High level competitors in any sport have a gruelling training regiment. That might seem incompatible with the inclusive feel of most martial arts schools, where everyone is encouraged to join and train to the best of their physical abilities.

Does it make sense to invest in a competition team and training that would exclude most of your members? In this article we explore the benefits of doing so and how it can help your academy prosper.

Why build a competition team

Having a successful competition team can be a very valuable marketing tool. In a survey we previously ran, two factors were the most important for signing up new members: the level of instruction (38%) and the proximity of the gym (32%).

What better proof is there of the level of instruction, than consistently getting good results at tournaments?

If you have the accolades yourself, you can use it to promote your gym. However, not everyone can be a world beater – Only a few people medal each year at the highest level.

Building a strong competition team is a direct showcase of your abilities as a coach. This is especially true when appealing to experienced practitioners of the art. What stronger advertisement can you have, than constantly winning (local) competitions?

Leading the competition team

Recruiting competitors

In the Netherlands, Jiu Jitsu is seen as a hobby. Most coaches have full-time jobs and teach two or three nights a week. All students are treated as hobbyists.

The Brazil the culture is completely different – The coaches train full-time, and so do many of the competitors. One of the most important lessons I have learned there, is to differentiate between competitors and recreational practitioners.  If you put everybody through the same training, you will lose twice: recreational practitioners will churn out, and your competitors will lose in competition.

How do you find competitors to represent your team? I’ve seen three main methods: try-outs, scouting and opt-ins.

Try-outs will usually occur once a year and it will decide who is allowed to enter the competition team based on their level and effort. Keenan’s Legion team is using this method to select their competition team.

Scouting is another method, used by teams like Atos and DreamArt. They will scout successful competitors, usually from (poor states within) Brazil.

Smaller teams generally have people opt-in to competition training: If you want to join the competition team, just show up to competition classes. This is the method we use in my team in Brazil.

The coach

If you want to lead a successful competition team, it’s important you have experience competing on a high level. It doesn’t mean you need to be a black belt world champion. There’s only a very small group of people in the world with that title.

It does mean you should have pursued a competitive career and that you have experience training like high-level competitors do. Your knowledge about the rules and technical developments within the sport should also be up to date.

If these things do not describe you, don’t worry. You could have one of your coaches lead the competition team if he or she does fit the above criteria. Another option would be hiring a coach from outside of your current team. I regularly have my Brazilian teammates and coaches over to help me with my classes.

Competing

I’ve seen many ways teams try to get their students to compete. Paying their registration fees, paying win bonuses, providing free gear to competitors. These can help, but one method towers above them: leading by example

If the coach of the competition team is regularly competing, so will the students. This is where having a high level competitor as a coach is extra useful. If someone close to your students, following the same training, is winning competitions, it will prove to your students that they can win too.

… a breakthrough success is followed by a massive bloom of talent

The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle

Competition class structure

The structure below could be applied to recreational practitioners, but there are two big differences: the level of freedom, and the level of intensity. Both should be higher for competition classes.

This is the structure I like to use, based on my own experiences training in one of Brazil’s strongest teams and talking to athletes from the big competition teams:

A quick warm-up to get ready and avoid injuries

Competitors should work on strength training outside of class, so no need to focus on that. Warm-ups for the competition class should generally be quick and simple. Learn more about how to structure your warm-ups.

Competition focused drills

This part can be filled in rather liberally. Drills can be done individually, with each student drilling what he or she wants to work on. It can be drills taken from the regular curriculum, maybe with some extra details and follow-ups, or it can be competition specific drills.

Competition-specific drills take situations that occur often in competition and emphasize how to score points / not concede points while focusing on the competition rule-set.

Positional sparring

Well regarded Jiu Jitsu coach John Danaher starts the rolling section of every training from a set position. First round mount, second round turtle, third round closed guard, etc.

Focusing on specific positions allows competitors to gain experience rapidly in specific areas they might not be exploring as much when free sparring.

Free sparring

The fun part. Start on the feet and keep going until the timer says stop. You can play with the number of rounds and the round time. When I’m training in Brazil for example, generally there will be five eight-minute rounds of sparring, but every Friday we do 10 rounds of 10 minutes. Great way to push your gas tank and willpower.

Q&A

A part of training that most big competition teams apply, consciously or unconsciously, is the Q&A. At DreamArt the athletes start every training with a knowledge exchange. At The House FC we usually address questions after the training. At my own team I’ve added a weekly Q&A session at the end of the Saturday class.

Bonus tip: divide by weight classes. This is something they do really well at Cicero Costha. Light athletes spar with other light athletes, and heavy athletes spar with other heavy athletes. For self-defense purposes it’s important to know how to deal with bigger opponent’s, but for competitions it’s not as important. Of course, winning absolutes is fun, but a competitor should do the large majority of his training with people in a range of 10kg around his weight.

Marketing your competition team

Now that your training is in place and you are incentivizing your athletes to go to competitions, results will follow. When your athletes are constantly standing on top of the podium, it will be noticed. Using social media will make the impact of the medals even larger. It’s a great base for content. Podium and action pictures for Instagram and Facebook, competition highlights and technique breakdowns for YouTube. Learn more about how to use social media for martial arts schools.

During competition, you should focus on coaching and possibly competing. Make sure you have someone filming and taking pictures. The higher the quality, the better. You could higher professional photographers and video-makers, but generally a student that is not competing should suffice.

Conclusion

Setting up a competition team is by no means an easy task. Setting up a successful competition team even less so. The rewards are great though. Like the cliché goes: “the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second-best time is now.” There is no better proof of your skills as an instructor than having your team winning competitions.

This article is not meant to make you neglect your recreational members. They will always make up the majority of your students. It is meant to show you the value of having a strong competition team to compliment your regular curriculum. Let us know if and how you set up your competition team in the comments!

Published by Daniel de Groot

Daniel is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructor and active competitor. Since obtaining his master degree, he splits his time between his team in the Netherlands and Brazil, where he teaches at one of Brazil's premier academies, The House FC.

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