Get in the Zone (of Proximal Development) in Your Coaching

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Sport Psychology

The community aspect of athletic activity is important for multiple reasons. Our sports communities provide support, reality checks, and useful information about appropriate behavior. And notably, our community connections are also vitally important influences on our actual learning.


For as long as I’ve been training jiu jitsu, from my very earliest, flailiest experiences up to the present, my teachers and training partners have helped me achieve more in partnership with them than I would be able to by myself. Nowadays, I find myself doing for less experienced practitioners what my teachers have always done for me: using my knowledge to set them up for success. For instance, let’s say we drilled a triangle sequence during the technique part of class. During the rolling part, if my partner has significantly less experience than I do, I might purposefully place myself in a situation where s/he can execute the techniques we worked on earlier in the class.


proximal development, zone of proximal development, learning theory, bjjSometimes the athlete sees the opening right away and takes advantage, sometimes my simply asking, “What do you see here?” does the trick, and sometimes it requires an overt comment like, “Here you can execute the techniques we worked on earlier today,” accompanied by verbal cues at each step. Thus, depending on the athlete’s needs, I am able to provide assistance to help him/her accomplish more than s/he would be able to without that assistance.


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