by Kanani Guerra

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As the sport of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu grows in popularity so do the class sizes. And more students beget the need for more coaches. Youth classes especially need coaches. So where is the best place to get all these assistant coaches? The youth class itself! Teaching kids to coach can be as difficult as teaching kids BJJ itself. But with the right guidance, these youth students can become the future of the sport not only in their athletic abilities but for the teams that they may build one day. Professors, instructors, and head coaches have the opportunity to train up the next generation of coaches right from their own mats.

Giving youth students the opportunity to coach, even within one class, can be really rewarding for them. It gives the coaching students a chance to impart their knowledge on a teammate, be actively engaged (and invested) in the learning process of their teammates, and it gives the instructor a chance to shape how the students communicate to each other. As youth students learn to become coaches, typically three types of coaching can be observed.

Type 1: The “unsure” coach. The unsure coach is often quiet, insecure, and afraid to look ‘dumb’ or say the wrong thing. In this stage, their own insecurities outweigh their assigned task of coaching and encouraging another teammate. This type of coach needs encouragement themselves. You can help by giving them easy phrases to remember that they can fall back on until they are more comfortable: “You’re doing great”, “Remember to breathe”, etc. They don’t need to always focus on the technical aspect of coaching but can start getting comfortable by just learning how to encourage others.

Type 2: The “destructive” coach. This coach has a strong competitive drive to coach their teammate to victory. This type of coach can develop habits that can lead to “destructive” coaching. Destructive coaches use instructions or commands that demean, embarrass, belittle, or frustrate the pupil or their opponent. Often the result is failure. Most students are not trying to be destructive intentionally, but good coaching is a skill that must be learned and practiced. A destructive coach shouts phrases like: “You’re doing it wrong”, “You aren’t doing it as well as [another teammate] is”, “Are you listening to me?! I told you she was going to kimura you”, etc. We’ve all seen the destructive coach at basketball games, volleyball games, baseball, and, sadly, jiu-jitsu. Sometimes, it isn’t even the coach that is practicing the destructive coaching: parents, siblings, and friends can be guilty of this too. A destructive coach often yells, “No, no, no, no” and shakes his or her head in frustration, stomps around, or displays other physical cues of frustration. The competitive spirit in this coach is great, it just needs to be harnessed and matured into a “constructive” coach.

Type 3: The “constructive” coach. This is the type of coach that you want to strive to create in your youth students. Constructive coaches positively reinforce through positive words and also provide small manageable tasks to the pupil so that they can conquer one little victory at a time. As you know, the intent of a match is to control and submit your opponent. That is the end of the ‘game’. But when a student steps onto the mat, a coach should not yell “Control and submit your opponent.” That is not a manageable task. Instead, a constructive coach learns to instruct one step at a time, “Focus. Get your grips on him/her. Be prepared to make the first move”. And a series of instructions carries on bit by bit from there. A constructive coach combines positive reinforcement with achievable goals and builds a positive coach and student relationship. As you raise up your future generation of coaches are you leading them towards constructive coaching?

One big reason parents encourage their children to be involved in BJJ is to build a positive self-image and strong self-esteem. One of the best ways for building that positive character in kids: teach them how to impart it to others.