Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How to corner a jiu jitsu match...

Whoa, whoa, did I say that out loud? Guess I did. Sorry, it's presumptuous, I know I'm a newbie, so take this with a grain of salt. It's just my opinion. And sorry, moms and dads, there's a few Eff words in here. Caveat emptor.

This is based on (a small amount of) real experience. I'm putting this in terms of situations I've seen or heard at tournaments; fortunately, the don'ts were other peoples' coaches and the dos were learned by observing my own instructors and how they corner me and my teammates. I will phrase them in terms of absolute rules but we all know rules are meant to be broken, sometimes, in limited circumstances. Let me know what you think and feel free to add some.

1. Don't scream yourself hoarse. I don't know why this is my #1 pet peeve-- maybe because I am sensitive to being yelled at (as opposed to yelled "to" for volume's sake) and maybe because it means you will be harder to hear for the next teammate during their next match.

2. Don't insult your fighter. YES, I have heard this! How "motivating" to have your corner call you a pussy! (May 09 NAGA) or for your coach to tell you, a preteen girl, that you're worthless and storm off the mat before you're finished with the match (and then it turns out your coach is your DAD! August 09 NAGA) I think it's safe to assume that pretty much EVERYONE who bothers to turn out to compete is going to try their hardest and do their best. Insults and pleas and whining will not extract better effort from your fighter- urgency and clarity of instruction will. Insults and childishness just make you and your school look unappealing, to say the least. And don't forget, not everyone at a tournament already trains. Some people come to watch and end up getting hooked. Rep your school with professionalism and grace, you might find your newest student is sitting nearby, evaluating what it would be like to have YOU as their coach.

3. [Edited in 2014 to add: I no longer agree with this one, but left it in for history's sake.  Now I think it's great to get inside the other competitor's head, the ref's head, etc.] Don't interject comments aimed at other people. First, when adrenaline is pumping, your fighter might not be hearing clearly, or might only hear snatches of what you say. You've probably already noticed you need to repeat things a couple times to get them to sink in. If you make comments aimed at someone else, your fighter might get confused and you're wasting your breath anyway, because definitely no one else will listen to you in a match. Also, you better not yell at refs or other coaches. Just tacky.

4. Be loud. I don't care what you're normally like off the mats-- shy, softspoken, sweet, whatever-- your job is to support and encourage and provide whatever you can for your fighter for these 4-5-6-10 minutes. You better be loud enough for them to hear. That doesn't mean screaming at top volume-- either position yourself properly on the mat border, or enunciate and project adequately. Do NOT rely on your girlfriend/SO to relay your instructions unless you just lost your voice and there's no alternative.. it adds seconds of delay while she (ok maybe he) looks quizzically at you and says "a real naked what???"

5. Don't get mad if it seems like we're ignoring you. Be louder, repeat repeat repeat, be clearer in articulation, or be clearer with your directions. Trust me, we're NOT ignoring you. Either the adrenaline is making the blood rush in our ears like the sea in a shell, or our ear is plastered against their chest, or maybe we can hear you but you can't see that our leg is trapped so we can't do what you want... or maybe we're just parsing "turn towards them!" Because I tell you, "towards" is confusing when they're on your back; it seems like either way you go they are right there. Be specific-- say "turn to your right!" and definitely not "turn towards their left!" It's hard enough for me to figure out which is their left leg when I'm calm, much less in a match. This past weekend I was in a triangle and my corner said "step over her head" about 20 times, then he realized I was in that cluefree fog... so he clarified "Step over with your right leg!" And then, though I was not coordinated enough to execute, I was at least on the same page and gave it a try or two. Which brings me to:

6. Be encouraging especially when we fuck up. When they land the sweep, when we unbase ourselves and tip over, when we pull mount or when we put ourselves into a triangle, reassure us that all is not lost and start the business of unfucking us.

7. Ask if we WANT a corner. I have a few training partners who really don't want someone else yelling at them. Maybe your fighter is already being cornered; why have two voices yelling potentially contradictory stuff?

