NAGA New England Championships…A Coaches Experience

I wanna say a few things and I can’t promise that this will be in any order, make sense, flow or not shoot off on some crazy tangent or something but I will do my best :) That being said I wanted to share the experience I had this weekend at NAGA New England as a Coach, competitor and give some thoughts and my opinion on competition and the roll it can play on a individuals game and how it can help them progress faster.

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Over the last few months I have seen a lot of changes in many aspects of what I consider my life. Some changes have been personal and decisions I feel needed to be made for myself, whether it be to make me a better person, coach, instructor, competitor, mentor or role model,  I feel like the decisions and changes have been happening rapidly for me and I make them daily doing the things I feel need to be done, maintained, or augmented in order to continue on a path Ive set for myself and ensuring I don’t lose focus on the end goals and the destination.

I have seen changes on many levels of the team as well. Some are changes I have made, some are changes I have seen with in the students themselves; I have seen a change in the faces that are on the mats in the past year, some good and some bad, it is funny, I used to always joke when people left as a way to make a hard situation easier to think about and say laughing  “the people we want to stay leave…and the people we wish would go stay…” in the recent months that has proven to be the exact opposite and the trimming the fat so to speak off the lean meat that is the core of the academy has been one of the best changes to date. We have sen old faces that were hard to see go come back and glad to see others so far from sight they aren’t on the radar anymore, there are still people missing we wish to see back and I think in time we will (Saari, Hammel, Mike K, Berman, Kelvin, Walter, Jay Pope, to name just a few of MANY… {Don’t kill me if your name isn’t here I threw out examples, if you left here on a good note we miss you :) ]) bring them back, well at least hopefully some of them, but even with some core people writing parts of their lives in other parts of a map and focusing on priorities in their own world, I don’t remember a time when things seemed to be running so well with the people coming into the school and how hard and focused people seem to be when they are here on the mats. Yes, there are always areas for improvement, thats true for anything and anyone, but I see the effort being put in; I see more passion in the training, especially from the people I expect to see it from, my higher belts, the ones that say they want more and lately for the most part those words have been followed by actions not just more words. I think that is a direct correlation with also seeing the lower belts performing so well in a very short period of time. The higher belts are putting their time in, they are working harder and getting more attention and time they have EARNED and DESERVE not necessarily time they are entitled to, which I have always said no one is entitled to anything you get back what you put in, PERIOD. That extra time improves them on all levels and it trickles down to all the other belts and ranks on the mats and is something I have seen first hand and have been trying to really instill and embed in everyone on the TEAM, the better everyone gets the better you will get, no question.

I have personally made a point to make changes to the class formats and the way classes are run; the content our team is covering, writing out the daily classes on the board so everyone can see what we are covering for example, that has seemed to be something everyone really likes…also the amount of time that I am putting into the people making a effort to soak up whatever information they can get their hands on as far as the sport and BJJ lifestyle they have adopted and embraced.

Team Collage NAGA New England

Team Collage NAGA New England

These changes have been made because I see opportunity in certain areas to really push growth and provide value, other changes have been made because of constant feedback and input from a handful of core students, without that feedback some of the changes would NEVER have been made and as a result the growth of each student and the success of each team member would unknowingly be suffering, including my own. Feedback and input is crucial to the growth and development of not only the team as a whole but as individuals as well. (Keep the feedback coming, make suggestions, don’t ever be afraid to come talk to me and share your thoughts and options regardless of topic or content.)

