“About 2 years ago, after a local tournament, one of my students, Matt Shand, asked me to take a podium picture that was a little different. Matt asked me to jump on his back to re-enact a famous scene from The Empire Strikes Back (Yoda and Luke Skywalker) ” – Sam Joseph
About the author: Sam Joseph is a 3rd degree black belt, head instructor and owner of Buckhead Jiu Jitsu in Atlanta.
As a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu coach and gym owner, one of the conversations that students and people who I run into at BJJ events strike up with me the most centres on their desire to coach one day. I enjoy talking about this because I love coaching and believe it offers a ton of incredible rewards. Interestingly, those rewards come in many shapes and sizes so the conversations have different flavours to them based on who I’m talking to and their motivations. Here are some of what I consider to be the best things about being a BJJ coach!
Share the Ups (and Downs)!
If you follow me on social-media (Instagram- @buckheadjj), you will see a lot of pictures of me with my students. Promotion pictures, podium shots and moments from the academy cover a large percentage of the posts. The reason is I believe one of the best things about being a coach is sharing the journey with students.
About 2 years ago, after a local tournament, one of my students, Matt Shand, asked me to take a podium picture that was a little different. Matt asked me to jump on his back to re-enact a famous scene from The Empire Strikes Back (Yoda and Luke Skywalker). Not only did we take that picture, but it has become a tradition after every gold medal he wins…celebrating regional and international medals alike! We even reversed roles when I competed and he got to cheer me on at an IBJJF tournament last year. Those are among my most “liked” by followers and, personally, are some of my favourites as they not only represent success but also acknowledge my minor contribution (Matt does the real work) to his BJJ journey!
Sharing the journey is not all about the wins, though. Losses, injuries and life in general will all conspire to derail BJJ students and athletes. Being a good coach means “sharing” those, too. It means offering patience, counsel and, sometimes, just understanding when students are going through tough times. The positive side of this reality is that adversity is where many relationships truly develop and get stronger. We often “earn the right” to share the good times by our actions in the down times. My overall point is that getting to share and participate in peoples’ BJJ journeys is an incredible honour!
Help People Reach Goals!
Not long ago, I got to award my first two black belts in BJJ to two people I have a great deal of respect for: Kenneth Yeung and Daren Roberts. Though, the accomplishment was theirs, it was an amazing experience for me! Both of these men are role-models with unique stories that I am proud to now be a part of. The fact that their promotions will always be a milestone moment in those stories means a great deal to me.
Coaching allows us to help people reach their goals. Whether those goals are getting in better shape, competing, winning, earning specific ranks, etc…we get the opportunity to help people take steps they often did not believe they ever could or would. And when that happens, we get to see people evolve and grow in ways that benefit them on and off the mat. People become happier, more confident and self-assured when they achieve real goals and coaches are the better for it as we assist them in that process. That is why helping students reach their goals is high on my list of reasons to love coaching!
Improve Your BJJ!
The late David Jacobs was one of my main training partners at the Yamasaki Academy in the early to mid- 2000s. As coloured belts, we both started teaching classes…me at the main gym and David at a local fitness club under the team banner. We both saw teaching as something that could be fun and we appreciated the confidence it showed our coaches had in us. What we did not anticipate was how much we would benefit from it!
As we spent so much time on the mat together, I witnessed firsthand how much his BJJ improved when he started coaching. He became an even more enthusiastic and deliberate student as he knew he had the responsibility of answering questions and being a resource for others. His technique became sharper and his overall understanding, technically and tactically, of the sport advanced quite a bit. I was inspired by his improvement and it inspired me to keep up! Looking back, that was a time of great growth for both of us and most of that had to do with us starting to coach!
Train with Friends and Family!
Getting to train with ADCC and No-Gi World Champion Pablo Popovitch in his prime for a year was incredible! One of the things that made the biggest impression on me during my time with him was the power of the dynamic of having family on the mat. His father Jorge, a black belt himself, was there regularly and made great contributions as an instructor. But, it was how happy his simple presence seemed to make both he and Pablo that really stuck with me. I often found myself smiling during and after training and I attribute much of that to those two and their impact on the mood and environment. That experience made me much more aware of situations where coaches got to lead family and close friends and I saw similar results. At times there were challenges, but overall I found the coaches really seemed to enjoy it.
I currently get to coach one of my nieces (Lea) and one of my nephews (Jens)…they are enrolled in my Kids’ BJJ Program. If only they knew how many days just getting to interact with them lifted my spirits and improved my mood! I like to encourage students to invite friends and family to train because sharing the mat with those you love is a gift that keeps on giving. And getting to coach people you love is one of the very best parts of teaching. You get to actually help someone you love grow and move forward in a journey that will benefit them in so many ways!
I have had the pleasure of seeing old students take on the responsibility of coaching and I have been honoured to continue to be a resource for them in that part of their BJJ journeys. It is often harder than they thought it would be but it is almost always more fun and fulfilling than they imagined! They often find that they have enjoyed the benefits much more than they imagined and it has enhanced their appreciation for and enjoyment of BJJ.
If some of the above benefits resonated with you and you think you would like to coach or help coach one day, then take some action. Step one: make sure you are currently an excellent student and citizen at your academy…that is ALWAYS step one.
Step two: go see your head coach and ask what else you need to do in order to be considered for a coaching role in the future. Every academy is different and being allowed to coach is an honour not a right so expect some criteria- potentially including an apprenticeship working in the kids’ program, earning a certain rank, maybe competing and/or competing successfully, exhibiting role-model behaviour, etc. Timing and opportunity are also factors as there are only so many coaching slots at any given academy. Again, being trusted to coach is an honour and every head coach has the right to have his or her own requirements! The sooner you identify what those are and set about overachieving in those areas, the better your chances of being given the opportunity. Good luck and I’ll see you on the mat!!