The mental attributes of a muay Thai trainer are multi-faceted and very subjective to the individual. Being a good coach isn’t just about being a good muay Thai fighter, there are plenty of great fighters who make poor trainers and vice versa.
When I first started out in martial arts, being a trainer seemed like a pretty cool job. I mean, how hard could it be?! Turn up to the gym, teach a bunch of techniques and then go home. It looked easy. However, since then I’ve trained with hundreds of trainers, especially muay Thai trainers. I’ve also began coaching myself, and I’ve discovered that it’s definitely NOT an easy job.
These are some of the mental attributes that I look for in a muay Thai trainer.
The reason I have decided to write separate posts for western trainers and Thai trainers is that they are two very different beasts who serve different purposes, and I wouldn’t expect the same qualities from both sets of individuals.
#1 ABILITY TO ANALYSE
Anything a muay Thai trainer says or does derives from the ability to first analyse a situation and then act upon that analysis. Analysis of a fight, technique, tactics, whatever. If a coach doesn’t have good analysis skills then the feedback or instruction received from him/her won’t be meaningful or constructive.
“Analysis is the art of creation through destruction.” ― P.S. Baber
At the most basic level, a coach should be able to look at a technique and break it down into more understandable and manageable sections for his students to easily digest.
When analysing a technique, the coach should be able to tell you why the technique is used, when it can/cannot be used, what the advantages and disadvantages of using the technique are, how that technique can be countered, variations of the technique, what alternative options are available to you in order to achieve a similar outcome etc etc etc.
Without the ability to analyse, all you have is a technique.
Analysing fights is also of paramount importance. This is where the coach can plan tactics for his fighter by analysing past performances and developing a strategy for an upcoming bout and even giving advice in the corner during a fight.
A large part of being a good muay Thai trainer is the ability to problem solve. Essentially, that’s what a fight is; solving several problems which come thick and fast. In training, problems arise on a daily basis too, and need to be addressed by the coach to enable the student to move forward in their training.
“Without initiative, leaders are simply workers in leadership positions.” – Bo Bennett
One technique doesn’t work the same for everyone; we all have different physical measurements and different fighting styles based on our own attributes. A good muay Thai trainer should be able to spot that something isn’t working for somebody for one reason or another, and be able to adapt that technique to suit the individual.
Similarly, if a student is having trouble learning something in particular, the coach should be able to create a drill to make it easier to absorb.
A muay Thai trainer who isn’t 100% genuine and trustworthy may as well just close up the gym, pack his bags and find a new profession. Anything that a “false” person says and does as a coach will be undermined by their students, perhaps not right away, but it will emerge eventually.
“I find that when you open the door toward openness and transparency, a lot of people will follow you through.” – Kirsten Gillibrand
One of my previous trainers made out that he’d had 50 muay Thai fights in his own country, yet he had no videos or photos of any of them. Really? Needless to say this guy didn’t have a clue what he was doing, and would avoid sparring with anybody who wasn’t a complete beginner.
A trainer like this will have a hidden agenda behind the majority of actions they take and in the things they tell you. They don’t have your best interests at heart and your safety will surely be compromised. One of the types of trainers who will throw you into the ring when you’re not ready just to boost their own ego. Otherwise known as bullies.
Honesty is also a compulsory trait to have as a trainer. If a coach doesn’t know the answer to something then the best thing to do is to own up to that and try to look for the answer elsewhere, not feed you a load of rubbish just so they look knowledgeable.
#4 WILLINGNESS TO EMPLOY INDIVIDUALITY
This isn’t a school classroom… students shouldn’t be treated the same as one another if their full potential is to be reached. Training needs to be adapted for each individual based on their physical and mental strengths and weaknesses.
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Einstein
One thing I’ve seen on many occasions is coaches trying to create a carbon copy of themselves in their students. This is totally counter-productive and very ignorant.
A good muay Thai trainer needs to be able to teach different styles, not just the style that suits him/her.
A muay Thai trainer in the west should understand that not everyone they train wants to be a fighter and not everyone will be as talented as he/she may expect. Some people take longer to grasp things than others, and they’ll progress at their own pace. It’s the coach’s job to recognise that and ensure that the student isn’t left in the dark and doesn’t lose interest.
“Patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.” – Joyce Meyer
One quote that I have struggled with throughout life, and one which I still don’t really like outside of the gym is “don’t judge other people by your own standards”. However, in martial arts, this quote couldn’t be more applicable. While coaches shouldn’t expect things of people that they wouldn’t do themselves, they can’t even expect things of people that they would do themselves. They need to respect their students wishes and help them reach their goals, not their own.
#6 SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE
Coaching shouldn’t be treated as a 9-5 job with no emotional attachment to it. Being socially intelligent is all part of the job; motivating fighters before a bout, empathising with fighters after a loss, interacting and communicating with people in an efficient and thoughtful way. In some ways, they have to learn to council their students when needed.
I’m not saying students should be mollycoddled, but completely detaching oneself emotionally can have negative affects on coach-student relationships.
“Empathy and social skills are social intelligence, the interpersonal part of emotional intelligence. That’s why they look alike.” – Daniel Goleman
Whether the coaches like it or not, they are role models for some of their students and they should set an example to other martial artists, especially when dealing with children.
MENTAL ATTRIBUTES OF A MUAY THAI TRAINER OVERVIEW
The ability to coach certainly doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and is actually a tough undertaking when considering the different dimensions of the task that are gradually uncovered. It’s a high responsibility job which often doesn’t bring much financial reward.
Next, I’ll be writing about the mental attributes of the Thai trainer. And of course, I’ll address the physical attributes needed to succeed in later posts too.
Feel free to add some mental attributes which are important to you in the comments section.Follow MuayThaiScholar