Coaching: The SBGi Way

An essay on the coaching done by SBGi coaches originally published in September 11, 2005

There are three main principles, which I feel define the curriculum, methodology, and mission of SBGi. The first is Aliveness, and we covered that in depth in the last entry. The second is Adaptability and I will write, in detail, about that on this BLOG. The third is Coaching, and that is the topic we will talk about now.
Coaching at SBGi is broken down into three key parts:

At the top we have ‘material‘, and that is the curriculum itself. That is what we are coaching and, regardless of what it is we are coaching at the time, I believe we can break it down into three additional areas:

  1. The core fundamentals of the skillset we are working.
  2. The natural order in which those fundamentals arise.
  3. Why those things are the fundamentals, and arise in that order naturally.

The first point of the material itself is the emphasis on ‘core fundamentals’. That means, very simply, that no matter what skill set we are attempting to teach, we want to place the emphasis on the core fundamental skills of that particular delivery system.

This is important for a number of reasons.

First, it is the best possible way to enhance the performance of an athlete. Second, and just as important, it allows the athlete to develop his or her own “style“. As an example, if I spend a class teaching how ‘I’ personally pass the guard, it may be useful for a few athletes who play a game similar to mine, but it won’t affect all athletes in the room, as some may play a very different type of passing game.

If I focus on teaching the core principles of all guard passes, as an example, the 5-point passing game, and the guard surfing drill, then I pass along the core fundamentals that will affect the games of everybody in that room. While, at the same time, creating an environment where each athlete is free to express his or her own personal ‘style’. This relates back to the difference between ‘style‘ and ‘delivery system’, which we discussed in the Aliveness Q & A.

Second is the ‘natural’ order in which these core fundamentals arise. I place emphasis on the word natural here. I believe that training these fundamentals in the proper order can be just as important as making sure what it is you are training is a fundamental. As an example, when teaching BJJ we have the fundamental 5 on top, and the fundamental 5 of escapes. These core skills transcend individual style, in that they are something all of us will need to develop.

Therefore, they are core fundamentals.

Also, they always arise when rolling or sparring, in a particular order.

So if you kill the inside arm, or go after the far elbow, prior to blocking out the guard, then you create an opening that allows the opponent to escape. So, we train this skill set in the same order in which it occurs.

The same is true with guard passing. If I attempt to lock in the upper body, before I have controlled the hips, then I leave myself open for submissions. So, understanding the order in which these skills occur is critical.

I didn’t create the order because I ‘felt’ they should be trained that way. Rather, we have observed through training that this is the order in which the skill sets occur. It is a natural order.

It is what it is.

Another example would be clinching. Yes, you can teach a clinch class by starting right away on the fine points of an under hook, or a particular takedown. If the athletes have not developed the basic skill sets of posture, elbows in, and head position, then it will be difficult to pull off any of the takedowns. The order of priority when I teach clinch is always those key points: posture, and head position. Takedowns and strikes follow these skills; they do not precede them. It’s not because I feel that is the way it should be, but because that is the order it arises in when we actually attempt to apply the material against resisting opponents.
Finally, there is the third point of ‘why‘ these skills are considered core fundamentals, and why they arise in a certain order.

I feel it is just as important for me to help the students in my classes to understand both these things, as it is for them to be able to perform them.

I am often asked what defines great performers, or fast learners. Why do some people get very good, very quickly, while others take years? I have given that subject a lot of thought.

I have been coaching now for well over ten years and, in that time, I have noticed some common points with athletes who excelled and gained a high level of performance very quickly. Most people think that athleticism, being stronger, or faster than others, would be the common trait. Others might say it is work ethic. In my experience it is neither.
It is true these athletes tend to put in their time on the mat, and it is true they take care of their bodies, but they do not necessarily work harder then others, and they have not been in my experience, more “athletic”. In fact, often these athletes have never played sports previously, don’t lift weights, etc.
So what is the common trait?

The fact is, that they think about the game as a whole. They think about their own game; they think about why things work a certain way, and they think about why things arise in a certain order. In that process they gain an understanding of the game, BJJ, MMA, whatever, that others just don’t have.

There is absolutely no doubt that this introspective trait is the one thing I have seen as a common factor amongst all the athletes who have rapidly gained a high level of technical skill.

In fact, I would say it is the only common trait I have so far been able to identify.

Having said that, you can see why I place an emphasis on asking the students questions in my classes, on encouraging critical thinking, and questioning. I don’t just want the athletes in my class to perform the skill sets well; I also want them to understand why these skill sets are the core fundamentals, and why they happen in a certain order when working against resisting opponents.

I know that gaining that understanding will rapidly increase their own level of performance and, also, it will help them be better coaches when it comes time for them to pass along what they have learned.

So those are the three key points for ‘material’: making sure we spend our time coaching the core fundamentals of the skill set, making sure we coach them in the natural order they arise, and making sure we help the athlete understand the reasons behind all of the above.

The second point on the coaching triangle is ‘Method‘.
Method is again broken up into three smaller parts:

  1. Aliveness, Alive-training methods.
  2. Athleticism.
  3. Art.

We have discussed the first part in depth already: Aliveness. This includes an understanding of the “I” method, of inquiry-based coaching, and all that Alive training can imply. This subject is too vast for this article, but for details, review the Aliveness Q & A or check out our member’s forum, which has tons of useful info on various training methods, and many knowledgeable coaches willing to help.

The second area is Athleticism. In other words, you are not really learning or developing skill until you start to sweat. That doesn’t mean that an Alive class has to be “rough”, or in any way brutal. What it means is that it is a workout.

