This is a list of certifications/courses I recommend for coaching at a grappling gym. This list is targeting a US audience, but it’s probably worth looking into what kind of equivalents are available in your area. Hopefully you’ll agree that none of these are bad skills to have on-hand.
- SafeSport – a class that’s designed to help identify abuse and give guidance on how to address it. This is required by all NGBs that are members of Team USA, so if you’re getting certified as a judo or wrestling coach you’re already required to take this. It’s $20 if you don’t belong to an NGB.
Caveat – this isn’t a silver bullet that’s going to fix abuse and I don’t want to bill it like that. You’ll find negative stuff about SafeSport if you look into it , . I don’t want to discount any of that. Understand the shortcomings of SafeSport as a system, it’s still a good class for learning the signs and patterns of abuse. Still encourage victims of abuse to report their experiences to law enforcement and kick shitty personalities out of your gym.
- HEADS UP – materials designed to help increase awareness around concussions including helping you identify one and what to do if you suspect an athlete has one. This one is free for anyone, and again is required by all the NGBs that are members of Team USA. I’d recommend encouraging students and parents to take this too.
- An NGB coaching certification – note, these are on how to coach, not technical aspects of what to teach. They don’t indicate how good a grappler someone is, just to what extent they’ve studied coaching. However, they do cover stuff like training periodization, skin infection identification, and nutrition so I’d still say they’re immensely useful content.
- USA Wrestling NCEP Certification – USAW offers Copper, Bronze, Silver, and Gold certification levels. Copper is designed for folks coaching athletes 5-12 years of age, but also is the real intro to how to coach, I’d strongly recommend it for anyone coaching a kids class, but also anyone who’s interested in Bronze. Bronze is designed for folks coaching athletes who are 13 and older, so it’s still helpful for how to coach adults, but since wrestling is so geared toward a scholastic environment a lot of it will require some thought on how to translate it to a school that’s teaching hobbyist adults. Silver and Gold are for folks who are interested in improving their coaching skills to an advanced level. I’m hoping to get Silver sometime, especially as most of the its requirements are things I’d recommend anyway. Copper and Bronze can be completed entirely online which is cool.
- USA Judo Coach Development Program – I’m not certified in this, but all the judo coaches at Madison Judo are to the best of my knowledge. Looking at the overview this seems to be roughly equivalent in content to the wrestling coaching courses. The levels seem to be the same Local, Regional, National, International levels we have in the judo refereeing system and are managed by the state-level bodies as far as I can tell. The major disadvantage I’ve seen for these is there are no online offerings.
- CPR/AED Certification – you can get this through organizations like the Red Cross or AHA’s Heartsaver program. It’s better to know CPR and never have to use it in class than need to use it in class and not know it, plus this is required for USAW’s Silver level.
- First Aid Certification – generally this is more intense and goes beyond CPR/AED classes, covering things like how to dress wounds, treat burns, potentially how to splint a fracture. If you’re not a medical professional and tend not to have one around the gym to help, this can be really useful. You can generally pick this up the same places that offer CPR/AED certifications. NGBs tend not to require this because sanctioned events have to have medical personnel onsite and a lot of school sports programs will have a trainer or nurse available to deal with injuries, but let’s also agree it never hurts to better be able to help assess and treat an injury.
- Bloodborne Pathogen Training – okay, this is maybe a bit paranoid, but I had to take it when I was working at a hospital and it’s proved pretty useful. Knowing how to clean blood, what PPE you should be wearing to do so, and what to do if you’re exposed is hopefully overkill for you, but hear me out – blood happens in grappling and you don’t know what diseases other folks have. The Red Cross offers this as well as CPR and First Aid.
- Applicable belt rank – it has to be said. Each martial art has a minimum rank that’s expected before you know enough to teach, but if you’re a wrestling coach this probably seems silly. As a wrestling coach you’ll also have a pretty quick route to blue belt generally, which can be helpful knowledge to have for how to modify wrestling techniques to BJJ or Grappling contexts. Even for Sambo all the coaches I know have ranks in judo and/or BJJ.
Beyond these kind of classes, I’d also recommend going out and hitting up seminars, networking with other coaches in your area, and reading as much as you can on the subject. I picked up Dan Gable’s book for my USAW Silver book report when I get around to working on that set of criteria. Instructing is different than coaching is different from practicing, but we tend to expect the folks at the head of class in our grappling gyms be good coaches, good teachers, and skillful practitioners, so it’s important to keep working on all three aspects. I’ll probably talk about how instruction differs from coaching at some point in the future because a lot of people conflate the two.