4 Ways to be a Better Teammate
When jiu-jiteiros think of a team, they often see two groups: instructors and students. You have the people who teach and the people who are taught. While this might be true in a literal sense, it ignores the range of roles team members can play in the gradient between student and teacher. To me, these in-between roles are an essential part of a healthy team.
Some of those roles include:
- Welcome wagon
- Willing training partner
- Team cheerleader
- Upper belt mentor
An instructor does all of these things, but the challenge is that an instructor can’t be all places at once. Most instructors will be sure to greet new students, to provide encouragement, to offer personalized instruction and feedback, and to make individuals feel like they are valued members of the team, but as a school grows, one person cannot effectively engage everyone at all times.
So, we need other people on the team to step up, and these are things you can do without being asked or deputized (though we will talk about potential pitfalls to avoid as you can go overboard).
Here’s how you can help your team grow:
1. Welcome Wagon
Stepping into a jiu-jitsu gym for the first time is incredibly intimidating, and a bunch of tough men and women casting sideways stink-eye does not make that experience easier. If you see someone you have not met before, walk over and introduce yourself. Ask them about their training experience, and if they tell you that they are new, offer to answer any questions they might have. If other students are nearby, introduce the new student to those students. The simple act of being a friendly face can dramatically elevate the experience of trying jiu-jitsu for a new student.
2. Willing Training Partner
Nobody likes to be the person who is picked last. It’s a terrible feeling to look around the mat as people pair off and to quickly realize that no one wants to be your partner. If you see that happening to someone--and it commonly happens to new students--be the person who steps in and asks them to drill. There may be times where you feel like this lowers your own training experience, and that may very well be true in the short-term, but in the long-term, consider this an investment in having a great future training partner.
3. Team Cheerleader
If you take extra steps to inject positivity into your team, being a vocal supporter of your training partners is a great place to start. While you should avoid dropping compliments mid-roll (especially if an upper belt is wrecking you), taking a moment to tell a lower belt that you see how hard they have been working or how much better their armbar has gotten will really matter to that person. If you like to take photos and videos, with your instructor’s blessing of course, take a few minutes to snap some shots and share them on social media. Being that cheerleader is relatively low effort, but it can make everyone feel more like a team.
4. Upper Belt Mentor
As you start to reach purple belt and beyond, you will have more opportunities to teach. Some of those are formal, such as covering a class, but most of those will be informal. Lower belts may ask you questions before or after class, or perhaps you offer some ideas to a student who seems to be struggling with a position. For me, it’s a huge help when one of my upper belts sees a newer student struggling in class and pauses their own drilling to help. With large classes, covering the entire mat with one-on-one instruction is hard, so I am happy to have the assistance. Caveat here: Not all instructors would be okay with this, so be mindful and if your instructor comes over to contribute, handoff the instruction to him or her.
A real team is more than coaches and students. Everyone on the mat can play a part in making the team stronger and in making the gym a healthy, welcoming place to be. The more team members that do that, the more students say, and the more people will improve. And that’s a win for everyone.