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What does it take?

By Patrick Christie | Columnist for Knuckle Junkies

First, an apology for the extreme length since my last article. The first half of the year was busy for the Art of Eight, St. Charles MMA, and Vaghi Martial Arts and my spent was spent much more behind the Thai pads than in front of a keyboard. For those that missed these pieces, I’m sorry. For those that didn't, I like you just the same!

What does it take to be successful/be a champion/etc?

I get this question from gym visitors, spectators/fans, and other curious on-lookers fairly frequently – enough, at least, that it warrants taking up some of KJ.com’s bandwidth to provide some insight in to the question.

This is one of a few areas where I’d wager most coaches, managers, and athletes would agree – this, by the way, is a rarity in any sport, let alone combat sports, as it seems anyone can have an opinion on anything these days. So here is mine: in order to be successful, or a champion, or to accomplish the athlete’s individual goal(s), s/he needs proper coaching and trainers, support, logistics (facility, gear, etc, not UPS), and the desire AND motivation to simply work toward the goal(s). It’s important to call out the combination of desire and motivation in the last success factor – anyone can have the desire to be or do anything they can set their sights on, though those without the motivation to get there never will.

Coaching & Trainers

While there are many athletes with “God-given” talents participating in every sport very few of them will become successful alone. Anyone who believes he can teach himself the nuances of a sport is not only wrong, but unrealistic. I’m aware of the vast chasm of YouTube videos, online manuals, and other forms of “instruction” that can supplement for a leader but at the end of day an athlete needs the guidance of someone who knows the sport at a high level. A coach thinks on a more global scale than an athlete, plain and simple. A coach thinks about a career and the goals and benchmarks within it, and how to develop an athlete to achieve those goals; an athlete thinks about each goal, and what’s needed to accomplish it as it avails. Let’s say a coach has an athlete he believes can be a world champion one day - it is his responsibility to develop the athlete’s skill set to compete at that level AND to set up the right fights throughout the fighter’s career to poise him for the opportunity to compete for the title, plus seek the support to make that plan materialize (sponsors, etc.). The fighter, on the other hand, focuses on the fight, and the next fight, and so on, ever mindful of the goal too, but preparing one fight at a time.

Find a coach that specializes in whatever it is you want to pursue, and absorb all that you can. If you’re training under someone who specializes in a system other than what you’re trying to excel at perhaps you should consider another coach. I know Muay Thai, I do not know a thing about Karate or Tae Kwon Do and as such I don’t attempt to teach, or even incorporate, any of either in to my practices. Conversely, if I wanted to learn Muay Thai I wouldn’t go to someone who’s never trained in it themselves, and specializes in another martial art. This is a fairly common happenstance and an unfortunate bi-product of their being so little barrier to entry in to the world of gym ownership and fighter training. Net/Net: an athlete needs a coach that knows inside and out the sport he wants to participate in. Until there’s guidance from someone knowledgeable and passionate about the system, who believes in the perpetuation of the knowledge within it, and has the genuine interest in helping someone achieve a goal an athlete will not be successful.

Support (and Logistics)

I think this one goes hand-in-glove with coaching and trainers, but also transcends to the rest of the team. An athlete should be able to trust and believe whole-heartedly that his coach believes in him to the “Nth” degree, and that he will do anything within possibility to motivate and elevate the athlete. But it can’t stop there. The whole team has to be on the support wagon. That means others have to come to practice, that they have to spar during camps, that they have to be willing to take some lumps to help someone else excel, and that they have to be in the crowd cheering their teammate on to victory the day of the fight. That’s support. That’s someone saying “I’m invested in your success to the point that I’m willing to sacrifice my time and my body to help you achieve your goal, and that I expect the same from you in return”. If you can’t say that, or you can’t give that in return, then you’re not supporting your team and you should seek training elsewhere.

