Aliveness as a Coaching Concept

I was participating in an online forum discussion on drilling recently and one of the posters commented that SBG tended to “overthink” drilling. I admit that when you look at all the material we have around drills it can look intimidating. If you look at the I Method, The 3 P model, the fundamental 5’s, callout drills, pocket drills, reset drills etc. it can be very daunting to someone who isn’t familiar with them. My response was that at SBG we really do like to keep things simple. We have only the number of drills we need to coach effectively. No more and no less.

For example, we have one drill called a reset drill. This is where we’ll start guys out in one position and have them battle for submission from there. When the coach yells “reset” the athletes will stop wherever they are and go back to the position and start over. Another drill is an objective drill. An example of this would be having guys in guard and one person’s job is to attempt to pass over and over. The bottom person’s job is to prevent the pass. No subs or sweeps or change of position. Now, why would we need both drill types? We need them because they do different things. The reset drill allows a student to “get reps in” with a technique or position against the full delivery system. They get a chance to roll using all the techniques available in the particular delivery system. This gives the student an important perspective on the technique or position that they couldn’t get any other way. An objective drill has a different purpose. In this case the student isn’t using the full delivery system. They are limited to a very small portion of it. In this case the instructor is more interested in the student getting a particular experience over and over. It may not be necessary or desirable to have the student experience the technique or position in the full delivery system.

I find that reset drills work better with some positions over others. Recently in class I tried a reset drill with half guard. It was only partially successful because as soon as students started about half the class was out of half guard within about 5 seconds of starting the drill. I had to compensate by resetting them over and over in shorter intervals to get them to fight from the posture. An objective drill would have worked better. With an objective drill I could have kept them in posture longer as they fought against resistance.

This is Aliveness at work in coaching. It’s the ability to take what you are teaching and test it against resistance and see if it works. My reset drill didn’t work so the next night I went to an objective drill to teach half guard. Worked much better. Using this idea of Aliveness as a coach takes some practice. I’m finding that the more I coach the better I get at it. I’m way better now at being able to scan the room during Isolation drilling to see what students are having trouble with. When I observe problems I can quickly adjust my lesson plan and work to sort out those problem areas. Doing this over and over has been the best and most rewarding part of coaching for me. It’s what has made the most difference in me learning the game as I coach.

Aliveness as a coaching method requires constant scrutiny. You have to really work at coaching differently. There are 3 stages in coaching that you have to give full scrutiny. This is the pre teaching, the teaching, and the post teaching. Each stage requires slightly different things.

Pre Teaching

In this stage the coach needs to be clear about the what and how they are teaching for the class. What is the topic? What do I know about the topic? What do I need to know about the topic? This will often take me to a place where I need to do a bit of research. Might just mean a quick trip to Youtube to see videos posted on the topic. Might mean asking some team mates about the subject. Once I’m a bit more clear about the topic and think I have enough information I usually will sit down and think about what is fundamental about the topic. What are the most basic things that a student needs to know about the topic? Getting the list of fundamentals is huge for me. It drives everything else. Once I have my fundamentals list I can then go into planning how to teach it. Some questions I ask myself are-

Do I need to teach this by starting with posture?

Do I need to start with a drill to create a need for the learning?

What is the natural order of the fundamentals as they occur in a roll?

Do I need a technique or two as part of the lesson to demonstrate expressions of the fundamentals or do they stand on their own?

Do I show a technique as an expression of the fundamentals and then break it up into parts? (whole-part method)

Or do I start with showing the parts and only at the end re- assemble? (part method)

Do I fix the problems that could occur in working the fundamentals beforehand or do I wait until the problems occur to address them?

How do I modify the lesson if my class is leaning towards beginning level students?

How do I modify if most students are advanced?

What are my performance objectives? (When a student finishes my class they will be able to do…….)

These questions will usually give me a basic game plan. I know where I want to start and have a general idea of progression. I always use the I method as a structural paradigm in my classes and build the various drills around that model. Depending on how I answered the questions I may start in Isolation, or Integration, or Introduction. I always teach from most to least important. I tell students that when they see me teaching techniques it means that I ran out of good stuff to show. Teaching from most to least important is a way to scaffold learning for students of different experience levels. That way students can shut off their brains as soon as they get full. I give students permission to do this. I usually tell them in class when they can stop remembering stuff if their brain is full.

At this point I know the drills I’m likely to use. I know the order I want to teach things. I know what my objectives are. I know how much I want to show and to what level. Now I’m ready to coach.


I begin to make modifications to the lesson plan right away once I see who actually showed up for class. If the class leans advanced rather than beginner I can do things a bit differently as I can assume some prior knowledge. Once I make that first mental adjustment I’m ready to begin. Using the I method I’ll run through my first set of stuff. I may begin with an Isolation round drill, or I may begin with introduction stage. In either case my job is to observe closely. I can sometimes pick up problems and issues during introduction stage. If I see a problem I can go back to introduction stage and fix, or I can quickly do a drill that brings the problem out. Sometimes the drill is best because it creates the need for the learning. Drills at SBGi alway involve resistance. Once the problem is clear we can go back to introduction stage and fix. Then back to isolation and test. If the problem is fixed we can move on. This monitor and adjust is critical. It’s important that the coach take the athlete where they are and train them rather than trying to make the athlete fit the curriculum.

An important point is that the coach has to always be willing to modify or even throw out the lesson plan. My best teaching comes when I do that. When I can see exactly what the group is telling me they need as I watch them struggle in isolation stage I can make modifications that fit. The toolbox of various drill types and the structure of the I method make this possible.

So, the drills are as much for the student as they are for the teacher. The student gets to test their techniques out against a resistant partner. The teacher gets to test their teaching out against the same resistance. It’s great feedback if you are looking. If you are looking then you are experiencing Aliveness in action. That ability to test things out and see if they work, and to make adjustments and try again is as important for the coach as it is for the athlete.

Post Teaching

Very important to teaching is a bit of reflection after the class. I can’t tell you how many times I finish a class and think “man that was a lame one.” In most every case though I can make some mental notes to improve on it next time. I can usually identify the weak points of my lesson. I can do this because I have some clear objectives going in and I can evaluate on the back end whether or not I met them. If you don’t know what you want to teach it’s hard to decide if you taught anything valuable…

Aliveness in coaching is simply the practice of testing and adjusting. Try it out to see if it works. Observe whether or not it works. Make adjustments and try again. That’s really it. The I method, 3 P model, drill types etc. become tools to that process. Necessary tools for sure, but still only tools. They are not the thing. The most amazing part of coaching with Aliveness for me is that at this stage in my development it’s where most of my learning comes from. If you are actively looking and problem solving during coaching you will learn a ton. You can’t help but learn that way.