"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit."
Coaching, like training requires repetition. With the internet fueling the rapid evolution of Mixed Martial Arts, MMA coaches need to learn and develop as coaches at a faster rate than their athletes. That means learning new cues, the right metaphors, the right tone and getting out of his/her comfort zone to learn new techniques from other coaches. If they're not willing to do this then they're doing a great disservice to their students. Not to mention the fact that MMA is probably the most technical sport to coach and requires a different kind of dedication. It's why great coaches derive coaching techniques from every aspect of life.
Muhammad Ali's coach was quoted as saying,“Fighters change trainers the way most people change their shorts.” Angelo Dundee was as humble as he was smart. He understood the psychology of coaching certain athletes. He used back-door psychology on many occasions to train an outspoken Ali.
“I went around the mulberry bush with him. I made him feel as if he innovated everything and that I did nothing,” he says. “Later in his career, you heard him say, ‘Angelo doesn’t train me.’ Well, I didn’t want him to think I trained him; I was his buddy working with him. That was the atmosphere I wanted to create. He thought he invented everything in the book.”
Mike Burgener is renowned as America's Godfather weightlifting coach. He has a great story where he was training the triple extension in the ankles, knees and hips in weightlifting. "Ankles, knees and hips!!!" Burgener was shouting and one little fifteen year old girl just wasn't getting it. "Everything has to go into extension," he went on but the girl still couldn't understand what he was implying. Finally she pulled him aside and asked him to work with her a little more to which he did. "So you want me to jump,?" she asked. When the body triple extends through the ankles, knees and hips, that's what's happening, you have to jump, something kids do all the time and pretty simple for them to understand. "Yes!" Burgener returned, "then why didn't you just say that?" Burgener smiled. He was already a veteran coach at the time but learned a new cue from a fifteen year old girl.
MMA is more technical than weightlifting (I'm sure some would argue against that but I'm sticking to it) so it requires a tremendous amount of attention to adapting training programs to optimize their impact to each individual athlete at every training session. I remember I was doing class and working off of the cage because a teammate was facing someone who always pressed his opponents against the cage. So we were working turns and takedowns. I turned my partner with an under-hook and gable-grip then took him down with a single leg. My coach then took my partner aside and gave him some cues while I faced off with someone else and finally my original partner returned. He charged almost the same as before, I defended the same way but this time I ended up on my back. My coach would teach me what he showed my partner later on and say "I learned that at the grocery store." I was confused. He told me that he watched a mother teaching both of her sons in the freezer isle and had a "eureka moment." She couldn't teach one of her sons a lesson without teaching the other one also.
That's what makes a good coach a great coach, the ability to find apply his/her art to every day life and then apply it to the students who depend on it. It's an arduous art in itself. Traveling all over the world and seeking different training techniques and styles is a requirement especially now that MMA has evolved so much but if a coach can learn something new in his back yard, apply it and see it work then that's a great coach. New England definitely isn't lacking when it comes to great coaching in the sport which brings me to the question for the next post Why hasn't New England produced a world champion MMA fighter yet? Stay tuned.