Monday, 15 October 2012

The 30 day challenge - Day 13 - Daren Bartlett interview

O Zelador & Cadencia director (& jiu jitsu coach) Daren Bartlett
The last couple of days have been really enjoyable. But I have not had the time to stick to the 30 day regime. However, I'm back in the flow today! There is this entry and I was happy this morning to interview the Guardian's Adharanand Finn (@adharanand), author of 'Running with Kenyans'. So I think a couple of "double days," should put me back on track.

Last year I had the privilege of interviewing Jiu Jitsu coach and film director, Daren Bartlett about the role of Sport Psychology in his discipline. Currently Daren is stuck in the cutting room, finishing off his latest work on a film about the history of the Gracie brothers academy and Jiu Jitsu in Rio. In the past he has indulged his love affair with Brazil by making the Capoeira documentary, O Zelador, and for the last World Cup, Cadencia, which also tells a tale of Brazilian culture, kite flying and carnival.

We met in Soho in February, and I asked him about the role of Sport Psychology in his coaching of Jiu Jitsu and martial arts fighters. I reason that though this blog is skewed towards runners, across all sports there are certain coaching and psychological skills are consistent that we should try and learn from each other.

For instance, Daren thinks the role of a coach is to:

  • Instil a sense of belief in an athlete; 
  • Perfect the technique of the art they are practising, and 
  • To condition the body for the rigours that an athlete will be put themselves through. 

Sound anything like endurance training to anyone?

When I put him on the spot about how much of Jiu Jitsu coaching he believes is physical and how much mental, Daren believed that before a fight, coaching and training is about 80% physical. But within the hour before a bout, about 80% mental, and once in the ring, 100% mental!

I asked him how he conditions his athletes to help prepare them mentally, in the hope I might be able to share some advice with readers. At first he said that he assists with athletes having the confidence within themselves that they've done all the training possible through their schedule. If not, they'll feel as if something is missing. He has to show them as a coach he has confidence in them to deliver, as when they are in a fight they're on their own, undue stress can be caused. By instilling belief (self-efficacy) in his athletes, he believes the athlete will feel that they can deliver under the pressure of competition.

I asked Daren how he goes about instilling belief in an athlete in the week and hour pre-fight. He described how by pushing the right buttons in his fighter, he can then help them look at ways to take their opponent out of their comfort zone. I asked how this is achieved. Daren responded that he tries to assist with dealing with all eventualities that can arise in a fight to minimise surprises. The reason for so doing is that if a fighter gets surprised by an opponent, doubt and anxiety are more likely to creep in (and thus a fight can be lost).

It is Daren's opinion that winning in Martial arts in comes down to which fighter has the greatest motivation and appetite. In similarity to preparing for endurance events, if an athlete has prepared fully, they won't 'burn' valuable mental energy and will be focused solely on the job in hand. Daren retold the experience of seeing a professional Jiu Jitsu fighter in training take on 4 different fighters in the ring, one after the other, in order to replicate a 'super athlete' in a tough fight. By mimicking a tough opponent who appeared to be totally fresh as the athlete became fatigued, he set up the different conditions experienced by a fighter, e.g. strength; speed; technique. By undertaking such a heavy stress load in training, it was felt the fighter would benefit in a real fight as they would be better used to different tactics at different points in a fight. Thus the athlete would obtain greater self-belief.

In their history Jiu Jitsu and a lot of the Martial arts have been amateur in terms of competitive level, but overall Daren believes sport science will begin to play a greater role in preparation and in fights. From experience he believes the athlete with the greatest knowledge and preparation will win and thus disciplines within combat sports will evolve as mental skills training and other scientific techniques are applied.

Though I realise some of the elements of this post are specific to martial arts, I am sure there are examples from that show how an athlete, regardless of discipline has to get into the right psychological state for peak performance, and at the very least, it can make you think about how you can go the extra mile in psychological training and research to help you raise your game. Any questions specifically about fighting or how to try and get 'into the zone' for peak performance are welcomed.

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