In order to achieve a positive outcome for any activity where coaching is required it is fundamental that an understanding of the role of the coach is determined. It will relate to the activity taught and the level of achievement required from the student/s. It should be obvious that the role of the coach for an international performer will be different to that of a little league coach. This does not necessarily indicate one is more important than the other, merely that their roles are not the same. There are however certain basic requirements for a  good coach, these are the functions of teacher, trainer, motivator, scientist and planner.

The Teacher.

In order to be a good teacher it is essential to understand how skills are acquired as well as to have a thorough knowledge of the subject which is being taught. It is clear that the traditional method of teaching martial arts of repetition and strict discipline although valuable are not as applicable in a questioning western society. Skill acquisition is a complex area of study with many recommended methods available to the instructor. A few examples of these are neurolinguistic programming (NLP)(Curzon-Ziggers,R. 1992), Demonstration explanation participation evaluation (DEPE)(Koay,J.1993) and accelerated learning (Curzon-Ziggers,R.1992). NLP works on the principle of the students reaction to the instructors spoken and sometimes visual instructions. The actual words and body language an instructor uses are very important to the reaction of the student. For example where an instructor can see a student performing a punch incorrectly, instead of saying to the student “that is a dreadful punch” it is better to find something correct about the punch and point that out and then offer a suggestion to improve the technique. This sort of technique gives the student positive reinforcement and encouragement as well as providing a new goal to achieve. The DEPE method is self explanatory in its approach in that a technique is demonstrated and then explained and then the students perform the technique themselves and are evaluated on their performance. The cycle is then repeated until a satisfactory outcome is achieved. Accelerated learning is a system of teaching which uses as its foundation the suggestion that individuals utilise their senses to acquire knowledge  at differing levels.It is clear that some people use the visual medium to acquire knowledge more than their auditory or kinetic sense. Indeed blind people often appear to have heightened perceptions of hearing and touch. In order to maximise the acquisition of knowledge when teaching it is sensible to utilise all three sensual input media. Hence when demonstrating a technique it should be demonstrated visually as it is aurally described and then the student should be assisted in performing the movement so that they “feel” how to perform the technique.

In reality these skill acquisition methods are often combined by many instructors to realise the students potential. It is obvious that a thorough understanding of  the subject being taught is essential to a good teacher however it should also be clear that the knowledge required is to some extent determined by the level of the student being taught. Hence it is not essential to have an eighth dan black belt to teach a white belt. Although knowledge is a prerequisite for a good teacher it will not guarantee a positive outcome. The ability to pass on the knowledge is the determining factor.

The Trainer.

It is in this role that the coach must act to raise the performance of the student/s. The trainer must have an understanding of the principles behind fitness instruction. In order to raise performance it is necessary for the athletes to achieve the level of fitness, suppleness and strength required to perform the skills needed for their sport. This is particularly true for the exponent of Taekwon-Do where all of these criterion impact on the ability to perform the technique. It is therefore incumbent on the coach to organise a fitness program for the student/s which will improve the physical conditioning of the student/s and therefore maximise the potential skill acquisition. In doing so the coach should take into account the fitness requirements for the particular sport. Naturally the needs of a bowls player are significantly different to that of a Taekwon-Do exponent and so the amount of time spent on raising fitness should be appropriate for the sport.

The Motivator

A significant factor in raising the performance of participants in any sport is motivation. The study of sports psychology is a rapidly expanding field of which motivation is a major Component.

An early example of the study of motivation was done by Abraham Maslow (1954). He set up a hierarchical structure of needs pyramid with the physiological needs (such as food and water) at the base, followed by safety and security, then social needs below ego, and self fulfillment at the apex.

self fulfillment



safety and security

physiological needs

It is important for the coach to remember the basic proposition set out by  Maslow which states that:

“1: The lowest unsatisfied need must be sufficiently appeased before the needs above them normally become operative, that is, are able to motivate the individual.

2: To the extent that needs are satisfied they will become inoperative, ie. they cease to motivate the individual for a satisfied need is no longer a motivator of behavior.” (Haney W.V. 1979).