Parents/Friends/Significant Others, this message is for you. If you love a fighter, let them fight. Get behind them in their pursuit and help push them to be successful rather than stand in front and hold them back. Either try to understand what we do and why we do it, or at least tolerate it, otherwise get out of the way. I have been blessed with a wife who not only encourages me to have a role in the lives of those I’m fortunate enough to train but who also supports me and the Art of Eight/SCMMA/Vaghi from the seats at shows, by drumming up support for us pre-event, and by wearing the various team and fighter walk-out shirts we make. She doesn’t give me grief when I bring fighters in to our home to train, or when I spend 6 hours at the gym every Saturday, and she doesn’t make me feel bad for being out of town a weekend, sometimes two, each month…she helps me pack and she carries gear to the car with me. She’s awesome and everyone should be so lucky…

Support also needs to come from the gym owner in the form of proper facilities and equipment for coaches and athletes to hone their craft. A gym without proper amenities provides little value to a fighter, neither does one with old, worn equipment. You’re charging students to train at your school, you should have to maintain it accordingly, from the mats and bags to the locker room and bathrooms. If you’re not putting money back in to the gym through the dues that are coming in then where is that money going? And remember that when you’re asking your coaches and students to bring in new members they need to be able to bring prospective students to a space they’re proud of. Gym owners shouldn’t expect the coaches or athletes to point out what needs to be purchased or replaced, they should be investing their time (and money) to notice these things on their own. “No, I don’t want new equipment” or “Thank you for surprising me with new gear. Now please take it back” said no coach or athlete ever. Owners: it’s your business and most of you put your name somewhere on the marquee. Operate the business for what it is – a business. It’s okay to say that you’re making money off the sport, at the same time that you’re training others. You deserve to make a living too, and you’re part of a small minority who actually get to make that living doing something they love. By realizing what you own is a business, and by staying engaged in the condition of your facilities and equipment you’ll be providing athletes with one of the most critical pieces of their success – simply a place to practice and develop. As well, follow through on your commitments. If you say you’re going to provide something by a certain time then do it. Your coaches and team will not follow someone who makes empty promises and does little to provide proper amenities, not for very long at least.

Assuming a fighter has coaching, support, and logisitics in place a large part of what’s left in the success equation lives with the athlete. To be successful at anything requires the doer to be fully invested in himself and the process. The desire to be great and the drive and determination to get there have to be present otherwise the dream dies. That desire must fuel the athlete to train when he wants to and more importantly when he doesn’t, to listen to his trainers and to trust their guidance, and to put it all on the line every time he competes – no reservations, ever – it has to be GO or go home. A coach can’t be the only one who wants a fighter to be successful, and the right equipment alone won’t make someone special. Having a cheering section only works if the athlete wants to perform at a level worthy of cheer. No champion has ever been without a big dream, high hopes, solid training, and a following full of support – I dare any reader to find a “great one” who had no interest or passion for the pursuit, yet wound up at the top of the pile anyway. Doesn’t happen. Coaches know you can’t teach heart, you can’t teach motivation, and you can’t make someone do something they’re not vested in doing. That’s a fact. Only when all the external factors are in line with the drive inside can anyone be successful at anything, whether it’s sports, a career, a relationship, etc.

So that’s my soapbox and I’m sticking to it. I’m sure there are other components of success like sponsorships and notoriety but those are superficial and don’t matter if what’s above doesn’t exist. Fighters: I challenge you to look at yourself and your camp and really determine whether you have what you need to be successful. If you don’t, and it’s outside of your control - trainers, facilities - then seek it elsewhere (I know a pretty darn good program you can check out when you’re ready!!). If you don’t have what you need and it’s within your control – drive, determination, and a dream - either find it or hang up your gloves.

“I have all the tools, trainers, and support I need to succeed, but I don’t want it for myself” said no champion ever...

Patrick Christie is the Muay Thai trainer for The Art of Eight Muay Thai, the Muay Thai program of Vaghi Martial Arts and St. Charles Mixed Martial Arts. You can contact Patrick at patrick@knucklejunkies.com. Please visit teamvaghi.com and stcharlesmma.com

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