How do you treat the competition team?
The subject that we are going to talk about is often the dream of many Jiu Jitsu teachers: the competition team. I have a competition team that I love, and that I really take care of. However, it can often be harmful to your business. So, we’re going to take a look at how to make the competition team something that doesn’t conflict with your business, because this is what we’ve been defending here the whole time: Jiu Jitsu for everyone.
1. Competition is not for everyone.
There are few people today who can fit into this competing profile of Jiu Jitsu, because it’s a huge commitment with strenuous training for many hours and demands a lot of travel. In this way, a person who has a regular job, for example, is already discarded. Traveling to compete in the Europeans, Pan-American, world championship and others that happen worldwide today is simply not feasible. The competition team is increasingly focused on professional athletes, so we have to treat these Jiu Jitsu professionals in a different way to our regular students.
2. Separate the training times
The first thing to do is to separate the training times of the competitor – they can’t be mixed with any other profile, even advanced students. The competition athlete, for the most part, often doubles the workout – he trains twice a day. In the second practice, however, which is often at night, he can train at the pace of the advanced students. The training is more technical, he trains to improve his technique, and it isn’t performance-oriented like the morning competition training. The hours of the morning are not commercial – it’s a time when the academies usually have a window. So, 10 am is the time of the competition class in my gym because no other class would fit except the one that is totally focused on Jiu Jitsu. We then defined this time as competition training and it works very well. For many years my competition team trained at noon. I understood that this time was quite crowded for the regular students who came at lunchtime, but that was impractical when there was the competition team occupying that space. Changing the time helped everything: the competitive athletes who train earlier have more rest before a second workout, and the gym is busier because I have a new class time which has more than 50 students. Therefore, the division of times is essential to do a good job for the competition team if that’s what you want. That’s the way to proceed.
3. Athlete Scholarships
One of the things that happens a lot with the competition athlete is that he is part of a profile that doesn’t work and is totally geared towards Jiu Jitsu. If he doesn’t work, he often doesn’t have the money to pay for the gym, and a relationship that I consider to be very harmful occurs. The student who doesn’t pay is a burden to the academy. It may be a booster for the competition team, but if that number of students starts to grow and receives a lot of attention, it’s difficult to create that balance. This student will want to also train at night time with those that pay, also filling out the tatami. The ideal is not to work with a free-exchange system, but to try other ways to finance them so that these students can train in my gym. This can be done with the products, dedicating a part of the proceeds to the competition team because the team undoubtedly helps with marketing, and how your school is shown to the Jiu Jitsu community.
I am aware that Alliance has grown a lot by the results it has had, so it is an important part of marketing to direct a certain amount of money to take care of some of these athletes. This is fair, as opposed to simply giving away a scholarship to attract a student, as this will create a problem ahead – that student may leave the gym for some reason and there will remain a feeling that he owes you something or least some gratitude because he was helped at some moment. This can often create a lot of problems within the team, and the competition team already has too many problems to deal with.
4. Administering the ego
One of the most serious problems of the competition with all these talents and champions is how to manage these egos together on the mat. That’s a science, but in a nutshell…how should that be done? Never stroke the ego of a champion, and never put him on a pedestal before others. You should never differentiate an athlete just because he wins – he’s not better than an athlete who tries just as hard but doesn’t have the same result. Clearly, you want all the students to be champions but if you start to concentrate on that student, he can turn into a rotten apple. He feels more important than the others and then conflict happens with a speed that’s imperceptible, getting very difficult to control. Not feeding the athlete’s ego is critical if a team is to be built. Making them all understand they depend on each other for evolution is critical – for the team to grow cohesively, with an identity and with everyone being a part of it. This union is what will give strength in the end. No team goes to a championship where everyone wins at once, it does not exist. However, whoever is in that group, within that champion energy has a lot of chance to succeed; if not at that time, in the near future. So, when people are treated the same way, and everyone receives the same encouragement and attention, the chance to produce champions is much greater than turning the energy back to one. To do so is to put him as the solitary star of the gym and this model doesn’t work. It makes it very difficult to give the gym and the competition team longevity. Right from the beginning, everyone must be treated equally.
