Having had the good fortune of training at many different academies and gyms, I have found that there are two distinct and important roles that the person in charge must play: instructor and coach. An instructor imparts information and knowledge; they give us data that is necessary to get better at grappling. A coach, redundantly, coaches us. A coach inspires us, gives us the encouragement needed to dig deep during a difficult match and on a long term is actually more important than an instructor. Of course, we can have individuals who play both rolls well, but it is important not to get them confused.
A good instructor can analyze techniques to a point where they can help people truly understand the inner workings of them. A good instructor has an innate understanding of what it takes to improve upon a technique. These qualities can be extremely valuable if applied correctly.
A good coach on the other hand can analyze a competitor to the point where they can help that competitor truly understand their own inner workings. A good coach has an innate understanding of what it takes to improve upon a human being. These qualities are just as valuable if not more so than those of a good instructor.
One thing I’ve seen to hold true is that a big part of being a good instructor is being a good technician. A good instructor may not necessarily win matches, but if you ask them about moves that they are familiar with, they will be able to explain every little detail of those moves, and will be able to make it so that you are able to do those very same moves in a short period of time.
On the other hand, a good coach is often someone who also competes actively and often successfully. These are individuals who want to inspire their athletes to strive for greatness. My current coach goes out of his way to make sure that every person he trains builds upon the skills for which they are best suited, not necessarily the skills that he (the coach) values. This is important because rather than try to mold people into different versions of himself, he tries to mold people into better versions of themselves.
Good instructors very often have students whose games look very similar to theirs the instructor’s. This is not necessarily WRONG, as that game may be a very effective one that wins matches, but on the long run it may be limiting. A good coach on the other hand tries to explore the human potential in each individual athlete.
Having a person teaching you who is a good coach and a good instructor is preferable. It is not always going to be the case, and that is okay. The most important aspect is the intention of the coach. If they want you to succeed for the intrinsic value of your happiness, then you’ve found something special regardless of their skill set and how it applies to their instruction and coaching.
Emil Fischer is an active blue belt competitor under Pablo Angel Castro III training with Strong Style Brasa and is sponsored by Pony Club Grappling Gear. For more information, other articles, and competition videos check out his athlete pages at www.facebook.com/emilfischerbjj and www.twitter.com/Emil_Fischer