Andrew Smith : Being a Good Instructor

It is said that the purpose of teaching goes far beyond the transfer of information it is used to create the potential for improvement in one’s life. Behind every great athlete there is an instructor that passes the knowledge to the individual to reach a pinnacle of success. In this interview BJJ Black Belt Andrew Smith covers the essentials of what it takes to be a good instructor.

Define a good instructor?

Andrew: That’s actually a pretty tough, loaded question. What determines a good instructor is going to vary from student to student. The one thing you can say for sure is that a good instructor will recognize that each student is going to have individual needs, and that those needs are going to vary across the entire spectrum.

As an instructor yourself, how do you ensure that your students are happy ?

Andrew: It’s really important that the training atmosphere is comfortable for all of the students, or as comfortable as possible. You’re never going to make everyone happy all of the time, but you can certainly accommodate the vast majority by using a few common sense guidelines:

-Make sure training time is just that (not social hour)

-Make sure the students get to know one another on the mats

These two statements seem to be contradictory at first glance, but they’re not. The students should know one another’s jiu jitsu, not personal lives, politics, favorite movies, etc. This doesn’t mean you have to be a "mat Nazi", but you do need to make sure the students are on track.
Is it a different approach instructors use when teaching kids?

Andrew: I don’t currently teach kids, but I have in the past. The biggest challenge is to keep the kids engaged in learning without giving them a bunch of fluff. It’s the same with adults, except with kids, you have to play a lot more games in order to get them interested in the activities. With adults, you play games just the same, but they’re much more subtle.

Thankfully, my partner, Trey Martin, will head the kids’ program at our school. He is more than qualified to handle this, both as a father himself and as a person with 30 years of grappling experience.
In your experience what were some of the things you looked for in an instructor ?

Andrew: Patience, attention to detail, being better than me.

How important is communication ?

Andrew: Paramount. Without communication, you might as well be watching youtube videos and trying to learn like that. In fact, thousands of people are taking this approach across the world. Maybe millions. 

What are your thoughts about people leaving their academies?

Andrew: I think it happens. Sometimes it’s for a good reason, and sometimes it’s avoidable. When it happens, life goes on. The students who leave have their reasons, and whether they leave my gym or come to my gym from another school, I always wish them the best on a personal level. Of course, it’s very difficult to invest so much time and energy in a student and then watch them leave and become someone else’s responsibility; but dwelling on negativity isn’t productive for any parties involved.

What are some of the traits an instructor must have when it comes to teaching?

Andrew: You have to have a balance between teaching too little and teaching too much. At first, every instructor wants to point out every single detail from every position they show. You have to figure out that you don’t need to impress your students with your wealth of knowledge every class, but rather teach them the technique at a pace that doesn’t put them to sleep.

As an instructor, what are some of your approaches when helping students who want to compete?

Andrew: We do a lot of competition-intensive training at my gym. Lots and lots of situational stuff, lots of rolling. Students roll a lot differently when they’re getting ready to compete, and this is the way it’s done around the world at successful academies. Ours is no different in that regard, but I talk individually with them about the difference between the competition mindset and the gym mindset. Remember: 90% of the time, you shouldn’t be very competitive at the gym. You shouldn’t be playing your "A game" for the vast majority of the time you’re training. When you’re getting ready to compete, though, you had better be playing it if you want to win.

That’s another thing- winning isn’t always the goal of a local competition. Don’t get me wrong- it’s great to win, but it’s great to learn, too. If I have a giant student who can smash everyone in his weight class and in the open, I don’t care to see him do just that. I’d like to see him execute some of the things we’ve been working on. If we go to the Pan Ams, Mundial, etc, we go there exclusively with winning in mind.

What about students who have no interest in competing ?

Andrew: I don’t really have those at my gym. I have two or three students who don’t want to compete themselves, but they help the others compete. Honestly, if you’re interested in reaching your fullest potential as a competitor, you’ll come to our gym eventually. If not, you’ll go somewhere else.

 How do you help students who get discourage during their progression ?

Andrew: Discouraged. I generally ask them if they could go back in time and kick their own ass or not. Generally speaking, that does the trick.

Finally do you have any advice to anyone looking for the RIGHT instructor for them .
Andrew: For sure. Try out more than one! If they don’t offer at least one free class, GO SOMEWHERE ELSE. 
Before we wrap things up, would you like to give any shout outs?

Andrew: First and foremost, visit for upcoming tournament info. We work hard to run quality events so that competitors can have a great place to test themselves in a safe, fair, fun atmosphere. Second, if you’re in Richmond, VA, stop by  Try us out or just stop by to train. We’re glad to have visitors stopping by, and have them quite frequently.

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