This weekend, I was a little under the weather, and watched the Ultimate fighter season 5, almost in it's entirety. I was wondering how the heck BJ Penn got skunked so bad in the first round. Last night I was watching the prodigy fight Matt Hughes and I thought back to all of the coaches I've had. I don't think this is the case with BJ (after some reflection), but some (not all) of the greatest natural athletes make some of the worst coaches.
My high school wrestling Coach was a GIANT man, by the time he was my coach he was very fat, but you could tell that he had been a big strong kid in his younger days. He was mostly full of shit, but even taking the stories he told with a giant salt lick, you could tell that he'd been a pretty good small college wrestler. He absolutely stunk as a coach. He'd show a few moves and counters, and get you in shape for wrestling. He didn't spend any time on footwork, balance, set-up or any fundamentals. Because he'd never needed them. He'd always been able to overpower anyone he'd ever wrestled, and had been reasonably successful. He couldn't understand why that wasn't the case with everyone else.
The one of the best coaches I've had was my college rugby coach. He was (and still is) a detail guy. He was a good athlete, and able to play the game at a high level, but not so overpowering that he didn't have to execute. We were always prepared, and understood what we needed to do to win any game. Most of the time we executed the game plan and won.. occasionally we didn't, but we always knew what it would take, and where it went wrong. It is important for a coach to be able to play at, or ideally a level above where he's coaching. They have to have credibility with the athletes, and have to be able to execute/demonstrate skills and drills to reach the athletes. The man in question had all of those abilities, if he went to coach a men's program, I'd come out of retirement tomorrow to play for him.
Having watched BJ Penn fight, he has an incredible physical ability. He has a combination balance and flexibility like no one I have ever seen, so it made me wonder if such a natural could fall into the trap taking the fundamentals "as read," but I don't think that's the case. He's also a well rounded fighter. Well rounded guys don't overlook fundamentals. Also he seems smart enough that I don't think he'd overlook the details in coaching those guys. Do I know for sure that he doesn't fall into this category.. I don't have any idea. I wasn't on the mats with those guys. The only people who really know how good (or bad) a coach is are the athletes under him/her. We can't really even guess because other than one guy, I'd never seen any of the guys fight before, so we don't know where they started, or how much they improved. Also, the record was a little misleading. He had a few guys flat out give away fights, not listening to his advice. Which could be a matter of ego overriding coaching, or just a coach that either doesn't have the time, or ability to reach a particular athlete. With this fighter.. I think it was the former. What I am interested in is seeing Matt Hughes' camp. He's a guy know for being freakishly fit, and has said flat out "My guys will be in better shape than Matt Serra's guys." I'm interested to see how they get there.