bj penn-prommanowFirst and foremost, I would like to say that I have all the love, respect and admiration for BJ Penn in the world. And this article is NOT about BJ Penn. This article goes out to every coach and aspiring athlete in combat sports and more specifically, MMA.

Every fight, every battle and every contest yields some tangible and intangible lessons that can be learned, applied and refined. Each one also provides many questions.

The main question that people asked was, “Should BJ Penn have fought at UFC 175?”

The second question that people have been asking is, “Should BJ Penn retire for good this time?”

Other folks have been asking, “Why did he fight?”

And then some have asked me directly, “Dr. Ferguson, how do you know when it’s over?”

I think the best question that should be asked and answered for the sake of learning, edification, and development is the following:

“How do you know if you should keep fighting or if you should stop?”

The answer to this question is not a difficult one but it is difficult at a certain chronological landscape in one’s career. It’s difficult during that time when you still feel like you can do it, but your body knows it can’t, but you are not aware of that.

So what should you do? You should do the following 5 things:

Number One: Get Some Interobserver Reliability

Talk to some people that you respect. Those that train you and that who have not. Those in your inner circle and ask them, “Do you think I should fight again?”  Have a good quality conversation. Listen. Ask questions. Have them ask you questions and listen to the feedback.  Make sure you are having a conversation with people who love you and respect you and people who you respect as well.

Numer Two: Compare the Quantitative Data

As a professional coach, the coaches that I usually deal with understand the need of a collaborative team. Your team of coaches should have your numbers and data from when you were in the best shape of your life. If you cannot match those numbers or get close, then you already know your answer.  Meaning, your strength numbers, your VO2 max numbers, your workout charts, your mile time, your strikes per round, your workout tempo, your workout pace, your working HR, your resting HR, your recovery time, your weight, etc.,.  If your current data cannot match up to your previous data or at least get close, then you already know that you have no business fighting again.  The problem with so many fighters is that they go off of how they “feel’ and that is an affective quality that is not really measurable. I mean, you can measure “how you feel” but you can feeeeeeel great and not be in the same shape.

Number Three: Compare the Qualitative Data

After you start training for a few weeks as a test, look at your journals from when you were training before to now and read how they have changed.  If you are reading this and you are not journaling when you are training, then you are making a huge error! The best way that your sports psychologist can help you is if you hand in your journal when you all meet. That way they can see your thoughts from before and now and see how your focus has changed, if at all.

Number Four: Re-Evaluate Your Mission and Vision

Return to your original mission and vision statement of why you started fighting and see if this fits in that original mission and vision. If not, or if there is a misalignment, then you may already have your answer. If you have not developed a mission statement or vision statement for your MMA career, then please do so immediately. No matter if you are a coach or an athlete. And understand that your mission or vision may change over the years. I remember talking to a client that I mentor who in in the UFC.  We talk about life, goals, his vision, his personal mission for his career and the direction in which he wants it to go. In one conversation I advised him, after hearing about how much he just loved fighting, training, competing and the rush from the sport –  to just, do what you love and stop focusing on the belt.  I told him, “You’ve won the belt already. If another opportunity comes for the belt, great. If not, make sure you take the time to enjoy what you’re doing because there are only a few people on the planet who can do what you are doing right now.”

Number Five: Get a Mentor and an Advisor

These people are different than coaches. These people are the coaches of YOU. Those other people are the coaches of your SPORTING career.  Those shots in that cage are real. Those hits to the head, are real. Brain damage is real. And even though you don’t see the effects right away, please understand that you have been affected.  Make sure you have people who are more concerned with YOU around you than those who are concerned with you being a celebrity. Because when the gravy train runs out of gravy, it also runs out of riders.

For more information about these topics and how you can improve your MMA career please visit 

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