For more or less the entirety of my time in grad school at UPENN, I was focused on building an understandable and practical model for skill development and improvement in combat sport and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
One of the more important concepts for me was the idea of having distinct improvement goals in the long-term and short-term. These are different from competitive goals (IE: winning the advanced division at NAGA next week, winning the no-gi world’s at black belt in 4 years, etc…). Improvement goals focus on just that – a player’s own progression and development – rather than competitive benchmarks.
If you dig into the Sport Psychology literature, you’ll likely find that the highest level competitors set both competitive and improvement goals (IE: goals that measure their progress both in terms of self-to-self and self-to-other).
In this article we’ll look at long and short term improvement goals and how to make them meaningful for your own grappling progress:
What Should be Involved in Setting BJJ Improvement Goals
I use a lot of analogies to business when I talk about high-level grappling training. Reason being: business is serious and in a big business, thousands of people have their livelihood in the hands of the leaders of the corporation and the systems they have to continue to succeed as a company. In BJJ, there is nowhere near that degree of granularity or focus on improvement as a science.
This could change – and I feel as though it will as BJJ becomes more and more popular, and the developing best practices of other combat sports (MMA included) start to eek their way into common practice culture.
Here are a few sources of insight that are important to draw on before setting goals. In my opinion you should aim to have at least 2 of these in your repertoire (and understood thoroughly) before setting goals that you’re going to follow seriously:
- Film of both your practices and your competitions (Where to you fall apart or stand out when it really matters? What are the trends that you see in your competitive matches? etc…)
- Coach’s perspectives (Ideally you want more than one coach to provide you with his understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, and this feedback should probably be given directly after this coach has rolled with you and/or watched you roll a bunch)
- Training partner perspective (Those who train with you most probably know the “truths” about some of your strengths and weaknesses more than you. Again, getting their feedback is best done directly after rolling so that the feedback is fresh in their minds. Multiple, high-level training partners is the ideal.
Goal setting is not a “whimsical” activity – although creative thinking may be useful. Its a task that requires serious subjective and objective feedback in order for it to be effective. You wouldn’t invest in a business if it had no business plan – so why not apply the same rigor and forethought to your improvement in grappling?
Long vs. Short Term
High-level athletes and coaches use both. Think about the difference in this way:
Long Term Goals:
- Pivotal Question: What areas of my BJJ development require continuous work in order to maximize my long-term potential as a competitor and athlete?
- If we’re talking specifically about SKILL (not mental tools or physical exercise), then this is going to imply areas of consistent long-term focus geared towards one’s long-term competitive goals or best estimation of where one ultimately wants to be.
Short Term Goals:
- Pivotal Question: What are the key skill areas that I need to cultivate before my next competition – or over the next 3-month span?
- These areas of skill focus will generally be more specific. Maybe you’re headed into a division where you know your main competitor has a mean closed guard. Maybe your leg locks are feeling weak lately and you want to overhaul them in the next few months. These areas have to do with refine specific skills or preparing for specific opponents and competitions.
Food for thought indeed. What are the long-term and short-term areas YOU need focusing on? More importantly – what sources of insight and perspective will you use to determine these improvement areas and your plans for working on them?
For the love of grappling,
PS: Big thanks to Joe Lauzon for tuning me into the dichotomy of long vs. short term goals over a year ago – during an interview at his academy!