What is Coachability?

When people talk about many great fighters and jiu jitsu competitors, they very often use a specific word: coachable. Coachability is considered one of the most valuable attributes that any competitor can have. What is coachability? Why is it important? And if you are not currently coachable what can you do to become coachable?

For starters, let’s talk about what coachability is: coachability is the ability to process and execute instructions, specifically while under pressure in a competition. Being coachable means that as your coach is issuing commands you are following those commands without thinking about it, simply trusting that the commands are good and applicable in that situation.

One of my jiu jitsu instructors once described coaching MMA fighters as being roughly equivalent to playing a video game. The better the console/system, the quicker and more accurate the response time to his commands. A good coach sees and knows exactly what needs to be done in that given moment and knows exactly what his competitor can do to accomplish that.

Being coachable doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to respond with robotic precision. For example: your coach tells you to apply a triangle, but you feel the arm bar is a better choice given the direction of force that your opponent is applying, so you go ahead and switch to the arm bar and win by arm bar, you haven’t failed, you merely made a decision on the fly that paid off.

In most cases, this path isn’t always the smartest one. Chances are your coach knows more about whatever it is they are coaching you in than you do. Chances are their instructions are worth far more to you than your instincts in that moment. But you should understand that being momentarily autonomous isn’t the end of the world.

A good coach will tell you what you need to do in any given moment, a great coach will know what you are inclined to do and help you use that to win. I’ve learned from great instructors who were terrible coaches and amazing coaches who are only decent instructors.

What if you’re not coachable? The vast majority of white belts aren’t exactly quick to respond to intelligent instructions. Take video of your matches and find moments where you ignored instructions, and drill those situations in the gym so that the next time you’re in a situation like that you are able to respond intelligently. Talk to your coach; find out what you need to do to be more coachable. Willingness to BE coachable is very important.

For those of you out there who have found yourself to be coachable, when did you become coachable? And what did you do to accomplish this? Coachability isn’t easy but it is crucial to success on the long run.


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