You don’t need to be a professional jiu-jitsu instructor to coach somebody at a tournament. In fact, chances are that if you have a child, spouse, or friend who is a student of jiu-jitsu, you have been to a tournament and can benefit from becoming a better coach. Tournaments are inherently stressful environments. There is often a lot of commotion and unfortunately, they can also be disorganized. Assisting others in navigating such an environment is essential to them getting the most out of each event.
Here are 10 tips that’ll allow you to bring your A-game on tournament day, so your students and loved ones can bring theirs!
1. Make a list and check it twice
Before tournament day, you should have a list of the belt levels, weight classes, start times, and even the mats that your students are competing at. Making a list of their competitors is especially important if you are travelling to a tournament. This also allows you to keep track of medals, placing and who still has to compete throughout the day.
2. Know Thy Rules
Your second task before tournament day is to be well versed in the tournament’s rules. This could range from uniform regulations, to scoring, to the legality of certain moves. Consider bringing a printout of the rules with you to go over with your students, their families and even (possibly) the referees!
3. On time is late, Early is on time
You should be the first person to arrive at the tournament that day. Don’t make a common mistake and arrive when the first divisions start and expect to be ready to go. Arriving early will also set an example for your students. If they see you coming in late or at the last minute, it communicates to them that you had other things to do that were more important than they were. I don’t know any coaches who would want to convey that message intentionally, and this is one way to tell your students that on competition day, they are the priority. Check in with all of your students to make sure everybody has arrived and is prepared to compete.
4. Keep calm and coach Jiu-Jitsu
Coaching is immensely frustrating, so remember to stay calm and positive when working with your students. This is VERY important, especially if you’re at a two-day competition. By staying calm and not running around screaming all day, you’ll ensure that you not only motivate your students, but you’ll be able to give them 100% of your time and energy as they compete.
5. Don’t multi-task
By nature, human beings are horrible at multi-tasking. Doing five things at once typically leads to doing all of them poorly. Trying to keep time, coach your student, fix a dislocated finger, etc. is a great way to miss great coaching opportunities. Focus on the mat that you’re at and then check your list to see where you should be next. Since you can’t be everywhere at once this is a big help.
6. Have an assistant
Having a few of your top students, or even your spouse, helping you at tournaments can be one of the most important elements of being a successful coach. They can run and get first aid, keep track of who is up on what mat, grab you lunch, etc. They really facilitate you and your team being successful at the tournament. Ask them to help, allow them to work with you and remember to show your gratitude for all of their hard work. Your assistant can even remind you to…
7. Remember to eat and drink
Set aside 10-15 minutes in the afternoon to sit down quietly to eat and drink. If you are hungry or thirsty, your judgment is going to be off and you are going to start making mistakes. This may cause you to be frustrated with your students easily, which can be avoided by staying fed and hydrated.
8. Be visible
Wearing a black t-shirt like everybody else is going to make it a nightmare for people to find you when they need you. At all recent tournaments I’ve been to, I’ve worn a bright orange shirt just to make sure that if anybody needed me, they could find me right away. I know it sounds silly, but your team shouldn’t have to send out runners to find you in the competition location and having a signature shirt or hat that is bright in color will really help your team help you stay on top of your game.
9. To be or not to be (specific)
There are two schools of thought on whether or not to be specific when you’re coaching somebody. Either you give them detailed instruction during a match, or you don’t. For beginners, yelling, “Sweep!” or “Escape!” may not help your student. It may only serve to make the student panic and forget how to do what they should do. By giving clear, step-by-step instructions to your beginning students, you can help them be more successful and also assist them in navigating the adrenaline dump that often accompanies stepping on the mat. Note that giving your student details will help them, but it will also help their opponent avoid whatever your student is trying to do. So use this tactic with caution.
For veteran students: Sometimes veteran students need less instruction and more encouragement. Providing them with the time remaining in the match, the current points and reminding them to stay calm can be incredibly helpful. By practicing your coaching in the academy (instructor/friend) or just asking them ahead of time (parent/spouse), you’ll have a better idea who needs more specific instruction while under pressure and who needs less.
10. Be prepared
You should never need to borrow anything from anybody else on competition day. Here’s a short list of things to remember to bring on competition day:
• Seam ripper to remove patches that are illegal
• Cell phone (with charger or extra battery)
• Athlete list
• Extra gi jacket/pants/no gi shorts
• Writing utensils + clipboard
• Schedule of divisions