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Coaching versus Instruction – The Way to Win in Martial Arts

By Tommy Thompson (assisted by Rocky Sondhi)

MYTH: “Always train heavy, light sessions are for wimps not proper boxers” – unqualified coach/instructor

Tommy Thompson began boxing in 1974, having had 69 contests and then retiring through injury. His coaching career kicked off in 1981 and has become Nottingham’s only senior ABA coach, since 1985. He has worked extensively, and is still involved, with Brendan Ingle’s stable in Sheffield. Boxers he has worked with include Johnny Nelson (WBO World Cruiser-weight champion), Fidel Castro (ex- British Super Middle weight champion) and Prince Naseem Hamed.

Since 2000, Tommy has been heavily involved with martial artists, teaching concepts of the arts through the principles of boxing. He has been working with the Winsper brothers, Jon Jepson and team, and Krishna Godhania.

Martial Arts Illustrated have kindly allowed us to write summaries of our forthcoming book, “Martial Arts Training through Boxing Concepts”. The series of articles will be as follows:

1. Coaching versus Instruction
2. Core Principles
3. Attacking tools
4. Defensive tools
5. Augmented Training to develop attributes
6. Training phases
7. Fitness principles
8. Mind training
9. Fight tactics
10. Designing a training programme

In 1976, I was sparring with Kirkland Laing, former British Welterweight champion, trapped against the ropes. I asked my coach how do I get off the ropes. He replied, after putting his cigarette out, “if you don’t know now, you’ll never f*** know!” I was trapped for the rest of the round.

This experience made me realise the importance of good coaching to helping proteges achieve their potential.

For the last few years I have worked extensively with martial artists and have seen the gap between coaching and instruction grow and feel it is an issue that needs to be addressed.

The goal and objective of every coach is to see their students explore, stretch and fulfil their potential. Under an instructor mentality, there is an assumption that all students have the same potential, and as such dictates the design and delivery of the training programme.

The key drivers of potential are:

As a starting point let’s explore the definition of these two words:

Coaching – Making a difficult skill appear simple, so that the student can grasp and make the skill their own.
Instruction - Giving a set orders, without flair or individuality, assuming the student will need to “do or die”.

The traditional martial arts appear to convey a macho image, where the instructor likes to make difficult things appear difficult, while showing his own prowess and capability, with no consideration of the limitations of individual students. The instructor appears to have the view that “what worked for me, must work for everyone else”. This limited perspective can be translated into declining class numbers, stagnation in technical capability and the overall demise of traditional martial arts.

The Core Principles of Coaching

Coaches need to understand the fundamental skills and principles of coaching. The key principles of coaching with key skills are:

PRINCIPLE
SKILLS
Simple explanation in a calm manner to transfer the skill in the most effective way Communication, Emotional detachment, Understanding
Repetition in a creative way so as to avoid boredom on the part of the student Creativity
Strong rapport with student so as to understand the main drivers in the individual Relationship building
Slow movement to maximise understanding of the principles Understanding techniques to a very high level
Individualise for the student and his/her circumstances, to allow the student to explore what works and what does not work Empowering the student, egolessness


The Learning Cycle

A key tool the coach needs to take into account in the design of the student’s training programme is the evolution of the student’s learning cycle. The key stages of the learning cycle are shown below:

Let’s consider each of these stages:

Unconscious incompetence – This is the stage of the learning cycle when the student has a weakness, but is unaware of this weakness. This is the stage where the student is at his most vulnerable, as he will probably feel he is better than he actually is. At this stage the student may be cocky and blasé.

Conscious incompetence – This is the stage when the student suddenly realises a weakness exists and feels something needs to be done about this. The student will feel down and anxious.

Conscious competence – At this point the student is aware of what needs to be done, but has to think about in various steps. The student will feel challenged and needs inspiration.

Unconscious competence – This is the stage where the student grasps the technique and it becomes second nature to the student. At this point the student individualises the technique. The student will feel excited and realise the more I learn, the less I know.

A good analogy of the cycle is demonstrated by the progress of a student from white belt to black belt, and then as the black chips off the belt, the student becomes a “white belt” again.

Stage of cycle Response of coach Response of instructor
Unconscious incompetence (1) To act as role model.Show weaknesses in student in a positive way. Do it!
Conscious incompetence (2) Breakdown of skill into simple stages.
Advise student on next steps to maximise progress. (This may mean advising to have a break!)Motivation to improve.Positive feedback to stimulate student.
Do what you are told!
Conscious competence (3) Repetition of key skills in a creative way to stimulate progress. Sweat, blood and tears!
Unconscious competence (4) Set new standards and goals for each individual. Carry on and follow the syllabus!

The emotional state of the student through each of the stages of the learning cycle can be seen in the graph below:

The outcomes from poor coaching and instruction are essentially the same. These result in the following:

Burnout – students lose motivation and find it difficult to move out of a “rut”. Inspiration is needed, as is rest. Good coaches recognise the need for rest, and see this as a primary driver in athletic development. Interestingly, the ability of athletes to do nothing can also be difficult, particularly with amateur athletes who have day time occupations. The coach needs to explore activities such as yoga and meditation to maximise the benefits of rest.

Loss of interest – as with burnout, loss of interest means the student will stop training. Instructors generally feel the students are responsible for maintaining their own level of interest. Coaches inspire students to maintain and create new levels of interest.

Lack of focus – coaches possess an intuitive feel for what needs to be worked on in training sessions. This intuition is the result of experience and experimentation.

Drop in skill level – as a consequence of the above skill levels begin to decline.

Abandonment – the end is near!

Outcomes of good coaching

Good coaching leads to:

Creativity - to create a complete martial artist with the following abilities:

» Think the unthinkable
» See the un-see-able
» Do the un-do-able

Enthusiasm – to keep the student learning and developing and moving towards fulfilling their potential
Experimentation – to stretch the students capability and maximise learning.

Variables to consider in coaching

Consider these situations:

SITUATION INSTRUCTOR COACH
Two students go to a club, both same age and weight, but different body types. Instructor will say to both students, “left or right foot forward (depending on student’s strong side), weight evenly balanced on both legs, elbows tucked in – just jab and move!” Coach will say to the taller of the two, “weight slightly more on rear leg, body weight side on, use height and reach (which will indicate the style of a jab and move boxer).”
Coach will say to the shorter of the two, “bodyweight to the front foot (but never over it), slightly square, indicating the style of a counter-punching boxer.”
Two students go to a club, with different temperaments. “Keep going forward and don’t back up.” Coach will try to mould a more attacking style of boxing with the more aggressive of the two. With the more timid of the two, the coach will encourage a more counter punching style.


The above examples suggest that when designing student learning programmes, coaches need to consider the following variables:

Student’s Style = f (Body type, Temperament and mental state, Thinking styles)

(Look out for Tommy Thompson and Rocky Sondhi’s book, “Martial Arts Training Through Boxing Concepts” published by Airworthy Publications, due to come out in January 2004).

 
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