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The Shaj Haque Blog: What makes a good coach?

Shaj Haque is one of Europe’s top flyweight fighters, with success in Cage Warriors and Made 4 The Cage. As a ambassador, we have Shaj on board sharing his wisdom on mixed martial arts. Find him on Twitter: @SupermanShaj From my experiences as an athlete and coach, what I have found is that a coach has a great power over their students. This power is trust. When a person calls you their coach/mentor/instructor, they place their trust in your hands, and as Spiderman says ‘with great power comes great responsibility.’ Unfortunately there are coaches who abuse this trust and are irresponsible. First of all just because someone is a great fighter does not mean they are a great coach, although many great fighters are great coaches. There is a difference between teaching and coaching but they are often thought as the same. Many people judge a coach on their teaching ability, and although teaching does play a large part in coaching, it alone is not everything. Just because one can teach great techniques does not mean there are a great coach. I believe to be a successful fighter you need to find a coach who cares about you as a person as well as an athlete, but also a coach you care about as a person and a mentor. The bond between a coach and fighter is far more important than most think. It also makes winning feel much sweeter and dealing with a loss far easier. An athlete can only go so far trying to coach themselves. No matter how experienced, there are times you just need that other person to make the decisions for you. It is strange but many will know that it is easy to give lots of great advice to someone else but can be very hard to give yourself advice when you are in the same circumstances. I find myself in this position very often as I do both fighting and coaching. I always find myself okay making decisions for the amateur fighters in my team. However, when I am preparing for competition I find it hard to do it for myself. What I found is that as a fighter there are too many nerves, emotions and other external factors which hamper my decision. For instance, I pick up an injury or just wake up not feeling good, I find myself in a dilemma about whether I should train or rest. The way I take that stress off myself is I discuss but always leave the final choice up to my coach. I trust he will make the better decision for me than I would myself. A coach who cares about you will make the decision based on your best interest and not theirs. Other times a coach’s decision can be far more difficult and important. A perfect working example of this is when I was offered a massive opportunity with a catch..... It was a short notice fight against an opponent two weight classes above my usual one. On the surface this seemed impossible to win - well, at least to myself and everyone else. However, I could not make this decision and therefore left it to my coach. He convinced me this was a risk worth taking, that I could win this fight, and even if I lost it would not be a mismatch. Now that places a lot of pressure on the coach as if I did lose badly, which seemed a possibility, it would reflect worse on him. This is where the trust comes in; I had to put my full trust in my coach to do something I did not believe I could. I went on to the win the fight convincingly, which then lead to more great opportunities. Now let’s flip this. If I had gone with my gut instinct and what the majority of people thought, I would not have taken the fight and would, most likely, still be years behind to where I am now. This is just one example of how coaching is far more complex than just teaching. A coach has to know their athlete well, look at the bigger picture, make the hard decisions and also motivate the athlete to achieve. Therefore this reflects the importance of having a trustable coach that cares about you and your well being. Finally, it is not all about who can teach the best moves. A coach is more like a mentor, teacher, counsellor, motivational speaker, a friend, and sometimes family.

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