There are many attributes that can make someone a good coach but what makes a truly great one? In the age of social media coaches have come from out of the shadows of the gym and into the limelight. Guys like Greg Jackson, Rafael Cordeiro, John Kavanagh and Mark Dellagrotte are gaining followings of their own and the wisdom they are imparting to their athletes is appreciated by many more than just their direct students.

If you are training already or thinking of taking up a sport then what should you look for in your coach? Which qualities should all good coaches have and can your current coach take you all the way to the top in a combat sport?

Many people especially those with little or no experience will look at a coaches fight career as an indicator of a coaches ability however this has time and time again proven not to be a good indicator of ability to impart knowledge. In my own time training and competing I rubbed shoulders with many great fighters, some who went on to become top guys in their field but years later they didn’t turn out to be great coaches. Whereas some of the guys who were not the best fighters went on to be excellent coaches. I don’t think this is an indicator either for, or against, the ability of a coach to get the best out of a student is neither augmented or diminished by his own fight experience. I do think a small level of fight experience is almost certainly necessary for a coach to understand what an athlete goes through in training and into the fight itself. However I don’t believe they need to have been a champion or otherwise. In some cases it may help and in others maybe not. Some of the worlds top coaches such as Mark Dellagrotte, John Kavanagh and the late great Cus D’Amato, who is one of the most quoted boxing coaches of all time and didn’t even get a professional license, all had very limited careers as fighters but went on to produce some of the worlds best!

A better indicator than their own career as to how good a coach they are is who they have taught before. Albeit this is not comprehensive and every great coach will have one fighter kick start their coaching credentials so to speak, it certainly a decent indicator of the coaches ability if he has a good crop of students who excel in their field. While John Kavanagh has a superstar student in Conor McGreggor he also has a whole legion of other excellent, skilled fighters at SBGi in Dublin. The same would be true of Firas Zahabi in Montreal, Greg Jackson in New Mexico and Rafael Cordeiro in Los Angeles.

One thing to remember though is a coach who has not a single fighter (yet!) could still turn out to be an excellent coach and you might be his first major success – so you can’t rely on this either.

In my opinion this is the #1 attribute of any coach. A truly excellent knowledge of the sport they teach is fundamental. However as a beginner this may well be very difficult to ascertain as to their depth of knowledge so I’ve balanced this with the attribute of “Analysis”.
Knowledge is acquired whereas having a truly analytical mind will have led you to knowledge….
A coach who blindly has followed his teacher may have a degree of knowledge but unless he has questioned everything along the way, he will not be a truly excellent coach. The best coaches have probably been through many levels and discarded many teachings before they found the path they are on now. They will also constantly be looking to improve their own understandings and will have little regard for doctrine. If you can spot this in a prospective coach you may have found your guru!

A great coach will inspire confidence and be a natural leader. A good coach may well have three of the above but a great one must have this attribute! You will see that a great coach is a leader of men not a follower. He will be successful in his life and people will want to listen to what he says on more subjects than combat sports….If you want a great coach then this is a key factor. Leaders do not follow others even when they were learning, they have a natural inclination toward being the leader. Although they will have had to have an open mind to learn from the best they could find, a leader is always willing to grow, improve, learn more, and change their ways.

Knowing is fundamental to being a great coach but being able to impart that knowledge is what makes them a coach. A great communicator will find the way their students listen and know each student might learn differently. If your coach only has one way to impart his knowledge maybe he can only take you so far? Communication is a key skill for a coach!

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