Din Thomas: The Coaching Mindset From One of the Best
Competing in mixed martial arts and coaching mixed martial arts are two different worlds. It is even rarer in the case of American Top Team coach, Din Thomas. Thomas performed at such a high level as a competitor and is now one of the top, premier coaches in the sport. Thomas earned a record of 26-9 throughout his fighting years.
“Transitioning from fighting to coaching was a natural progression,” Thomas told MMASucka. “I started training and fighting back in 1995-96. Think about that…Nobody was doing it back then so I was always having to teach my friends moves just so I could have training partners.” Coaching for Thomas started as a necessity. “Eventually in 1999 I started teaching MMA (we called it Vale Tudo) at Mike Metzger’s Internal Power Karate School (Today it’s called Championship Martial Arts.) He let me teach and train at night if I picked up after-school kids with his bus.”
The Arrival to American Top Team
At any given UFC event, you can see Thomas cornering some of the greatest fighters in the sport today, all from American Top Team. “It wasn’t until TUF 21 when American Top Team faced the Blackzillians that ATT asked me to come down and be a full-time coach,” Thomas told MMASucka.
Thomas left behind everything he had built up until that time to go to the premier team in the world. “Since then [coaching at Mike Metzger’s] and up until 2015, all through my entire fight career, I owned multiple BJJ/MMA schools where I was teaching and coaching fighters for all levels of competition.” After the call from ATT, Thomas closed all of his schools and decided to shift his focus to coaching high-level professional fighters.
The Coaching Mindset
As with any sport, the way an athlete thinks can be very different than that of their coach. It has to be balanced so that everyone plays their proper role to achieve success. “My mindset is completely different now as a coach than as when I was competing. The reason if the aforementioned statement,” Thomas explained to MMASucka. “Basically as a coach, the first and foremost thing to remember is that you (the coach) are not the one competing. Often times I see coaches live vicariously through their athletes and that is the worst thing you can do. You have to understand your fighter and approach the fight as the fighter. Every fighter is different. You have to learn to adjust to their personalities and skill sets. Treat that fighter with all due respect to THEIR ability.”
According to the American Top Team website, there are around 88 professional fighters apart of the team. The team spans every division, with athletes from multiple countries. How do you train so many world-class athletes in one gym and keep them all improving? “I don’t really like the ‘one size fits all’ training model. Unfortunately, where we are today in the game and because financially most fighters cannot afford tailored coaching, ‘one size fits all’ training is necessary,” Thomas told MMASucka.
“There are benefits to it in the beginning of one’s career. Fighters SHOULD learn how to work together, be good teammates, and you can build a strong foundation of skills based on what everybody else is doing.” The “one size fits all” model seems to work well for newer fighters to the sport looking to tighten up a few nuts and bolts to their basic game.
How to Train the Top Fighters in the World
But what about the world-class, top-ranked fighters in the world that are housed at American Top Team? Those fighters need specialized coaching. “For more experienced fighters, this ‘one size fits all’ model will kill their creativity. Most importantly, it will prolong their growth and learning process. Fighters are all different, have different strengths and weaknesses. If you do not have proper identification of these strengths and weaknesses because you are doing what everybody else is doing, you will prolong your progress.”
Thomas told MMASucka the potential downfall of the blanket group training method. “My motto is ‘your problems won’t fix themselves.’ If your problem is a weak left hook due to punching mechanics, but the group has been working single leg takedowns, you will be screwed until left hooks come back around on the curriculum…and that’s if it’s even on the curriculum. I always try to personalize certain aspects of training in group settings so that each individual gets what THEY need.”
With nearly 100 world class fighters, look to see a lot more of Thomas all over the world. Thomas was in Liverpool, England cornering on a Sunday and now in Utica, New York to corner the following Friday. He has gone from winning “Of the Night” awards (Submission of the Night at UFC 71 against Jeremy Stephens) to coaching awards, and it seems Din Thomas is just getting started.
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