Another important issue is commitment. What is the commitment required of the student to be part of the competition team? Being part of this team is a level above the advanced student – it isn’t just anyone who can. Therefore, it’s necessary to define under what rules the student will be allowed to come to that team, what is the operation of the team and what type of commitment is required. Can this student train twice a week or does he have to train every day if he really wants to be a part? Of course, there are students who train long enough and are advanced. They like to train hard but are not professional competitors – that said, they can improve the quality of training, so it’s beneficial he comes to this training. For the student who really wants to be a Jiu Jitsu professional and to really be part of the competition team. What should his commitment be? These rules have to be applicable for everyone or for nobody at all. Around 2009, when our team really started to grow, there were already a lot of top people training here. Sometimes Sergio Moraes was banned because he was late, and no one could be late for class – all the students were on time. If they did not come, they knew they were going to sit on the bench. Sergio came from Cohab on the other side of the city and I knew he was getting traffic and that he was delayed, but the rule was for everyone. If he, or Michael Langhi, or anyone else were late, they were not allowed to train because the rule was for everyone. Obviously, the students often arrived and were very annoyed at not being able to train, but deep down they understood that this dynamic is what made the team strong. This was just a piece of that dynamic, but it was what required them to be committed to everyone. This will cause you to keep order regardless of how many stars you have on the mat. There were times when the team had more than twenty black belts training, several of them world champions, and all followed the same rule as a purple belt. There was no feeding of the athlete’s ego. There was an encouragement, of course, but for everyone. I understand that this level of equality was one of the great factors that led us to build what we have today.
6. Class structure
The structure of the competition class obviously differs from a normal group class because it isn’t technical – it prepares athletes for situations they will meet in the competition and makes them train them often. Of course, you have the technical part and you will be taught new technique, but it is not the main focus of the lesson. The main focus is to make students develop strong positions that they can use in competitions. That said, the dilemma arises because what is strong for one person is not strong for the other. That’s exactly it, there is a student who is good at guard, a student who plays on the top, a student who is good at take downs etc. You have to create a structure that meets all these strengths of the students because that is what the competitor should work on: what is best and what he will use at the time of the competition. What he needs to know from the technical side to evolve the other side of him that is not yet developed needs to be learned elsewhere in another class. For this reason, the competitive student does more than one training per day.
The focus of the lesson is much more on training than on technical detail. People sometimes get lost in this because they want to make the competition class extremely technical and lose the temperature of what the student will find in the competition. Obviously, this is very costly for the athlete who can’t perform well even though he is as technical as he is.
When setting up a competition class, one must try to create the scenarios that will take place in the championship and train these points as efficiently as possible. That is when the instruction will come with your technical knowledge and your experience of what the student should do in a certain situation that is being worked on.
The focus is on strategy. For this reason, there is no need to cover all the Jiu Jitsu scenarios and to teach technique in detail because he will learn in other classes and also, obviously, in the individual development of each athlete. The competition class has to be geared to prepare the student for the reality of the championship.
Today we have a long calendar of championships. I like to make my students compete as much as possible because the rhythm of competition is fundamental – they come to important championships not feeling the weight of them. They’ll feel that the important championship is just one more where the student will fight with the same people he has already fought with. This takes some of the weight off and helps him fight better. When it is possible to dissociate the emotional side, the performance is always better and the more one competes, the more emotional control is acquired – then the result comes.
There is the calendar, the main championships and you will put the student to compete as much as possible. In the main championships, you will organize the camps, where your entire team will be focused but training for that championship should not last long: eight weeks, ten at the most, which is where you can reach the physical peak. To bring the team together even more, with the ten-day camp, it’s possible to bring in more people from outside if the team has the size so that they join in the energy and understand that they are competing for something greater than just them. This gives a lot of strength to the competitor as well. There is, therefore, a much greater purpose than simply wanting to be champion. The team serves to propel this student, but this will only happen if this structure is led in the way we approach here.
8. Individual strategy
One very important thing about working on a competitor is the individual strategy. Each one has a different game, some like to do half guard, to play on top, to do take-downs etc. The coach’s eye is on how to identify that in the student and how to help them have the best strategy for the technical ability he has. This look is what makes the student evolve and gives him confidence that his game is enough to be champion. I remember a question from our super championship Bernando Faria – he asked if it was possible to be world champion doing only half guard. Everyone knows Bernando’s half-guard and knows how efficient it is. He was not only a champion, he was a five-time world champion doing the same game that everyone knew, and nobody could defend. In this sense, encouraging what the student does well so he can perform. I made sure that Bernardo continued to develop in other areas so that he had a complete Jiu Jitsu and could today be the excellent teacher that he is, but this was done while enhancing his strong points. Encouraging someone to do what they do best is what makes a champion – it’s much more important than trying to bring up the weakness; doing this, he just becomes average in everything, and middle has never been champion.
This is how I always treated my athletes and I wanted to share it with you here. If that’s your dream and your desire, this is the way to have a very successful competition team!
See you soon!