Crowdsourcing: Need Advice on Nephews’ BJJ Woes/They let everyone dominate them

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I recently read Jeff Howe’s book “Crowdsourcing.”  The basic idea of crowdsourcing is to take a problem you have and share it with an audience for a solution. Hopefully an educated audience. It has been very useful in business, computer and science circles. To an extent we all have been participating in this experience as web users and more so as BJJ bloggers and readers.

So, here is my problem.

My nephews let everyone dominate and submit them in class. Everyone. They barely put up a fight. But when they roll with each other, they go all out. The bad part is not that they are getting submitted or dominated, but that when they grapple with each other I see evidence that they understand positioning, guard defense, minor submissions and have developed technique.

I signed them up for BJJ and Kenpo Karate 8 months ago. They are now 9 and 11 years old. In the Karate class they are doing fine and have progressed rapidly in terms of katas, promotions, etc. However, in BJJ, not so much. They attend class once a week (Saturdays) and have probably have had 28 -30 sessions. That’s not a lot in the scheme of things but they have the extra benefit of having a brother of similar size and stature around to practice with during the week. The are usually the biggest or are close to being the biggest kids in their classes but get controlled by guys and gals half their size. 

What really frustrated me and their father is when a new kid who had never been to a BJJ class and who was smaller than they are tapped the oldest with a arm-bar that looked like he made it up on the spot and roughed up the youngest.  This is not the first time something like this has happened. He was not a phenom as other members of the class quickly showed him the hierarchy that existed in class.

The boys have never complained about coming to class or said they do not want to take BJJ. I don’t want to be the uncle who puts undue pressure on them, but it’s disheartening to see them allow other children take advantage of them. Especially when they have more skill and have a size and strength advantage.

Any ideas, comments or suggestions. Am I missing something here?


16 thoughts on “Crowdsourcing: Need Advice on Nephews’ BJJ Woes/They let everyone dominate them

    Steve said:
    February 12, 2009 at 11:23 am

    Have you asked them what makes sparring in class different than rolling with each other outside of class? Depending upon what their reasons are, you’ll have to handle things very differently. I’m presuming that it’s a fear of failure. It sounds like they might not want to look silly trying something that doesn’t work in front of the class. But, I could be way off.

    Do you guys do any coaching during their sparring matches or let them just kind of work it out themselves? What I mean is, if they get in a bad position, do you coach them during the match?

    Some things that might help are to see how they respond to specific goals. For my daughter, who also tends to be very passive (but also very small), I am content if she just keeps moving. I’ll tell her that I just want to see her keep moving so that the big kids can’t squish her. You could try to set similar, specific goals. Things like passing guard. So, in that, you’re encouraging them to fight for a top spot and then to pass guard. Or, “Today, let’s work that armbar from mount. See how many times you can try that.”

    Tied into this is, perhaps, making a game out of it. This can be dicey, because fostering competition can be really good or really bad between brothers. Things like, whoever passes guard 3 times in one class first gets to pick a treat for the family.

    Another possibility that comes to mind that is less about competing against each other is to get them to as a team for each other. You could make successful techniques worth 2 points and unsuccessful attempts worth 1 point. That way, they get points just for trying a technique, which might get them over the fear of failure. Then, if they as a team get more than, say, 10 points in a class, they get a milkshake (or whatever).

    Of course, there may be nothing you can do. They’re kids and it might be something they’ll just work out on their own. 🙂 Good luck and feel free to drop me a line. I don’t have a lot of answers, but I did sleep at a Holiday Inn Express.

    BTomaz said:
    February 12, 2009 at 11:28 am

    Hi Bjj365… I’m a regular portuguese reader of your wondefull blog.

    About your issue…. I can maybe give you my example. I’m a 3 stripes white belt… And I think that for a lot of months I got that same problem.

    I was good executing technices in training, i rolled very well with my instructor… then when it came to roll with new students or other WB’s..I was always being dominated… I was on the verge of quitting BJJ… and then suddenlly in the space of two weeks it’s liek I reach a diffrent plateua… and out of the blue my performance started going great… just like magic… I dont have an explanation rather TRAINING TRAINING TRAINING… Give the kids some time… sooner or later they just gonna explode and all their tehcnic will come out.

    Roy Dean said:
    February 12, 2009 at 11:35 am

    Take a little bit of time to drill with them each week. I think the kids may have a hard time with being “aggressive” with people they don’t know well or are unfamiliar with. So take away the struggle of them having to try really hard with automatic reactions that come naturally. I would suggest drilling armlock/triangle from the guard, and maybe a RNC if their partner turns over and gives their back. Once they taste success with what’s been programmed in their body, things may click and they will enjoy rolling with the unfamiliar a bit more. 20 or 30 minutes a week of drilling could make all the difference! Good luck to the boys…

    jiujitsu365 said:
    February 12, 2009 at 6:46 pm


    I appreciate your advice.

    I will have to ask them why they ‘hold back’ when rolling with others. It will be interesting to see what they say. As far as coaching goes, I have tried to take the laid back approach and allow the instructors teach the class. Only twice during the entire time have I provided them instructions from the peanut gallery. It has helped out both times though.

