Occasionally being a good coach means saying “no, you cannot do that. Not yet.”
An illustrative story: several years ago, I had a client who we’ll call Bob (not his real name). Bob was, in many ways, your typical aspiring MMA fighter. Male, unmarried, mid-twenties, blue collar job; not a long history of athletic success, but dedicated. He wasn’t a prodigy, but he certainly could have gone somewhere.
Prior to training with me, Bob had been a student at another MMA school, where he had developed some basic skills, and even had one fight. That one fight, it turns out, ultimately wrecked his entire career.
Bob fought with less than a year’s worth of training under his belt. He was horribly out of shape, to the point where he fought a weight class or two heavier than he should have. In short, he wasn’t prepared, and he lost as a result. Not only did he lose, he got his ass kicked.
When Bob came to me, he was hoping to turn things around. He was also, frankly, traumatized. He could hit pads and bags fine, but as soon as we gloved up to do drills or spar, he panicked (which either manifested as hyper-flinching, freezing, or just going hog-wild). Our sessions morphed into a combination of Muay Thai instruction and psychotherapy (something I occasionally think I should seek formal training in). Whatever confidence he had developed through his training was shattered, and I don’t know that he ever recovered it. Eventually, his job took him away from training. I don’t know where he is now.
What’s the point?
It was the responsibility of Bob’s coach to stop him from fighting to early. If his coach had waited and made sure that Bob was really ready, Bob probably would have done fine. He might not have won, but he would have fought well, and come out ready to fight again. Instead, he came out broken, and then I got to pick up the pieces.
There is no empowerment in sending someone into a situation they aren’t ready for. A situation that will challenge them? Absolutely. I put my students in those all the time. I expect them to rise to it. But I won’t put them out there to fail.
I think that sometimes I say “you aren’t ready” students hear “you’ll never be able to do this” or “I don’t believe in you.” Neither one of which are true. When I say “you aren’t ready”, I mean “you aren’t ready.” That’s it. Doesn’t mean you couldn’t be, but you aren’t right now. To draw a parallel to weightlifting, if I say “you cannot deadlift 400lbs”, it’s because you cannot deadlift 400lbs. Could you some day? Sure, who knows? But right now, that ain’t happening.
So part of my job is saying “no”. No, you can’t take that fight. No, you can’t fight yet, period. It’s not personal, and it’s not out of a desire to hold anyone back. Just the opposite. I want my athletes to succeed, so I’ll put them in places where they can.