I am writing this note which I was certain would and already has started to change from a ‘note’ to a mini novel because I had a very memorable weekend this weekend at the NAGA New England Championships. I wanted to share my experience with the team both how I felt after competing and how I felt after getting to coach a small army and experience it with all of you and what it meant to me and for this team (in my eyes anyway…) Like almost all other tournaments we started off with a who’s who list of names on the board where you write your name if you are making the commitment to the TEAM and stepping up to fight…like many other events, I go off a 50% figure to guestimate how many people will actually show, when the day came we were missing a lot of what I would consider ‘key’ team members. Let me stop here and explain this to everyone how they SHOULD view this…It is my goal to make every member of this team selfless NOT selfish. It isn’t and shouldn’t be what can I do and get for me, that mindset will undoubtably stop you in your tracks and keep you from growing and progressing, the thought process should be ‘What can I do to better the TEAM?” I say this because it is easy to think of numero uno especially come tournament time and not the team but you need to think bigger and about the whole sometimes. If you didn’t get the ideal training in you wanted to log before an event or love blossoms and a ‘wedding’ pops up (AKA: BJJ Bitchassness) take a step back and think bigger, if you are a player and all of you are you might not always be able to win but many of you are capable of almost always placing. Going and competing for the team and not yourselves is selfless. If you really can’t compete or don’t feel up to it, come and support the team, cheer, coach, SUPPORT!!! Again, I know tournaments aren’t for everyone, I get that. But you can learn a lot from them. You can learn a lot by being there too. You don’t necessarily have to be in the area putting it on the line so to speak to be able to walk out better than you walked in.

Tournaments are important for growth I feel, you don’t have to be a competitor to compete. As a instructor it helps me see where you are against your peers, how you are progressing, how you handle real situations in a safe environment, what strengths you have but more importantly what weaknesses you have and what I need to do as your coach to improve on them. If you have a teammate that is amazing at one skill, say take downs, you will avoid that area with that person. Maybe avoiding that hurts you because we never know you need work on take down defenses. At a tournament you wouldn’t know the persons ‘game’ their ‘style’ and it can give me and your coaches a very honest and un-bias look into what we need to help you with to get you to the next stage/level in your game.  ‘One tournament is the equivalent of THREE months of training.” Matt Serra told me that when I was a blue belt and I never looked back. Competing often and frequently helped me grow and build as a competitor and as a person and as a COACH. I tapped my first black belt in competition when I was a blue belt, how? Because I was a stud blue belt? No, because I had more competition experience than he did. Knowledge wise I was a infant I am sure in comparison but I was focused and did what I was good at and hid what I wasn’t and came out on top that day. I could never have done that if I had a closed mind in training, wasn’t asking questions like crazy, wasn’t challenging myself on and off the mats and taking pride in what I was spending my time doing. Remember when you are in class, on the mats and working “IT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE WORLD TO YOU AT THAT MOMENT!!!!!!!!!” How do I know that? Because you are there, I have said that to the adult class a hundred times probably, if there was something more important to you at that time you’d be doing it. So you have made the time to be there, why not get 100% from the time that you are investing, why not maximize that time by staying dialed in, remaining focused, asking a ton of questions and implementing the answers…it is time you will NEVER get back, it will be gone no matter how hard or how lazy you train, so why not get the absolute best from it?!?

