Joe Mazzulla

Joe Mazzulla is tapping into a unique resource to improve as coach

The Celtics head coach has leaned into Brazilian jiu-jitsu over the past year.

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If we learned anything about Joe Mazzulla during his first season as Boston Celtics head coach, it's that he's a fierce competitor. And that competitive streak led him to explore all avenues of self-improvement -- including martial arts.

Since taking over as the Celtics' interim (and eventually full-time) head coach last September, Mazzulla has been training in jiu-jitsu, a Brazilian martial art somewhat akin to wrestling that emphasizes grappling and ground fighting. The 35-year-old works with trainer Alex Costa at the Gracie Barra Boston martial arts school and says the instruction he's received from Costa has a direct application to his day job as an NBA coach.

"It’s one of the hardest things I’ve done," Mazzulla told ESPN's Michael Eaves in a video interview published Friday. "What the art really gives is the study of transitions, and that really helps me because in a game and in a season, there’s transitions and decision making.

"You’re actually learning how not to fight. You’re learning how to handle situations. You’re learning how to problem solve."

Mazzulla did plenty of problem-solving last season; while he led the Celtics to a 57-25 regular season record and the Eastern Conference's No. 2 seed, he drew some criticism for Boston's inconsistent play in the postseason, which ended in a Game 7 loss to the Miami Heat in the East Finals.

The Celtics have committed to Mazzulla as their head coach going forward, however, and Mazzulla is committed to practicing jiu-jitsu, a discipline he first picked up in 2017 while coaching at Fairmont State but paused in 2019 when he first joined Boston's staff as an assistant coach.

"When you become a coach, you spend so much time leading others and helping others that you almost neglect yourself," Mazzulla told Eaves. "The question I had was, 'Who’s coaching you?'"

Mazzulla appears to have a valuable mentor in Costa, who is a Celtics fan and came to TD Garden last season to watch his mentee in action.

"I would take it a step further and say I'm a better person," Mazzulla said when asked if jiu-jitsu has made him a better coach. "To me, in order to become a better coach or player, you have to become a better person.

"The best quote Alex had was, 'The mats reveal who you really are.' And I think that will help me become a better coach along the way."

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