If Your Coach Is Using Fear To Control You, Find A New Coach

When you’re at the right academy, your instructor should be someone you admire and respect. You should follow his or her instructions and stay disciplined not because you’re worried about what might happen if you didn’t, but because he or she deserves it (and, you know, because that’s what you signed up for when you decided to take their classes).

The problem, though, is that many instructors don’t command that type of respect from their students based on who they are as teachers and people. Maybe they don’t have the experience, the attitude, or whatever other component may be necessary to get what they want from their students. So instead, when they feel like they don’t have the control they desire over their students, they’ll use another tactic: fear.

The ability as an authority figure to instill fear in students is valuable. If you’re chronically late to class, you should be scared of your professor’s wrath and the hundred burpees that come with it. If you’re not paying your gym dues, you should be scared of your coach telling you not to come back until you’re financially squared away. If you’re harassing or bullying your teammates, you should be scared that your coach will whoop your butt, kick you out of the gym, or both. Having a healthy fear of what might happen if you don’t listen to your coach is good; feeling like you have to walk on eggshells around your coach because he might abuse that ability to instill fear is not.

While, yes, you should follow the expectations your coach sets for you as one of his students, it’s important to be know the difference between guidelines and micromanagement. If your coach sets a minimum number of classes you have to attend if you want to compete at a certain tournament, that’s a guideline. If your coach is threatening to kick you out because you trained at another gym’s free open mat, that’s micromanagement. Sometimes, the line between the two can be very fine indeed, but if you really want to find out which one it is, ask yourself who this rule is benefiting and why it’s in place.

In the first example, your coach and academy will benefit from being represented by a competitor who puts in the time and work necessary to do well at a tournament, but ultimately, the rule is in place to ensure that you do your best and stay disciplined leading up to the competition. In the second example, you’re kept away from the free experience of training with new people and new rolling styles, which may ultimately be detrimental to your progress. But maybe your instructor fears that you’ll end up liking the gym you visit more than your home academy and end up taking your business there instead. Rather than having an honest conversation with you and trusting your intentions, he chooses to go nuclear over a relatively small point of contention. The only party that benefits here is your coach — he gets the guarantee that he’ll continue to get your money and that there’s (theoretically) no chance of you realizing that the grass is greener on another academy’s lawn. You, on the other hand, are now faced with a tough decision with no truly favorable outcome.

Once a coach who relies on fear as a control tactic knows that it’ll work on you, he’s not going to stop. Everything you do that he doesn’t approve of is going to be met with a disproportionately harsh punishment, such as being suspended or expelled from the gym, not getting promoted, or even being threatened with physical danger when you roll with him. The manipulative type of people who tend to control people using fear will be good at figuring out exactly what you’re worried about, and they’ll use it against you. This is true not only in emotionally abusive relationships between romantic partners and family members, but also between students and coaches.

If you constantly feel like you’re walking on thin ice around your instructor, get out of that gym. Your academy should be a learning environment, and if your instructor isn’t someone you trust to have your best interests at heart, you need to find a different one. Your training is going to suffer at the hands of someone who tries to make you his puppet. You owe it to yourself, your emotional (and possibly physical) well-being, and your future in jiu-jitsu to find a coach you want to follow, not one who keeps you by his side with a short leash and choke collar. Once you get out of that toxic environment and find an instructor who keeps you disciplined without bullying you into submission, you’ll wonder why you stuck around as long as you did.


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