    I like your two-tiered approach by asking them to go for a certain type of submission which will also make them seek out a certain position (mount, sidemount, etc.). I also have considered using some sort of incentive (i.e., “milkshake”) as a confidence building tool.

    Hopefully, I can post some positive results soon.

    jiujitsu365 said:
    February 12, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    Obrigado BTomaz,

    Your experience made me think about times in my own life where I have struggled for a long time with no progress. But then all of a sudden everything changes for the better.

    I should relax and just be more patient.

    P.S. I tried to check out your blog but I need to work on my Portuguese. My Spanish language skills will only take me so far.

    jiujitsu365 said:
    February 12, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    Thank you Roy for your guidance,

    Before I comment, I have to say it was a shock to see your comments because my very next post was going to be about your DVD “Blue Belt Requirements.” I just received it in the mail this Tuesday and have been reviewing it every day since then.

    It’s an honor.

    I will find some time to work with them on the techniques you suggested and some other basics so it can become natural to them. I may need to encourage them to become a little bit more familiar with their classmates so they can become more effective grapplers.

    Caleb said:
    February 13, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    I am curious to see how the guys progress! Keep us in the loop!

    neijia said:
    February 13, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    Are they shy and reserved around other people (not having anything to do with bjj)? My older son is like this with various sports, too. He’ll do anything in the safe environment at home but around other kids, he feels a little less sure of himself – his technical skills haven’t changed, it’s mainly just a personality factor. I think every kid is different, though, so it may not be the same dynamic going on with your nephews.

    John Miles said:
    February 13, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    Speaking as a parent, I think you just need to realize that they’re young. The “killer instinct” will come, and when it does they will have the techniques to go along with it. I wouldn’t put any added pressure on them, just keep encouraging them to train and they’ll get more comfortable with it all. Mr. Dean’s advice of additional drilling to make the moves second nature is as far as I would take it – and I wouldn’t mention to them “why” either. Good luck!

    Love your blog and look forward to training with you some time at Jacksonville Gracie Jiu-Jitsu open mat.

    jiujitsu365 said:
    February 13, 2009 at 9:58 pm


    I’ll definitely keep everyone (whose interested) posted.


    Since I am their uncle I only really get to see them two times a week (training days) and family gatherings. However I have seen them interacting with their friends at a football game with no problems. They do have the tendency to “stand back” unless engaged with the other kids they train with though. Maybe it’s because they can lean on each other for company.

    jiujitsu365 said:
    February 13, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    Thanks John,

    I believe you are right as well. As an uncle I don’t want to pressure them. I really don’t like to use the term “aggressive” in the context of BJJ training. I just don’t want them to be reluctant, hesitant or have a mental block.

    Yeah, I look forward to attending another one of your open mats. Hopefully I can get out there next month.

    Conan said:
    February 13, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    I have two 14 year old boys in my class who are best friends and joined about the same time. I see the exact same thing with them. The big difference is that they’re in an adult class and are learning with everyone else. When they fight eachother, I can see them applying their skills. They go hard and are able to really show their game.

    When they go with most everyone else, it’s like it’s their first day in class. Since they are younger, I just figured it was the big brother syndrome. They just have it in their minds that everyone else is going to dominate them, so it’s like they’re not even going to try that hard.

    Throw them back together and it’s a fight to the death.

    At first, I worked with them on being more assertive and tried to build their confidence. It didn’t really help that much. What I found that helped them to improve with others was building social bonds. Basically, once they got to know someone good enough and felt more comfortable with them, they would open up and try harder.

    Hearing about your nephews made me wonder if it was a similar situation. Even though they’re in a class with similar aged kids, it still sounded to me like it was similar to “my” kids.

    Also, I think what neijia wrote really applies to my situation and may apply to your nephews as well.

    Patrick said:
    February 14, 2009 at 8:00 am

    They remind me of my cousin’s children; with family and close friends they’re balls of energy, yet when it comes interacting with new people – even kids their age – they tend to be more reserved, shy and get “pushed” around.

    You’ve got great advice already, so keep us posted! I’m sure things will work out.

    jiujitsu365 said:
    February 14, 2009 at 9:14 am

    I appreciate it Conan,

    You nailed it. If I didn’t know any better I would think that the teenagers you described are my nephews.

    I don’t know how yet, but I will keep my eyes open to finding ways to encourage the boys to be more sociable so they could relax during rolling.

    jiujitsu365 said:
    February 14, 2009 at 9:16 am

    Thanks Patrick,

    I think I am starting to notice a general trend. The mental aspect is as important or more important than the physical.

    neijia said:
    February 14, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    The mental aspect is always more important. If they are going to be top competitors, that is a key edge when everyone has incredible physical skills (admittedly I only know from reading about it and observing, not from doing world-class anything).

    Otherwise (far more likely, statistically), the mental lessons carry over into any other endeavor. At least, that’s what I hope my kids can get out of apparent “obstacles” like this one. All the best to your nephews.

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