8. Don't corner your own child/spouse/significant other unless it cannot be avoided. This should be self-explanatory.

9. Don't give away your fighter's moves. This is tough and takes lots of experience. Not sure I know how to tell anyone how to do this or avoid this mistake. I hear it all the time-- in fact I love it when it's my opponent's coach doing this. Oh yeah, you're going to triangle me? not now, you're not! Or you're going to try for a single leg? I'm ready to sprawl, thanks for the heads up! One thing I love about my corners from my school, so far, is that they'll phrase things in terms of suggestions, and they'll focus on telling me what my opponent is about to do, while trusting that I will know (approximately at least) what to do to counter it, or how to take advantage and capitalize on it.

10. Do use the same terminology we use back home. Don't invent new "secret language." This is tough if you're from a sister academy and get pressed into cornering duties-- how will you know we don't call it quite the same thing? You won't.. just keep trying different similar phrasing, or break it down into movements instead of names.

11. [Most of the time] Don't tell us to do something brand new we don't do at home. Exceptions would be escapes we haven't worked before that you are willing to walk us through step by step. Bad would be judo takedowns we've never done before that, if fucked up, will likely result in US getting taken down and landing in a disadvantageous position. 'Nuff said.

12. Know your fighter. If you don't, ask them before the match what they plan on doing, what their strengths are, if they're injured, what they don't do well. You don't want to get them set up for a bottom half guard sweep to discover they suck at sweeps, or that their knee is tweaked and it won't work.

13. Don't make ad hominem comments under your breath, you never know when video cameras are rolling or other coaches are listening. In short, be professional and be your fighter's #1 fan and rooting section.

14. Make plans for communication amongst your team. Have a schedule in hand and try to note which of your fighters are in which divisions on which mats. Higher belts should be prepared to corner lower belts if there's a conflict and you're already cornering someone or competing yourself. Maybe everyone carries cell phones and is prepared with cell #s if texting is your thing (it is mine.) Try to coordinate so that everyone has SOMEONE watching their match and hopefully cornering it. And it's nice to have a central location where you mass together for camaraderie and the easing of nerves.

15. If nothing else, sound confident and optimistic about your fighter's performance and keep them aware of time left, points disparity, and strategic positioning. IE-- you're up on points, relax, they're gassing, there's 13 seconds, you have other matches, save your energy.

16. Come prepared for those fighters that aren't. Maybe wear a colorful team tshirt or whatever-- something so you can be spotted in a hurry if need be. Bring bandaids, athletic tape, second-skin spray, ibuprofen, bananas, gatorade, water, and maybe if you're awesome, some ziploc bags of ice in a cooler.

Thoughts? What did I miss? What do you love about your corners? what appalling stories about other peoples' corners can you share?


jonathan m. said...

This makes me realize how awesome Josh was at cornering us at NAGA haha. Awesome blog by the way Georgette!

Georgette said...

Thanks man! Hey-- did you see your matches? I posted them on fb and youtube. Friend me on fb or email me and I'll tell you where to look on youtube.

Dev said...

Dude, quite possibly the best post I've ever read. Honestly. That was fantastic.

Quick story - we were at a small local tournament, and a brown belt (now black) was cornering a guy. The brown belt was REALLY animated - good for him, right? He was yelling instructions, and moving around, and demonstrating the techniques with his arms in case the fighter didn't hear him, and all of a sudden he JUMPED on the spectator next to him and started working a choke setup, all the while shouting "LIKE THIS!" Problem was, he didn't know the guy, who was understandably a little annoyed at almost getting choked out while WATCHING a jiu jitsu match. :) Good times.

Liam H Wandi said...

15. If nothing else, sound confident and optimistic about your fighter's performance and keep them aware of time left, points disparity, and strategic positioning. IE-- you're up on points, relax, they're gassing, there's 13 seconds, you have other matches, save your energy.

IMO...this is ALL a good coach needs to do. Match prep is done off the comp mat.

An excellent review Georgette! Have you heard Stephan Kesting's podcast on this?

A.D. McClish said...

Great blog! Fortunately, I've had great experiences with my coaches. But I have seen coaches actually "boo" their own fighters while they're in the middle of a match. Really? Do you really think that will motivate them to fight better?

leslie said...

Very, very nice. I love it when they do #9. :P And love your phrasing on #6. And on #5 -- I've competed against girls who have paused mid-match and said to their coach, "I'm trying! She has my leg."

