Instructor, Teacher or Coach?

Do you consider yourself a martial arts instructor, teacher or coach?

When I first started teaching karate I thought of myself as an instructor. Then a few years ago I decided I wasn’t an instructor anymore, but a teacher instead. And recently I’ve changed my mind again – I now see myself more as a karate “coach”.

While the differences may be subtle at first glance, the words you choose to describe yourself can have a great impact on the actions that you take, and how you are perceived by others.

Here’s why…

When you think “Karate Instructor” what’s the first thing that pops into your mind?

For many people it’s “drill sergeant” or something similar. The image is a hard-nosed, tough guy who barks orders, walks the lines and gets in student’s faces. This person dishes it out and has one volume level – LOUD! This type teaches at a group level, doesn’t accept any questions and teaches with intimidation. Students are mostly anxious when this person is in charge.

When you think “Karate Teacher” what do you think?

I think of someone who takes more time to explain the details than the instructor. Someone who is passionate about what they do. They’re approachable and encourage and are happy to answer questions.  I think of a teacher as someone who wants their students to learn and do well. Again this person teaches mostly at a group level.

Now think of the word “coach” and notice your first feeling that you associate with it…

If you’re anything like me you’ll probably associate “coach” with training someone on an INDIVIDUAL level, instead of group level, yes?

Obviously as karate sensei we need to be able to communicate at both group and individual levels, but too often instructors spend too much time with the GROUP and not enough with the INDIVIDUAL.

A good coach knows each of his students, their strengths and weaknesses, what they need to work on and how they receive and interpret information. An instructor in the context of this article, tends to communicate on one level and if the student fails, it’s their fault – not the instructor. But a coach tends to look at the situation differently. If a student isn’t up to standard, the coach is willing to share some of the responsibility for the student’s shortcomings and looks for new ways to improve their skill sets.

So which are you?

Instructor, Teacher or Coach?

And which would you rather be?

Until next time…

3 thoughts on “Instructor, Teacher or Coach?”

  1. Jason,

    I don't think that "coach" is the ultimate. The final stage has to be "guide". Once you have trained someone up to black belt, up to the level that they start to think for themselves about their own karate, then your role is only to guide them on the journey. At a certain level a karateka must work out what karate is for him. His sensei has to guide him so that he doesn't go off the path too far. But the research into karate still remains a personal search of the black belt himself.

    Paul Ben Ishai

  2. I guess I should take "psycho karate drill sergeant" off my business cards. I'll try "guiding karate coach" instead.


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