to be changed, and he would follow a very systematic approach. All training sessions would include a lot of hard work, but never to the point where you want to quit and almost feel sick, which I sometimes like. This was great for most, but I could not get myself totally excited about it and so, having had the choice, I chose to spend more time with one of the other coaches.
The Rapport Between Coach and Athlete
Amazing coach, amazing athlete, but if they don’t like each other or have personal issues (like Greg Jackson and Rashad Evans) chances are that things are not going to work out in the long run. You can build rapport, of course, and there are very many techniques to help you do that. If, however, you have personal or rapport issues with your coach (or vice versa) and, after giving it a fair try, things don’t work out, you either change camp or, where possible, try to work more with the other coaches and decrease the amount of work you do with the “not so my type” coach.
As a coach, if you have a great athlete with whom you know that you cannot get on with, then I would probably recommend that you subtly make it so that the athlete spends more time with the other mentors and less with you. Things may fix themselves organically after a while. Also, remember that maybe you don’t like your coach, but you know he gets results. In this case, if the situation is not going to degrade, you may want to stick with him/her, as long as you truly believe that you are giving yourself a fair chance and, at the same time, you are not wasting your coach’s time.
The Ability of the Coach to Understand the Personality and Drives of the Athlete
This point must not be mistaken with the previous. Assuming that the coach and the athlete have amazing rapport, the athlete likes the coach’s style and everything is perfect, there is still one aspect that coaches can, and quite frankly should, look into: the athlete’s personality and drives. We could go into extensive elaboration of this, but to keep things simple and yet effective, we can just sum this up as drives and motives.
Is a particular athlete moved more by pain or pleasure? With this we mean that some people are motivated more by the idea of winning (moved by the desire to achieve pleasure) and some others are more driven by the idea of not losing (moved by the desire to move away from pain).
If you find this out, then you, as a coach, will be able to better motivate your athletes by using the right language with the right person. This is made of small things, saying to a fighter who is about to enter the third and final round of a hard-fought battle something like “this is your round, don’t let this guy take the win from you, don’t let him take this away from you.” Or, if you know that your athlete reacts better to moving toward pleasure, you could say “come on, this is your round, you can get this W, give it all you have now and you will enjoy the victory in five minutes.”
These are of course only examples, you know your relationship with your athletes and you need to adapt this to your personality as well as theirs. Also, if you know your athletes’ personalities, you can push the right buttons, understand where they might mentally become more fragile and prepare for that.
Please note that the above does not represent all that a coach can and should do in terms of MMA coaching skills and tips; there are plenty more tools that we will soon share with you on this subject.
The above is only an overview of how different styles, personalities, and other factors can influence the coaching outcomes even when both coach and athlete are exceptional and a small outline of what can be done to maximize results.
Head Mind Coach
MMA Mind Power