Here's my addition: Don't tell your fighter what not to do. Tell them instead what to do. For example, if you say "Don't grab her arm", my brain is going to hear "grab her arm" first and then has to process how "don't" changes that. (I seem to recall reading somewhere that's how we process Positive directions vs Negative directions [Do This vs. Don't Do That]: hear the Positive part first, and then have to figure out how to make it Negative.) Instead try, "Let go of her arm" or "Leave her arm alone."

A.D. McClish said...

At the last NAGA, there was a coach "booing" his own fighter while she was in the middle of a match. Come on! Do you really think that will motivate her to fight better?!?! I wanted to start cheering for her even though she wasn't on my team!

clinzy said...

Yes, a thousand times! I spend a LOT of time listening to bad coaches at tournaments (since I spend about 15-20 weekends/year running them), and hearing parents/coaches yell awful things at their kids/students makes me cringe. All coaches should have to read this. Then, read it again.

When I'm competing, I want to know how much time is left, when I get my points, and if my opponent is doing something sneaky that I can't see. That's it. I don't want to have a conversation with you about my options from mount (or if I'm mounted, for that matter). I know my options, thanks.

Meerkatsu said...

Awesome post - pretty definitive I would say, covers the lot so coaches out there, read it and take note.

I have loads of comp coaching stories to tell. Two quick examples:

1. My buddy drove all the way from Paris to London to corner his brother who was fighting blue lightweights. Little bruv scored an advantage but the timekeeper racked it up to the wrong guy. Big bruv politely but hurredly informs the scoreheeper he got it wrong. Ref catches him in the corner of his eye and thinks big bruv is tampering with the score, so (allegedly) fails to score a sweep and a mount and several advantages as punishment. Little bruv loses by points of course. Both drive back to London that night, grumbling about dodgy scoring, over heated arguments with the ref and lost chances.

2. Little kid, about 7, in his first big comp. His little face says it all, frightened as hell. Dad right by the side, big big man, face beaming with pride. Little boy loses horribly on points, I mean every move he made was the wrong choice. But daddy, calmly and reassuredly kept coaching "that's great son, yeah keep going, oh wonderful, ok now try moving your hips, oh never mind, try the other way..." etc. Match finishes, Dad is so proud of his son, who on points is a loser, but to me and to the watching crowd, dad and son are both winners.

Soon my kids will start BJJ and I hope I can emulate that awesome dad as a coach at competitions.

fenix said...

Great Post!

My comp experience is very limited, but everything you say makes perfect sense. I've experienced the slow parsing and how it can be hard just to hear what your corner says.

I've certainly heard overexcited corner people shouting the house down, at least they shouted mostly positive stuff...

Elyse said...

Respect the referee, even if you think they suck
Stay off the mat
Stay out of the way

BJJ CailĂ­n said...

I don't know about the don't yell at a referee comment. It depends how you do it. Some referees just suck. Last fall at a GQ this purple belt I was coaching literally almost go screwed out of NINE points. She was tooling her opponent and the ref didn't know what he was doing. I had to yell at him each time she scored to give her the points. He only gave them each time AFTER I yelled at him.

Also, my boyfriend is my coach and I prefer his coaching to anyone else's. He has so much competition experience, I trust him implicitly and really like his coaching style. Although he may yell at you if you aren't listening. Lol!

On that point, I believe it is up to the competitor to learn how to hear their coaches voice above all else. More than once I've had 2, 3, 4, or more different people telling me what to do. But I know whose voice to listen to and it is up to me to make that decision no matter what else is going on in the match or what outside distractions may exist.

Adrenaline would not fly as an excuse for not listening to or not hearing my coach. You either learn to listen, or he will not coach you. It sounds harsh at first, but as a coach it is extremely frustrating when the student doesn't listen. And now being on the coaching side of the situation myself, I completely agree with him.

Sean said...

I don't compete often, but all the points made in this post seem really spot on.

I realize I'm late to this comment party, but BJJ Cailin touched on a good point that I was going to mention-- pick one person on your team to be the corner person.

Particularly at smaller tournaments where mat-side access is easy, several teammates may try and yell instructions simultaneously. They each have the best intentions, but likely are just causing confusion.

The team should establish only one person to be the corner person beforehand.