SMART Goals Coaching- How to effectively set teaching goals in a Jiu Jitsu class

At SBG we are known for our scientific approach to coaching. I am biased of course but I think that nobody does coaching as well as we do. That’s because we take it seriously. It’s a great privilege to coach athletes and one that I don’t take lightly. In this article I want to talk a bit about how to determine what you should teach in a class and how to measure whether or not you were successful.

There are a ton of good coaches out there. Many of them intuitively have a great grasp on breaking down the game into bite size chunks that everyone can understand. What I know from experience though is that very good coaches are made and not born that way. A few simple tools can go a long way towards improving coaching performance. The tool I’ll give you today is a very good one. It’ll simplify how you plan your lessons and lead to better instruction. I’m going to talk about SMART goals.

S.M.A.R.T. goal is defined as one that is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time- bound.

courtesy of

courtesy of

Let’s look at how this works in a BJJ class.

Specific: When you are writing a performance goal for a BJJ class it needs to be as specific as you can make it. The more specific you are the easier it’s going to be to measure success.

When a student finishes my class they will be able to_______

  1. pass guard.
  2. pass guard using bullfighter pass.
  3. use proper grips and posture as they attempt a bullfighter pass.

You can see how the third is more specific than the first two. It also suggests curriculum and how you might break it down during instruction. Let’s use that goal and see if it’s SMART.

When a student finishes my class they will be able to use proper grips and posture as they attempt a bullfighter pass.

Specific- Yes- We have identified specific elements like posture, grips, and guard pass. This is specific enough to lead to good instruction.

Measurable-Yes- It is measurable. This means you can walk around the room and see if people are doing it or not. I can look specifically for grips and/or posture as I watch students perform the pass.

Attainable-Yes- Notice that when I wrote the third version of the goal I included the word attempt. This is exactly for that reason. It shouldn’t be expected that a class full of white belts will be able to effectively pass guard using the bullfighter pass. That would not be an attainable goal for that group. If the group is blue and purple belts who have done the pass a bunch then maybe.

Relevant-Yes-This is mostly always the case with BJJ class material. We aren’t going to teach karate in a BJJ class. It can be more subtle though. I wouldn’t teach flying armbars to a group of white belts because it really isn’t relevant. It’s not something that their game is ready for nor is it fundamental to learning the art which is where white belts are.

Time Based-Yes- Is it something that can be accomplished in the time you are allotted?  If the goal is too big you won’t have time to get to it all. For example if my goal was to teach a submission chain of armbar, triangle, platta to a group of white belts it wouldn’t work in a time based environment. You have to decide what is achievable in the time you have. This takes a bit of time and practice.


Once your goal is written you need to figure out how you’ll know if your students have achieved your goal. You’ll need to “write” a test. I’d likely use a simple test. 2 minute rounds. One student is on their back. Other student starts with grips and posture and attempts bullfighter pass. Bottom guy’s goal is to not get passed. Top guy’s goal is to pass using only the bullfighter pass. Remember that my goal is that they use good posture and grips and ATTEMPT the pass so as they drill I’m not looking for successful passing. I’m only looking at grips and posture.

Pre and Post Test

I will sometimes do the test above before instruction so that I can see what students already know. This makes teaching more efficient because I can see right away what students are doing well and what they are having trouble with. I will sometimes adjust my plan on the fly based on this info.

This also has a second benefit in that I can see growth when I repeat the test at the end of class. If you aren’t doing this you should. It feels great when you do the post test and see lots of gains. It’s very confirming for a coach and lets you leave the gym knowing that you did your job well.

Formative and Summative Evaluations

Formative evaluation- Test only a part of the goal. Meant to inform further instruction during class.

Summative evaluation- Test all parts of the goal at once. Meant to measure whether or not students met the goal.

Formative evaluations are mini drills meant to allow you to see a part of the goal in isolation. All competitive drills are formative or summative evaluations if the coach knows what to look for. A formative evaluation for this curriculum might be:

Grip fighting- Top guy works from good posture and attempts to get and keep grips. Bottom guy tries to break or neutralize grips. Coach watches for any issues that come up and uses the drill to inform instruction.

Posture- Top guy moves in and gets posture and grips. Bottom guy tries to break or neutralize the top guys posture. Coach watches for posture errors and issues. Additional instruction given after the drill as needed.

Our pre and post test act as summative evaluations. These are tests that allow you to measure the entire goal at once so the drill needs to accommodate all the skills outlined in the goal.



Once your goal is written you’ll need to chunk your instruction. This means breaking it up into digestible bites. This is super important. I make it a rule to try to never ask students to remember more than 2 things at a time. I found through experience that it’s better to give them one or two things to practice and cut the practice time short than to give them a bunch of things at once and give them a longer time to digest. Smaller chunks are more efficient and work best ESPECIALLY with a mix level group. Here’s how I might do it:

It’s most natural to address things as they naturally arise in a roll so-

Pre Test

Posture- What does the posture look like? How do you attain it? How do you maintain it? What do you do if the bottom guy breaks it?

Drill it. (formative evaluation)

Re-teach or adjust as indicated.

Grips- Where and how do you grab? How do you maintain grips? What do you do if the bottom guy breaks or neutralizes your grips? What if you can’t get grips?

Drill it. (formative evaluation)

Re-teach or adjust as indicated.

Pressure- Once you have posture and grips how do you apply the pressure needed to pass? What does the bottom guy do to neutralize your pressure? What do you do if your pressure is neutralized?

Drill it. (formative evaluation)

Re-teach or adjust as indicated.

Summative Evaluation

That’s it! I know it seems like a lot to do for each class. If it’s new to you try doing it once in a while or when you have new material that’s not as familiar to you. What’s you’ll find is that after a while you’ll be doing this in your head on the way to the gym and it’ll naturally become part of how you think about coaching. I hope this works for you. Let me know how it works.


I didn’t invent SMART goals. I realized after I hit publish that most of my readers aren’t educators and may not have heard of smart goals. It’s very popular in education circles right now. I’m not sure where the idea originated from but it wasn’t me! Just didn’t want people to think that I invented this or was taking credit for it’s invention.