By Michael Armstrong
Every parent, teacher and coach hopes that the children they are responsible for will succeed and fulfil their dreams in life. But what are the actual factors that contribute to this success and how can coaches and parents be part of that developmental process? I believe BJJ is uniquely positioned amongst martial arts to provide developmental opportunities that are key components for a successful life.
Angela Duckworth, Ph.D, conducted studies across a broad range of contexts, fields and employment, in an attempt to identify the components for success in life. Surprisingly, her research found that talent was often inversely related to success and at best unrelated to life success. Other commonly held misconceptions such as social intelligence, IQ, health, wealth and social standing were also unsuccessful predictors for success. The two components identified as key, were Grit and Self Control.
Grit is the ability to stick with a goal in the face of opposition; not for an hour, or a day but years. It is this determination, combined with self-control that allows children and adults to identify long term life goals and undertake the arduous road to making that future a reality. Professor Carol Dweck has dubbed this focus as a 'Growth Mindset'; a belief that our ability to learn is not fixed, and that with effort, failure is not a permanent condition.
BJJ provides an environment where these precepts are reinforced to students daily, and are in fact essential to progression in the art. Unlike other martial arts, the testing of techniques against a live, unwilling opponent is central to BJJ practice. This 'live' training environment ensures that every time a student rolls, failure is part of that experience. It is through a belief that failure is not a permanent condition, that students and their coaches can use failure to identify weaknesses, focus effort and progress in the journey of BJJ. The axiom, 'a black belt is just a white belt that never quit', couldn't be more true than in the case for BJJ.
BJJ students develop self-control through their daily exposure to bigger, stronger and more skilled opponents; and the dominant and uncomfortable positions these encounters inevitably lead to. The ability to stay calm amidst this discomfort and think through the situation is essential for a student to develop successful responses to their opponent’s attack. A loss of temper, the use of strength or an incorrectly applied technique will all inevitably fail, forcing a student down the correct path. The willingness to fail and persevere through that experience is the same self-control and grit that Angela Duckworth identified as essential for success in all aspects of life.
When a child understands the effect that challenge has on them, they are more likely to persevere when they fail. As parents and coaches, it is our role to help guide children through this learning process. The BJJ club provides an effective environment for this learning; however, without the right encouragement and a safe learning environment within which the student is allowed to fail, the discomfort of failure will be too much for some students to cope with. Students in this situation will quit because they are unable to accept failing or train in a manner to avoid failing. Some of measures I've observed include the use of strength or favoured positions when rolling, avoiding difficult (stronger, heavy or more technical) opponents or avoiding rolling all together by feigning injury or leaving class before the rolling commences. Encouraging students to accept and battle through failures is essential for getting back on the mat and by placing an emphasis on learning not winning, we have an opportunity to not only develop better BJJ students, but individuals that are better equipped to meet the challenges of life.
If you are interested in gauging your student's 'grit', self-control or mindset levels to help facilitate club discussion, you can find:
Grit Scale here:
Self-Control Scale here:
Carol Dweck's Growth Mindset test for individuals, teachers, class and schools here:
Both Angela Duckworth and Carol Dweck's books are also available from their websites and Amazon.
About the Author: Michael Armstrong is a BJJ instructor at Redback BJJ Canberra Australia, as well as an author and artist.
Duckworth, A., 2016. Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. Simon and Schuster.
Duckworth, A.L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M.D. and Kelly, D.R., 2007. Grit: perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of personality and social psychology, 92(6), p.1087.
Dweck, C.S., 2006. Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House Incorporated.