by Don Heatrick
I’ve been coaching a long time now, both a Muay Thai coach, and a strength and conditioning coach. And I’ve obviously been coached myself.
I’ve also been privileged to watch how top Muay Thai coaches work with their fighters, and speak to them about what they do and why.
I’ve seen examples of fantastic coaching, but also coaching that sabotages the fighter – even when intentions were good.
When I was competing in the amateur Muay Thai world championships in Bangkok back in 2007, at the time I didn’t have a Muay Thai coach. I was self representing.
A bit weird I know, and perhaps that’s a story for another time.
BACK TO THE STORY
But I was given the choice of all the national team coaches, to prepare and corner me for my fights. And I choose the awesome Vinnie Deckon, who at the time was coaching in London at KO Gym in Tottenham.
Vinnie had seen me fight many times on the amateur shows they hosted in Tottenham. Fights that had led to my selection for the national team.
And Vinnie had always been very supportive of me.
He knew me better than any of the other coaches in the National team, we had a rapport together and I trusted him.
His Muay Thai knowledge is second to none, but I also felt that he was a true coach.
While fighting at the world championships, Vinnie prepped me for each fight, and cornered for me too.
To say I learned a lot is an understatement. And I’ll forever be in debt to Vinnie, not just for how he nurtured me to perform at my best in three successive fights, but also how he taught me to coach.
Coaching isn’t just about the physical. As anyone who’s stepped into the ring can attest to, it’s about 90% psychological.
And this takes someone with empathy, who listens, and can read body language to get the best out of a fighter.
It’s as much about what you don’t say, as what you do say.
Coaches should act as a filter, to remove all the chatter and clutter that’s clouding the priority focus.
A coaches knowledge and understanding, along with a more observational perspective of the fighter’s current situation, can turn fortunes around.
But on the flip side, I’ve seen coaches bombard fighters with instructions from all directions. Only to dilute the priority, game-changing instructions that could have won the fight.
I’ve tried cornering fighters while other coaches have spewed 10, 15, 20 instructions over my shoulder at the fighter between rounds. This doesn’t help. It’s the Pareto rule again. Give the fighter the 20% of the instructions that will achieve 80% of the result. Not the other way around, or you get paralysis by analysis.
It’s was only when these other coaches ran out of ideas and quietened down, that I could get into the fighter and change their fortune. And this was by simply giving two or three critical things to do each round, that’s it.
You can read more in the article A Few Good Words.
Task clarity is key. Whether that’s during the fight itself, or during training. Ticking off the coaches instructions one by one, in priority order, should move you closer to the goal.
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN
So take a look at your training if you’re a fighter, or how you interact with your fighters if you’re a coach, and see what you can strip away. Remove the distractors to reveal the gold.
Vinnie Deckon helped me to perform my best in Bangkok. And he did this by targeting my focus on what was needed, allowing me to forget about the rest.
As a result, despite having a fight record in single-figures, I beat fighters with records in the double-figures. And I eventually only just lost out in a split decision to the defending two-times world champion from Russia – who had a triple-figure fight record.
I have no doubt that I wouldn’t have achieved what I did in that Championship, or as a coach ever since, had it not been for what I learned from Vinnie Deckon. And sincerest thanks to him.
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