Instructor / Coach / Sensei - The term “instructor or coach” should only be used to signify someone, who after years of dedicated practice and service, has reached a comprehensive understanding of the traditions, philosophy and techniques that define their martial art; is able to articulate and demonstrate exceptional technical virtuosity; and consistently embodies the highest ideals in their actions in all areas of their chosen discipline.
Coaches Responsibility – The first responsibility of the instructor is to impart knowledge to the student. That’s after all why the student is there in the first place, to learn. Further, the coach is obligated to teach in a certain fashion, based on the needs of the student. If the student is a child, for example, the teaching must be more concrete and more organised, each step building on the previous step. If the student is an adult, however, a whole different approach should be taken. Adults learn best on a “need to know” basis. Thus knowing why the adult student wants to learn martial arts becomes paramount in how the student is approached. In addition, personalities play a big part in how students are taught.
To Guide – In Japanese, the instructor/coach is known as sensei, which literally translated, means “the one who goes before.” With the rank comes the responsibility and in this case, the responsibility is to guide the student. Having someone who’s there for him or her, who’s actually been through exactly the same thing before, is comforting and immensely helpful to the student. If handled correctly, it can mean the difference between whether or not a student continues in martial arts or becomes one of the multitudes of martial arts dropout. If an instructor believes that martial arts are good for people then they must, or should be there to guide students through these personal trials and tribulations. It’s crucial for the student and its part of a coach’s responsibility, too.
To Lead by Example – Since they’re in the business of giving advice, instructors have to lead by example. What respect would anyone have for a minister or priest whose ethics were not up to per? By the some token, then, an instructor who preaches to students to keep training, but doesn’t make the effort to be coached themselves is not going to have students paying attention for long. A coach who advises students to keep clam if a sparring partner gets a little heavy handed, yet comes back viciously when the same thing happens to themselves, is not leading by example. This is especially true for children. The old maxim “do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work in the dojo.
To Critique Without Criticism – Here’s where most coaches fall down on the job. Sometimes it comes from lack of experience [age], or just a lack of maturity [ego], but it can make or break a relationship with a student. “Is it more important to point out everything that a student is doing wrong all at once, or best to just give that student one or two things to work on at a time?” of course, if you try to tell students everything they are doing wrong all at once, they will just get overwhelmed and frustrated and want to quit. Yes, eventually, students should know how they could improve in all different areas of the art, but no certainly not all at once.
How information comes across is also very important. If the tone is angry, disgusted, or belittling in any way, the very heart of what matters in martial arts – building self-esteem – is destroyed. Criticism has to be put in very positive terms. Instead of saying “don’t look down,” say, “Look at your imaginary opponent.” Instead of saying, Don’t drop your hands,” say “Keep your hands up.” Then, reassure students that you have confidence in their ability to meet the expectation by saying, for example, “That’s right,” “Good,” and so on. This is an excellent way to build skills without destroying egos in the process – a delicate balance for sure, but something for which the coach must take responsibility.
To Promote Growth – Promoting growth in positive life skills is a vital aspect of the instructor/student relationship. In other words, as a coach, your obligation is not only to teach Karate, but also to teach your students how to teach. That involves bringing them to a point when ego and maturity-wise they can make a positive contribution to another’s life and it involves watching carefully to assure that no “fatalities” occur. I don’t mean physically, but just as important, psychologically. It’s helping them learn how to identify needs and use constructive criticism and build instead of destroy. But that’s teaching the teacher – a level up from where we started. An instructor’s job is not to teach someone how to kick and punch, though that’s certainly a big part of what coach’s do. An instructor has a larger responsibility to help the student become all he or she can be. Every child won’t be a first-placed kumite competitor, every black belt won’t make the national team, but each and every one can become a better human being as well as a better martial artist and that’s where the student’s responsibilities come in.