The third point is Art, and I am defining art here as “technical skill“. Although we want all of our classes to be athletic, and to push our limits to some degree when we train, we also want to make equally sure that we are training in an intelligent and highly technical manner.

How do you know if you are training technically?

You have to ask yourself if you are patching up weaknesses in your game, technical holes, areas where you may lack skill, with superior attributes. If you are, you have to willing to shelf your own ego long enough to stop doing that.
In other words, if you can rip out of an arm bar using explosiveness and speed, or escape a triangle by picking up your opponent, or escape bottom by bench-pressing the person on top, should you?

The answer is an obvious NO. Within the gym you want your training to be as technical as possible. So, if you are getting caught with arm bars, find out why. Then, find a technical solution that will work against larger and stronger opponents. This way, when you find yourself matched against a bigger, stronger, faster opponent, you will still have game.

Although this seems like common sense, it is often very hard for some people to do. Those athletes that have trouble doing this will eventually find themselves falling behind the others in the class. They may dominate, at first, with superior athleticism but, as time passes, and the smaller athletes gain more skill, they will eventually find themselves getting caught. This is where a mature coach needs to speak to the athlete one-on-one about how and why they train.
Does this mean we don’t want to seek to become stronger and faster?

Absolutely not!

We want to train the body (the vehicle) as well as the skillset. We just want to make sure that the power of the vehicle is not masking a technical hole in the game of the driver.

That way, when our athletes enter competition, they will have a strong, in-shape body, AND a high level of technical proficiency. Not a strong and in shape body, in place of a technical proficiency.

Finally, we have the third point on the triangle: ‘Mindset‘.

I break down this section of coaching into three more parts:

  1. PLAY.
  2. Passion.
  3. Personality.

Let’s start with the bottom left of that triangle: Passion. If the athlete is not passionate about the class, the workout, the training, etc., they will eventually quite and pursue another thing. That is exactly as it should be.

As the great Joseph Campbell so often said, “Follow your bliss!”

Emphasis is there on the word “your”.

So as a coach we want to do two things: one, we want to make sure we create an environment that is fun, and encourages the athlete to move forward. Also, we want to inspire them to fulfill their own mission and not the one we think they should have.

So we want to make sure we don’t lay our own “trip” on them. Recognize that all individuals are different. Some may want to compete publicly and some may not. Perfect. Some may want to train only in gi BJJ, some may want to do only MMA. Perfect. Some may prefer stand-up, love boxing, others may prefer clinch and love wrestling. Perfect.

One of the beautiful things about having a complete curriculum is that it allows all our members to pursue the area he or she feels most passionate about.

Should one of them say they want to compete MMA, and to-date, they have only done stand-up, or only done BJJ, etc., then obviously we will advise them to balance their own game. However, there is absolutely no reason, or excuse, for attempting to push an individual into one box or another. One of the nicer things about having that larger community is that there will always be individuals within that gym or tribe which will excel in one of the games more the others and they will be able to help those seeking more detail in that area.

It’s all good.

Now let’s talk about the bottom right of this triangle: Personality.

As we have discussed before, we want each of our athletes to express themselves in their own unique way. Again, this gets us back to the distinction between delivery systems and style. If I go to a BJJ gym, and all the athletes roll the same way, then I know the coach is teaching his/her own “style”, and this is not good for the athletes.

If a coach limits his/her own teaching to the core fundamentals, as we have discussed above, then each athlete will begin to develop their own unique way of moving, of passing the guard, of playing top, etc. That is exactly as it should be. No two athletes should move the same way.

The core skills and principles remain the same “delivery system” but the application and timing behind those moves will vary from person to person. So, as a coach, our job is to create a healthy, fun, and happy environment where each athlete can discover that personal “style” for themselves.

Finally, at the top of the mindset triangle, we have the term, PLAY.

I strongly believe that play should be the dominant mental state for all athletes training. Play has shown itself, time and time again, to be the optimal learning state. All animals use forms of play to learn. Lion cubs don’t line up and execute 30 right paw strikes, followed by 30 left paw strikes. Lion cubs play.

How do we ensure we maintain an atmosphere of play?

By creating an Alive training environment where each athlete is free to pursue his or her own passion and, in doing so, develop their own personal style of movement; one which will be a direct reflection of their own personality.

In other words, when we are doing something we are passionate about and expressing our selves in the process, then what we are doing will, by its very nature, be labeled as ‘play‘. The two bottom pieces of the triangle, passion and personality, automatically create a mindset at the top, which can be labeled play. That is the optimum learning state for the skill sets we coaches are trying to help them learn.

So to summarize the SBGi coaching method, we want to make sure the material we coach focuses on core fundamentals, and offers those fundamentals in the natural order in which the arise.

We want to encourage our athletes to ask why these things are the core fundamentals, and why they arise in that order. We want to help them gain a larger understanding of the game itself and to encourage that critical thinking process at every stage of the game.

We want to make sure that as we do that we keep the classes Alive and athletic, while, at the same time, making sure we are having the athletes place personal emphasis on technical skill.

Finally, we want to create an environment and community that allows each individual the ability to pursue their own unique passion, which will be a direct reflection of that individuals own personality. In doing so, we enhance the ‘vibe‘, the mindset of play, and there is no better learning environment than that.

That is a brief breakdown of the SBGi coaching model.

One Vibe, One Tribe

The boundaries between self and other dissolve in real Awareness, and you’re one with what is. Out of that comes authentic compassionate action.
-Ram Dass

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