Never the less, the people who came Saturday and Sunday came to compete push and fight…I personally don’t like losing, I know no one does, (I am particularly un-accepting of it especially for myself) but I ready a quote just this past Thursday that said “Sometimes your opponent can outscore you and you can win and somedays you can outscore your opponent and lose…” While I know what the quote is suggesting I brushed it off as a good one to post someday for the team page. When I walked off the mat after my second no-gi fight it was the first thing that passed through my head. (There is a picture on my FB page…) My hand is raised but my head is down, disappointed, frustrated and to be honest a little embarrassed at the performance even in victory I didn’t feel myself and many were kind enough to also point it out to me, thank you btw :-D ) My first match I lost 2-0 to a kid I have been wanting to get a match against for a long time, I am happy to notify everyone lightening doesn’t strike the same place twice and that was a gift wrapped in a pretty little bow for him and will be different in our next meeting when ever that shall be especially if it is with a gi, he is a good competitor, but so am I,  but on that day he was the better guy because my head was in my butt, it was a hard way to start the day, rarely do I lose at NAGA and I lost match one because I wasn’t able to focus and shut out my surroundings. I had one of the heaviest adrenaline dumps Ive ever experienced and I had no good reason for it, but never the less it hit me hard and I wasn’t prepared for it, usually I don’t have a issue with it but did this time because I had a number of people watching, peers, friends and teammates that usually aren’t there. These aren’t excuses, these are the things I have marked as areas to focus on and points of focus for improvement in my own personal game, I wasn’t mentally prepared stepping on the mat, I wasn’t focused and that was a mistake. After that match I fought another teammate in the no-gi finals. My opponent was Travis Steven’s, Travis and I train at Pedro’s Judo Center and he is ranked 5th in the World in Judo losing a close match in the Olympics to the soon after gold medalist. After a scoreless match we went to OT and I lost via guillotine choke because my cardio was not there nor has it been for me in ages but technical ability usually closes the gap easily on most occasions. Again, a local even helped nail home a huge hole in my game that yes I knew about, but it is easy to ignore when it doesn’t affect much inside the walls of Abusado BJJ, having it embarrass me in public in front of my peers and teammates and people that look up to me was good because I won’t relive that situation again and have taken corrective steps already to improve my mistakes from yesterday. Have anyone else? If you showed up to open mat today and lost yesterday I say you have. It is easy to take the day off after a tournament especially after you lose because you are ‘resting’ and will hit it hard when? ‘Monday’ Another great quote (I have been google quote hunting like a boss lately) “Yesterday you said tomorrow…” I have always looked at it like this, if you perform badly why should you get a reward? You go to training alwayas. After my match with Travis I had a feeling in my stomach I hadn’t felt in so long I wasn’t sure what it was, ironically the last time I felt it was at a judo tournament years ago so I found humor in that because it took a hard judo event to show me I was out of shape and push me to kill myself with cardio and it took a match with a judo teammate to show me I need to dial in on that same thing again. At the time, I didn’t know if I was extremely hungry, nauseous from being exhausted or if maybe I injured myself trying to retain guard or something. Either way it felt horrible and I again bowed off the mats with my head down and disappointed in my performance. Most the time my disappointment goes unnoticed as often win and am unhappy with the perform, I am my own worst critic however, never do I lose and pout and wine, I make a effort and have for as long as I remember to take every loss and down as a opportunity to better myself, yes, sometimes I have needed two kicks in the ass to start myself going on some occasions lol but I make a point to learn from every situation I am a part of to better myself and become stronger in one area or another. After the matches I had time to relax, sit and rest, reflect a little, collect my thoughts and the butterflies past, I coached some more and about thirty minutes later it was all gone and I felt that usual feeling when I have all the pieces lined up, I felt like me again and normal like I do every time I fight and feel good and/or how I feel after a loss when the anxiety passes and the fight and what you should have done is clear as day and you say to yourself ‘i wish I could get a rematch right now against that kid…’ I knew gi would be different and it was, two matches, two subs. Still thinking about earlier I realized that my poor performance was a lost mentally rather than physically and while I only had two matches in gi I had two wins over good players and it was enough to set my head straight. What made me happy about the day wasn’t my gi matches, it wasn’t realizing what cost me my matches in no-gi, I got satisfactions from the performances of the people that did show up and stepped up to compete. Not everyone won, probably less than we are used to actually, I think it was still enough to place us top three as a team though, maybe even a title, we shall see…I remember the day starting off slow, I said at one point after I had lost and so did another student we usually see medaling and I looked at them and said “Bad day for the good guys…” with a blank look on my face. The day got better and we had some good wins, some close matches and tough losses, but NO ONE GAVE UP! Regardless of the outcome, win, lost, decision…no one stopped pushing, a few of the matches we won were because the person didn’t stop pushing and it made the difference in the match. When I was in sales right out of college, they used to tell us to push and keep trucking away, they would compare the sales week to team sports, sometimes the month, usually the month… “How many times in sports do you see different types of games? Sometimes the team comes out and kills it and blows it out of the water (iconic sales term, almost as bad as ‘feel, felt, found…’ lol), other times you see the team come out like new at half time and turn it around, others you see the guys fighting and pull off the buzzer beater and come from behind…” they meant obviously sales and quota but as cheesy as it was I used to think about that a lot and use it in sports and BJJ, it has helped mold my game and my still developing ‘attack, attack, attack…” game I am trying to have at black belt. I think if you all keep that mind set and use it to think about your matches it may help you fight and push on….”Don’t give up…ever under any circumstances, never surrender.” That’s the mental attitude you need for everything, BJJ life, all sports, anything worth having doesn’t come easy, it doesn’t come with out sacrifice and it doesn’t come with out loss on some level or in some shape or form.  No matter how hard you train, there are certain things you can’t prepare for, that is why people are obsessed and so passionate about BJJ, the grey space when you make decisions, right or sometimes wrong in the moment that change the match. It is intense and addictive and there is a rush at times and it feels amazing to come out on top when you fight, whether on any stage whether it is in class or in front of a crowd BJJ is great because you are ultimately fighting against yourself and bettering YOU and improving YOU. That is why I love it, it is challenging to me on so many levels and continues to change me on a daily basis in so many aspects of my life and the more I give it the more it gives back to me. It is something most of you have been affected by and for a lot it has changed your lives and you never expected it to have the impact, if it hasn’t yet, don’t worry, it will and think it all started for most of you because “I hate the gym and I just wanna try something different…” Mentally, physically and emotionally. You are all getting stronger as a result  whether in class or fighting and clawing your way to each buzzer,in class it takes a different angle usually, so you have to look at it differently, usually people compare how they are doing based on their matches with certain people, this can be good but can be frustrating and counter productive because as a team, you are all not only growing together, but learning together, you tent to pull away together which can mask moments of growth with with false thoughts of stalemating and plateaus, but in a tournament, whether you are competing for you, to help the team, or ‘just to see how you do…’ there is no loss if you put it all on the table and leave it on the mat. Just leave it on the mats…

