Dr. Rosi Sexton and Dr. Rhadi Ferguson on: Performance Comparisons in MMA Athletes and its Impact on Coaching

Dr. Rosi Sexton is a professional MMA fighter and practising osteopath based in the UK.

Performance Comparisons in MMA Athletes and its Impact on Coaching
by: Rosi Sexton, PhD & Rhadi Ferguson, PhD

“….the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.”  – Sun Tzu “The Art of War”

Introduction

What Should Be Done After “Your Fight”?

After a competitive Mixed Martial Arts bout has come to a conclusion, it is time for the coach and/or coaches and the athlete to analyze the athlete’s performance.  More often than not, this analysis simply includes the athletes performance in terms of strategy implementation, tactical adherence, the outcome of the bout (winning or losing), or asking the athlete about how they “felt” at certain points of the fight or after the bout.

In academic terms, this would be regarded as a “qualitative” analysis. It considers the athlete’s subjective viewpoint – his or her personal perception of the performance and how it contrasts the coach’s perception of the performance. This kind of analysis has merit and is certainly better than not doing one at all!

There is another approach to post-match analysis that coaches can also use. This approach takes a quantitative approach, and can be used to give a more objective view of the performance and to discover areas for improvement.

Here’s A Beneficial Post Match Analysis
That You Can Utilize Right Now

In this situation, we can compare the fighter’s recent performance with his or her previous performances in different bouts. This is valuable because it allows both the fighter and coach(es) to see a fighter’s improvements, limitations, strengths, weaknesses, etc.

For example, the coach may look at the number of strikes (striking work rate) that a fighter made in round one of his last bout, compared to other bouts. Or the coach may look at the number of shots that a fighter received in the recent past bout compared to the number of shots that the fighter received in other bouts of equal length, as a measurement of elusiveness.

Why Is This Helpful?

Such analyses can prove helpful in structuring future workouts, both in terms of the selection of techniques or skills to cover and the key coaching points.  This is important because it will also keep the coach and athlete focused on the current priorities for training.

It is common knowledge from the sport psychology knowledge-base that athletes prefer to practice the things which they like and are already successful with. This places a premium on having a quality coach who can direct practices and skill development in the areas which the athlete needs to benefit and isn’t as skilled.

For example, if an athlete is a good wrestler, they will most likely want to practice their top game, guard passing and ground-and-pound, or work on getting up from the bottom, instead of working on developing a quality bottom and guard game and working on submissions from their back.  (This also helps explain the resistance of many wrestlers to practicing Brazilian Jiujitsu in the gi, as it slows the game down and requires a higher level of understanding of escapes and submission knowledge. As there are more techniques and movement iterations available per position per the gi than without it, the fighter is introduced to unfamiliar situations which require a different thought process. The instinct is to retreat to the familiar.)

Of course, as with any tool, this kind of analysis needs to be used appropriately. Although looking at the numbers can sometimes provide new and surprising insights, there are many variables in an MMA fight and it is important to remember that the numbers alone may not tell the whole story. For example, when comparing a fighter’s performance against a low level opponent with his performance against a high level opponent it is crucial to take that skill level into account.

Similarly, when comparing fights against different types of fighter, or fights that utilized different game plans, the numbers should be viewed with this in mind.

This type of analysis can also be used during a fighter’s training camp. Video analysis of weekly sparring sessions can be used to fine tune the coaching sessions, and to track progress on a week to week level.

What If My Coach Doesn’t Do It Or Is Too Busy?

First of all….. don’t get upset.  Get to work!

A busy coach with a number of fighters may not have time to do this for all of his athletes, but the number crunching can always be set as “homework” for the fighter. This has the advantage that it may help to provide him with a more objective viewpoint of what is going on during these sparring sessions.

Let’s look at the hypothetical example of a fighter – Josh, who has an 8 week training camp for a fight. His gameplan for the fight is to take his opponent down. Here are the analyses of his sparring against the same training partner in weeks 3, 4 and 5.

 

Takedowns Takedown attempts
Week 3 Round 1 1 3
  Round 3 1 2
Week 4 Round 1 3 4
  Round 3 2 3
Week 5 Round 1 1 4
  Round 3 0

1

First of all, it’s important not to jump to any conclusions.

Even against the same training partner, no two rounds in MMA are ever the same. Either or both fighters might be having a good or a bad day, and sometimes an apparent improvement or decline may be the result of random fluctuations.

By The Numbers…..

In Josh’s case, there appears to be a clear improvement between week 3 and week 4 in terms of his success rate. He’s also increased his work rate from the previous week.

In week 5, on the other hand, there is likely cause for concern. Josh’s success rate has dropped through the floor, and he’s only attempted a single unsuccessful takedown in the last round. One possible explanation could be fatigued – perhaps he’s overtrained and has lost explosive power as a result. Another could be, the use of the same takedown and setup has been properly read and defended by his training partner. Another could just be poor execution.  Whatever the case, all of these things need to be addressed in a  (drum roll please…..) coach’s meeting.

In this instance perhaps Josh’s coach might need to adjust his training volume, or perhaps he needs to address technical errors with the takedowns themselves. Possibly as Josh gets tired, he’s getting “greedy” for the takedown and not setting it up first with his striking. Or maybe overthinking the problem has caused him to “choke.”

There may be other possible reasons for those numbers. As stated before, it is possible that Josh’s particular training partner has just figured out how to defend Josh’s takedown. We need to see this in context with the bigger picture – how Josh performs against other training partners in the camp, and what else is going on.

Numbers can be used to point the coach towards something important, but on their own they don’t “prove” the case. It’s then up to the coach to figure out what’s going on, and what to do about it!

Such iterative processes and analyses make for better coaches, better fighters and better training processes.

Closing

The purpose of this information is for you to understand that there is much to be gained from “looking at the numbers” while also understanding that the “numbers” only tell part of the story. However, without the “numbers” you are missing a very important part.

Unfortunately, many fighters, coaches and camps do not take the time to do these basic analyses that are done in every other professional sport such as Tennis, Baseball, Football, Basketball, etc.,.

Mixed Martial Arts is a growing highly competitive profession and any advantage or edge that you can utilize to morally and ethically enhance your performance or preparation should be utilized.

In closing, please do not underestimate the benefits of quality coaching or the use of outside combat sports consultants. A collaborative approach is often times the best one. One coach can’t do it all. It’s just not possible.  Go forth and remember….

“….the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.”  – Sun Tzu “The Art of War”

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About Dr. Rosi Sexton

Rosi Sexton is a professional MMA fighter and practising osteopath based in the UK, currently the #2 ranked female flyweight in the world. She also has a maths degree from Cambridge University and a PhD in theoretical computer science. Her fascination with martial arts began as a teenager, and along the way she has studied taekwon-do, traditional jiu jitsu and judo, before discovering mixed martial arts and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Her interest is in figuring out how to improve performance by analysing every possible aspect of a martial artist’s training and preparation – from coaching methods and strategy to exercise physiology, nutrition and sport psychology.

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