So by this proposition once one need is fulfilled the motivational force becomes the next set of needs on the pyramid. An understanding of this theory allows the coach to elucidate the need to the student/s and thereby encourage the motivation.

The coach however “cannot control the motivation levels of their athletes, or the reactions of the athletes to imaginative motivational techniques adopted in the name of lifting performance.” (Beginning coaching, Australian sports Commission).


By setting attainable goals for the athletes and providing positive feedback and hence encouragement the student/s should develop their own internal motivation. A coach can provide some external motivators for the student such as reward for achievement. In Taekwon-Do this reward may be the grading system or the medals attained in tournaments. More subtle rewards such as the respect obtained from junior students can be conferred to a large extent by the instructor’s attitude to the student. It is important that the instructor show appropriate respect to the student in class to provide the correct response from other students. It should be kept in mind by the instructor that under the “Maslow” theory these “motivators” are of little use if the student/s cannot fulfil the needs of the base of the pyramid.

The Scientist

The major role of a scientist is to test, observe, analyse and modify. So for a coach to perform as a scientist this is how they should act. By setting up experiments with the student/s and observing the response, then analysing the results it becomes possible to modify the procedure to achieve a better outcome or accept the outcome if it is positive.  It should be understood that an experiment may consist of merely changing the foot position in a kicking technique, thus allowing a student to obtain a better board break. Experiments need not be complex, indeed the fewer are the variables in an experiment the easier it is to analyse the results.

The Planner

Without the skills of a planner it would not be possible for an instructor’s students to achieve any goals. A coach must be able to plan classes, curricula and often the administration of the organisation of which they are a part. The more senior the coach the greater the level of planning required. To many coaches this is the most difficult area of responsibility because without these skills the classes will be disorganised and the outcomes for students will be limited.


There are two major components to safety in a class,  those of an environmental nature and those involving  personal safety.

Environmental factors

This area of safety covers the physical aspects such as the venue. In the case of Taekwon-Do, the training hall (Do Jang) should be as outlined in General Choi Hong Hi’s manual of Taekwon-Do. The size should be about 15 meters by 14 meters, have no supporting beams on the training area and a timber floor. There should be changing facilities as well as toilets and washbasins and a location for personal belongings. These requirements ensure that the students will not injure themselves on the training floor by running into poles or because of the nature of the surface. All furniture should be moved to locations which do not interfere with training and any sharp edges covered. Changing facilities keep bags and clothes off the training floor were they can become dangerous obstacles. All glass such as mirrors should be of the safety type and training bags etc should be appropriate to the conditioning of the student. Excessively heavy training bags can easily injure the inexperienced students through strained muscles. The availability of a first aid box is a common sense practicality as well as basic first aid skills for the coach. This is especially important for the martial arts instructor where because of the nature of the sport occasionally trauma injuries do occur.

Personal safety

The distinction between environmental and personal safety is not definitive. Some aspects of training may be seen to fit into either category an example being the protective equipment. For the martial artist groin guards and mouth protectors are sensible personal safety equipment. Kicking targets and other training aids may be either personal or environmental components. It is the responsibility of the coach to ensure that appropriate training aids are used. It is important that students are conditioned to be able to perform the techniques required of them at their level of achievement. This is especially true for martial artists who perform breaking techniques, the coach should set out a staged regimen to condition the student’s destruction tool (eg. the hand or foot) so that it is not damaged when these  techniques are performed. Even more important is the structure of a class to the personal safety of the student/s. A physical class without a warm up and cool down risks the safety of all students and the coach. A good understanding of human anatomy and in particular the structure and function of muscles is an enormous benefit to an instructor. This knowledge will help prevent injury created through use of contraindicated exercises or stretches.



