Finding the Right Coach for You: 4 Profiles I’ve Encountered

Finding the right coach for you: 4 profiles I’ve encountered

By: Emily Kwok

I recently was given the impetus to learn how to swim better.

My goal wasn’t to win any medals or to compete in an ironman race, it was simply to feel more confident and comfortable in deep and open water.

I had taken enough swimming lessons as a child to know the basic mechanics and if you asked me to swim from one end of the pool to the other, no problem. Tread water for a few min? Sure. I could ‘swim’.

But a near drowning experience when I was 6 years old left me with an inescapable fear of sinking and not being a strong swimmer. This fear lived in my body. I really struggled to relax and every lap would feel like a fight. Hyperventilation after 50 yards was a given.

So with my goal in sight, I set off to find the right coach. From my years of practice, competing and teaching in BJJ, I knew that I was looking for a particular kind of coach. I needed a coach that wouldn’t necessarily impress me with all the things I could look forward to learning, or how fast I could swim, rather I needed a coach that would meet me where I was and help me ease in. I needed to learn how to trust myself in the water.

Sue was referred to me through one of my BJJ students and she was phenomenal. She was patient and wise, but knew how to push me at the right moments. I’m forever grateful to have had her help me overcome my challenges with this life skill at the ripe age of 37!

And so as a tribute, I thought of all the different kinds of coaches I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the years. I thought it might be helpful if I share who I’ve learned from and how since I believe the best teacher – student relationships are made when we know what we need from each other and we are compatible.

If you are struggling to connect with you coach, there may not be anything wrong with either of you, but accepting their essence and knowing who you are will go a long way. We can’t expect our coaches to read our hearts and minds and they shouldn’t expect us to understand exactly where they are coming from all the time. Instructors can also evolve over their careers, so be patient with them as they grow too. These profiles may help you build some awareness around what you may be looking for:

1. The High Level Athlete – World-class competitors who have often dedicated a good portion of their lives to studying and expressing themselves through the art. These individuals are capable of showcasing beautiful technique, timing and form to their student bodies. They will do what they do very well and as a result, not always be able to articulate exactly what makes them so good. They live and breathe BJJ so the best way to learn is to observe, study and ask the right questions. They may have some incredibly useful technical tools to offer you…though you may have to pull it out of them.  This isn’t because they are always trying to hide what they know from you, but they tend to live vs. think about BJJ. Not being afraid to ask questions and elicit the responses you are looking for will really help them shine. Learning from these individuals is sometimes easier when you are an intermediate to advanced student as you will be able to concentrate on their technique vs. how to get your body to perform fundamental movements.

2. The Born Teacher – Oftentimes you will relate to these individuals very closely because they too were once in your shoes. Recreational practitioners who have spent countless hours of their time pouring over technique learned from their teachers, books and online resources. They weren’t competitors, but they sure knew about what was going on in the competitive world and they admired and enthusiastically studied whatever they were exposed to. They are wonderful teachers because they know how to meet you at your level. They are also BJJ encyclopedias since they’ve taken in so much. Create dialogue with them and you may be surprised at how deep their well of information is. They are big fans of yours because having you as a student allows them to continue to indulge in this art that they love so much.  They can make BJJ very accommodating for a beginner, but also give you good instruction and guidance throughout your career.

3. The Hybrid – What do you get when you mix a respectable athlete with a dedicated practitioner?? These instructors are students of the art and may have competed at a high level and had some success or competed a lot at a local or regional level. They have a taste for what it takes to potentially be world-class, but they also embrace and understand that most people enjoy BJJ on a recreational level. They are relatable and relevant. Understand that they may still be working through their own ambitions as well, so you may be shifting your learning objectives as they are on/off the competitive circuit. Ride with them when they are intensely training and observe. So much can be learned from being close to their process. Embrace their advice and support in their downtime. They will be happy to help you reach your own goals at all levels.

4. The Sage – They don’t come around often but you’ll know you’ve met one when you do. These individuals have spent decades on the mat and have seen many people and trends come and go. They may quietly pull out some random story about how they slayed a 3 headed dragon while battling 4 black belts in a fire on top of a 15,000 ft mountain back in the day…They may not posses the zest to train like animals every round, in fact, you may not see them train at all, but they might possess some BJJ magic. They don’t care much for drama, they probably don’t have much to say about the latest fad in guard play, but they know a lot about BJJ and will divulge under the right circumstances. They often guide far more in a school than technique. They shape the culture and set the tone for their students by sharing stories and creating mindfulness.  

All this said, there are frauds and unmentionables who lead and instruct students everywhere. We are in a lineage obsessed sport so if you have your doubts, follow the paper trail. It’s also sadly common to hear about abuse of power in schools.  This usually stems from insecurity at the highest levels.

Don’t blindly trust anyone. Every relationship goes 2 ways and as a student, you deserve to be valued by your teachers too. But don’t take a passive stance in your learning. To see how you can leverage your relationship/s more, try doing the following:

•  Write out a list of your learning objectives
•  Think about what sort of learner you are
•  Think about what sort of instructors you have available to you
•  Target your learning objectives towards the most suitable instructor
•  Create dialogue!!

One Comment

  • Susan M. Ludzki

    Thank you so much, Emily! Working with you has been such a pleasure! Having gotten to know you over the past few months, I have a feeling that your students feel the same way about you!😊

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