Martial arts class of different ages and grades

Coaching Philosophy: What is It and How to Develop Your Own

Your coaching philosophy isn’t just a set of aspirational statements that you would like to adhere to, but guiding principles that you do your best to implement in every martial arts class you teach. Defining and documenting your own coaching philosophy will give you clarity when dealing with different situations that may arise over the lifetime of your coaching career.

In your training room you proudly have the values of your club mounted on a huge sign on the wall. These values are your north star that guides all your decision making. As a martial artist, one of these values is probably self control (or something similar). When little Johnny starts pushing one of the other children during a drill in one of your classes, do you turn a blind or intervene?

Your philosophy of coaching is dependent on you knowing yourself and your values. You may think that you don’t have a philosophy but if I asked you your opinion on different scenarios coaching the children in your classes, you are likely to be able to answer what you would do in those different scenarios. Documented or not, this is still your coaching philosophy.

What exactly is a coaching philosophy?

A coaching philosophy is a set of values and principles that guide your behaviour when coaching your martial arts classes. It can incorporate many areas such as preferred communication style, how you make decisions, deliver feedback, set goals, manage behaviour or whether you are a participant or coach centred practitioner.

In 2017 a video of coach Geno Auriemma started circulating of him talking about the values he looks for when recruiting players for his basketball team. In the video he explains that nobody is bigger than the team. If the players sitting on the bench don’t care about what is going on in the game, no matter how good they are, they will not get game time. In listening to Geno you instantly know his priorities when it comes to coaching his players. What are your priories?

Team work is a strong personal value for me too but that does not mean it will necessarily be for you. If fact, I have a total of 7 values that are now the values of my martial arts clubs too. These are team work, growth mindset, self-control, perseverance, modesty and responsibility. I have developed these values over decades of personal reflection and research. I also have an extra value that underpins all the others and this is ‘effort’.

Over the years, the trend outside martial arts has been to move more towards a collaborate style of coaching where the relationship has a more holistic approach. Martial arts clubs seem to be a little behind in this regard and many clubs still hold fast to the military style of delivery, even in their children’s classes. While this way of training holds well for the military, in our clubs we are trying to help students become productive members of society while looking after their own physical and mental well-being.

The emergence of mentoring as a method of coaching opens up new avenues for coaches to build an ethical and sustainable way for martial arts to move past the previous authoritarian approach to a more open and intrinsically motivating experience. If we all taught our children’s classes like the super bad ass John Kreese in the series Cobra Kai, not only would we heavily reduce the number of students we can potentially help, but we may also create the ‘win at al costs’ mindset in our student. This approach has been proven to show that students will take every measure to ensure they win in everything they do, often to the detriment of everything else. To me this is the opposite of what we are trying to develop in our young impressionable students.

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Developing your own coaching philosophy

A personal coaching philosophy is a summary of your beliefs and values in regard to what you think is the purpose of your coaching. Many famous coaches are well known for what they stand for, not just in the figurative sense but also in the literal sense of what behaviours they will allow and what they won’t allow in their sessions. Documenting your own philosophy is a case of getting something down on paper and then reflecting on it over the long term. Every time something in your session makes you think about the areas of coaching you want to focus on, go back to your statement and tweak it.

UK Coaching suggest a good way to get started is by asking yourself these three questions:-

  1. Why did you start coaching?
  2. What brings you the most satisfaction in your coaching?
  3. What is your coaching style?

Your philosophy will often be shaped by your past experiences and education. If your coach used quite an autocratic style of coaching, you may also coach the same way and like to control every details of the children’s training. If your coach uses more of a democratic style of coaching, you may involve your students more in the decision making process and ask more questions than you give instructions. This style is strongly connected with building intrinsic motivation in your students.

John Wooden was born October 14, 1910 and grew up in the state of Indiana in the US. He was one of the most successful coaches of all time though he never discusses winning or losing with his players, his coaching philosophy was “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of the self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”. Wooden’s mission was to help each participant become their best self without trying to measure them against others. Winning and losing is part of any competitive game but that does not mean you need to focus on it.

Coaching Philosophy

Refining your coaching philosophy

It is important that you don’t make too many changes to your coaching philosophy over a short period of time as this may confuse your participants. If one minute you are suggesting that effort is more highly valued that winning but you then heap praise on the individuals that win a team game in class, don’t be surprised if the children are confused. In this scenario they will often learn from your actions rather than what you say. As James A Balwin is quoted as saying “Children have never been good at listening to their elders but they have never failed at imitating them”.

As you get a little old and more experienced, it is likely that over the years you will have many influences. While I hope this article will help you start to define your own philosophy when coaching your martial arts classes, I know where you start will not be where you finish. Your views on what you think is the ‘right’ way for you will change with your experiences.

What I have found over time is that the line between my coaching philosophy and my philosophy in life becomes blurred. The saying ‘How you do anything is how you do everything’ springs to mind. Now pick up a pen and get started on documenting your own coaching philosophy.

2 thoughts on “Coaching Philosophy: What is It and How to Develop Your Own”

  1. Excellent article! I started karate at the age of 50 and started teaching at 58. I bring a long past with me – many experiences and many mentors and coaches in ultra-distance running, ballet and corporate management consulting. Some disastrously destructive and some transformative and an enlightenment in my life. The two polarities are relatively easy to identify but not so easy to distinguish in a dynamic situation in the dojo.

    1. Thanks for the comment Dan. No, you don’t really get a feel for people until you have spent a sustained amount of time. One telltale sign if they do that they say. By this I mean, do they walk their talk 🙂

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