If you do the advance class we do ’90 Second” drills, the mentality is there is 90 seconds left, you are losing, go for broke you are losing anyway might as well lose fighting to the end, not sitting there and accepting it. When you hear me or anyone say “NINETY SECONDS!!!” Your body should erupt. BJJ is unlike most sports when it can come down the last second. If you play football and your losing 40-0 and there is 10 seconds left you lost, better luck next time, in our sport you have ten seconds to win. I have seen it first hand and I have been there myself. I was a brown belt at an AGC tournament getting the SH%T kicked out of me by a multiple time world champion black belt, I was getting beat so bad I stopped defending the sweep attacks because I literally had no clue what he was doing and I figured ‘Screw it maybe I can learn something…” I remember looking down as he kept sweeping me each time trying to figure out what the heck he was doing…thats how bad I was getting beat and I subbed him with 30 seconds left in the match. I was dry heaving and hanging over the trash because I was fighting for my life it felt for 8 minutes but I won because I didn’t give up, a opportunity popped up, I saw it and went for it with every ounce of energy I had and I got it. Luck? Maybe, who knows but what I do know is HE quit and I DIDN’T, he got sloppy because he decided the match was over before it was because he was beating me so bad. You need to have heart and stay focused and push! Pushing to the end and giving it all you can and coming up short gets my respect and it isn’t a loss in my book because you gave it everything you had at the time. When you quit that is a real loss, when you fight the hole time that means the other guy just had more points or a better position and you have stuff to work on and you know what that stuff is and you walk off that mat with tools and the pieces you need to become better and more well rounded. When you give up you really lose, because quitting is a habit and it is something you learn to do, just like lying or making excuses or giving in. Will power, trust, loyalty etc are BUILT and instilled in people they aren’t born with those traits. Some come easier to some than others but anytime you fight and don’t quit no matter how hard it was to not quit I promise next time it will be easier. I read a quote before I started typing this and it said “Things NEVER get easier, you just get stronger…” Don’t make excuses. EVER, find the answers to the reasons you lost and what you can fix and fix them. EXCUSES ARE FOR LOSERS! I have lived by that quote since HS. It will be plastered across the wall 20’ long at our next academy I promise you. I gained a lot of respect for many Saturday.  After the first day of the competition there were a lot of ups and some downs but all in all a good day and like I said before I left with a lot of respect for many and a reason to hold my head up high even though I lost my own matches earlier on in the day I walked out a proud instructor/coach. I never knew that feeling would only grow ten fold Sunday.

Collin takes gold beating two blue belts!

Collin takes gold beating two blue belts!

 

Sunday I woke up and drove back to RI anxious but nervous for the kids and teens day. (As I sit here typing this I question being capable of having children and being able to go through that as a parent. (Half because of today dealing with it all just as a coach I couldn’t imagine it as a parent and the other half because I think the puppy has given me a clear insight of what it would be like and I think I am all set :) kidding…at least 50% anyway. :) ))

Andrew takes home the gold in Gi!

Andrew takes home the gold in Gi!