Skeletal muscles work in conjunction with the skeletal and nervous system by pulling on bones to create movement.  Muscles do not push  (Egger and Champion 1990). In particular skeletal muscles usually work in pairs, as agonist and antagonist. A muscle may contract in a concentric manner to move a joint such as the biceps in a biceps curl, or may contract as the muscle lengthens in an eccentric manner such as the biceps when the arm is straightened against gravity. Here the muscle acts as a braking mechanism. Skeletal muscles have an origin and an insertion to which the muscle is attached. The origin of a muscle is the fixed end which usually does not move when the muscle is contracted, whereas the insertion is the attachment at the bone that is moved by the muscle. The tendons connect the muscle to the bone. When an agonist muscle contracts generally the antagonist muscle relaxes. This facilitates the movement of the joint.

Microstructure and Function

The morphological makeup of muscles involve two types of muscle fibers. The fast twitch fibers are characterised by a rapid response to stimulation whereas the slow twitch fibers have a much slower contraction speed. The ratio of fast to slow twitch fibers is determined to a large extent genetically. The efficiency of action of the fibers however can be changed as a result of exercise. This has a significant bearing on the performance of martial artists, since it means that there are some people who naturally have a lot of fast twitch fibers and so can kick or punch quickly without significant training. Conversely although an individual may have less fast twitch fibers, by training they can improve the efficiency of the fibers they have and also have stamina to perform for longer (albeit more slowly).The molecular energy to run muscles is created by the conversion of adenosine triphosphate to adenosine diphosphate and phosphate. When this reaction occurs there is a release of energy which can be utilised by the body to perform work. Where the body requires an instantaneous but brief burst of energy, ATP combined with phosphocreatinine in the muscle cells breaks down to provide the necessary energy. This system has only limited amounts of stores and must be replaced rapidly. The lactate system however uses the glycogen stores in the muscle cells to create pyruvic acid which can then be converted into ATP to replace that used up during work such as sprinting. These two mechanisms of ATP production form the anaerobic system. The aerobic system for creation of ATP uses oxygen and carbohydrate in the energy powerhouses of the cells known as mitochondria. Through a process which involves many biochemical reactions in the mitochondria ATP is synthesised. Thus the ATP diminished by the work done is replaced through these energy producing systems.

Muscles cannot work unless they are stimulated to do so, and this is the role of the nervous system. The nerves transmit signals to and from the brain and the muscles. Within the muscles are both motor and sensory nerve endings, the former to stimulate the contraction of the muscles while the latter sends sensory input to the brain.


It should be clear from this discussion that  a good coach will have an understanding of how skills are acquired and will organise their instruction so that the student can achieve the maximum benefit from each lesson. This means the risk of injury to the student will always be minimised through the instructor’s efforts to provide a safe environment for training as well as their knowledge of sport training technique. The understanding of how the body works and how knowledge is acquired provides the instructor with the opportunity to structure their class so that the student/s can reach their maximum potential. It is important for an instructor to continue to learn, and to accept new ideas if they are an improvement on traditional practices. A coach can learn through the students as well as from other sources such as coaching courses. Armed with an expanding knowledge base an instructor can set a good role model for their own students and hopefully see their students surpass themselves in not only skill but also achievement. I see this as the ultimate reward for a good coach.


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Curzon-Ziggers, R. (1992). Personal Communication,Unpublished

notes.Accelerated Learning Workshop. Martial Arts Sports Medicine

Seminar. Monash University August (1992).

Eggar. G,.Champion.N,.(1990). The Fitness Leader’s Handbook.

Singapore:Kangaroo Press

Gen. Choi Hong Hi. (1975). Taekwon-Do (The Korean Art Of Self

Defence). Toronto,Canada:International Taekwon-Do Federation.

Haney, W.V.(1979). Communication and Interpersonal Relations,

Text and Cases. Homewood,Illinois:Richard D. Irwin, Inc.

Koay, J.(1993). National Coaching Accreditation Scheme Notes

Laura, R.,Dutton, K. (1992). Weight Training For Sports.

NSW:Bantam Sports.

Steve Weston is a 7th Degree Master Instructor with ITF HQ Korea. He is a trained Medical Scientist and Sports Coach who has trained many Australian and International ITF Taekwon-Do medalists.