Coaching vs Instructing

I said I might talk about this a bit, and then low and behold it came up on r/judo. Not everything that’s said there applies to BJJ – there’s no NGB giving NCEP certification for BJJ coaching in the US that I’m aware of, but it’s an interesting perspective and I agree with most of what was said. Still, as I mentioned in the previous post, NCEP certifications can be applicable and helpful to coaching any kind of grappling. I personally categorize folks as practitioners, instructors, and coaches.

Practitioners are everyone who’s practicing the grappling art in question. If you’re showing up to class and participating, no matter your other role(s) in the class, you’re a practitioner. The base goal of a practitioner is to improve their ability to execute the skills. Everyone, no matter what role, should be continuing to learn and improve their grappling skills to some degree. Whether that’s developing a deeper understanding, better timing, learning how to adapt it as you get older and more broken down, whatever, you continue learning the skillset.

Instructors are people who teach. If you show techniques as part of a formal class setting, I’d call you an instructor. Not all instructors need to be black belts or even high level practitioners. Not all instructors need to be able to execute what they’re showing in a live environment. Never feel like just because you’re teaching you have an obligation to be able to tap everyone who’s learning from you. Generally an instructor needs to really understand their game and the techniques they’ll be showing. You need to know it well enough to explain it in simple terms, show details that provide value, answer questions, and debug as folks struggle to perform what you’ve shown. It’s hard, and we’re all always learning how to teach better, which to me should be the goal of an instructor on top of their goals as a practitioner.

Coaches have higher expectations than instructors to me. Notably, instruction can stop with the how to do a technique, it can be all martial art. Coaching means understanding and helping with the sport side of things too. What does a good plan for weight management look like? What’s a reasonable lifting plan? What should periodization of comp practices look like leading up to a competition? Do you know how to corner someone during a match? Are you making sure your athletes have what they need to succeed mentally, physically, emotionally? Can you evaluate someone’s game and help them figure out where to grow next? Do you make the effort to be there for the athlete and try to coach them? Do you evaluate their matches and help them make gameplans? Coaches have to learn a lot of different areas to be effective, and their goal is ultimately to learn as much as possible to help their athletes.

I know plenty of good practitioners who would be lousy instructors, and plenty of instructors who are lousy as coaches, but I don’t know a good coach who’s a lousy instructor. There aren’t magical demarcations though. It’s not like only coaches care about the competitive success of the athletes they work with, or that only instructors help others learn. Ultimately, which of the three groups someone falls into will be what they aspire to do and want to call themselves. However, we can use these metrics to determine how good they are as that role and to try to figure out where we should be improving. I’d also advocate moving through the levels – don’t try to coach if you can’t teach, and don’t try to teach if you don’t know how to do.

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