If I had to deliver this now as a speech rather than a what has now become and essay it would have been a lot shorter as I have no voice what so ever from screaming and coaching all day. This weekend and today especially I will not soon forget. IDK if it was because it really felt like a team, going out for food after on Saturday with some of the crew or if it was because we had a lot of new students do well, because I saw veteran students over come a lot and come out on top, a combination of the lot or what but it was amazing for me as a coach. I hope I am not wrong in saying this but I am almost positive for kids and teens on Sunday, every single student that fought won at least one division. Jon Silva looked like he robbed the NAGA award shed and was gonna make a run for it. Collin beat two blue belts on his way to his championship medal, Conner is a beast! I can’t and Coach Earl and Coach Charlie as well as the majority of the team can’t believe he is 14. The Girls kicked BUTT too… Libby showed amazing poise and composure listening to ever little detail and following ever direction to a ‘T’ we the coaches gave her. I believe she came out with at least two golds, they kept putting the kids in all these extra divisions so I am not 100% positive, it could have been three. Savanna went bananas :) and took a gold and had a awesome match with another tough opponent of higher skill that came down to the last second. Ali came and showed a focus that seems to be the standard now for our rookie students and came out with a first place and an all over amazing performance. The kids as a whole LISTENED so well today, I was really impressed. They all were staying focused and staying relaxed, in good situations as well as bad. It was a direct reflection of how passionate they have all become and more so the passion our coaching staff especially Coach Charlie has put into this kids program. My personal best and two favorite moments of the kids/teens day came from two very hard working champs…Andrew and Hugo. Hugo had a tough first no gi match but in gi, right before his match I had a little talk about what we were gonna do in the next match and he listened and followed the plans perfectly putting on a champion showing winning on points, ( a lot of points) against a older, bigger (Much bigger, 35lbs) opponent.

Awesome win by Hugo against a bigger opponent!

Awesome win by Hugo against a bigger opponent!

The look on his face coming off the mat and when he got his first place award was priceless. Not because he won, but because I know that look and its a look I have seen with many but not Hugo. He is now a different person. His confidence and his entire persona was literally changed by one 4 minute match today. Its things like that why I think BJJ should be part of everyones life but it is something that can be a life changer for anyone but especially a child. My main man Andrew and Koka’s Godfather :)   “The Dogfather” showed me a side of him that I knew was there and I have been waiting to see. He stayed so dialed in his focus didn’t break once. Andrew has had a few losses to some tough competitors in other local events but Coach Charlie had these kids ready today. Andrew showed so much heart and that ‘never quit’ attitude I was talking about and it earned him not one but TWO first place finishes. I love all the kids in our program, we really don’t have any bad kids but Andrew is always smiling and extra polite and he was sporting the same look on his face as Hugo and that really made the day for me. In just one day he is a different kid. These two divisions showed him, as did the others kids in the program they can do it, they will all push harder, they will train more and get more out of the next class than they have in any other class they have ever attended because they are all going to be extra thirsty. I hope the enthusiasm from the kids that fought today rolls over and excites the rest of our killer kids team for the next event. We really have a team of mini-murderers :) The experience for them was amazing and it showed on their faces. The experience for ME personally was one I haven’t had in a long time and I am so happy to have been able to be part of it today with the other coaches.

Ali takes home the gold at her first event!

Ali takes home the gold at her first event!

So I am sorry for the novel, I am also sorry if I left anyone out, if I did It was not my intention, even after about a hour of typing I am still so fired up and pumped up about today and this weekend in general. Thank you for all of you who are on this team, part of this family and for believing in the team, me and the people who have help get us to where it is today. I promise 2013 is going to be a BIG and AMAZING year for the whole team on every level. This will be a year to look back on and remember. Thank you to everyone who showed up and pushed. Win or lose everyone worked hard and impressed me with either how they performed or how they carried themselves after and open mat today I was told was packed and many who competed showed up today to start working on their games and making changes. I really enjoyed hearing that today. I would like to again thank you to everyone who came to support the team, congrats to all the people who won and placed, for many it was their first showing and special thanks goes out to our kids Coaching Staff especially to Coach Charlie, he really puts a lot into the program and I know today was a special day for him as well. Thank you!

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