"I am offering a program, but I only want elite players. A minimum age of 15 and brown belts. Really, this is for your young black belts. You know, the people who are ready for senior national competition."
More than once, I have had people say to me,
"I am really not interested in that 'Little League Judo' stuff you do. I am more of an elite coach."Ronda nodded understandingly and said,
"So they don't want to make judo players, they want to take them, is that it?"That is it exactly and I had never heard it put so well. (Plus, as she pointed out, it rhymes!)
ULTRA-SENSITIVE ADVISORY WARNING: This is one of those posts where I am going to be - well, uh, me - so if you were looking for Strawberry Shortcake, you should quit reading now. If you ignore this warning and get offended, don't say I didn't warn you.
- A fifteen-year-old brown belt is not an elite player.
- It is not that difficult to win the U.S. Senior Nationals, unless maybe you are in the 70 kg division and not Ronda. In almost every division you have less than 20 players. In some you have less than ten. Winning the senior nationals doesn't give you a pass to have an attitude. Placing third out of six or eight people certainly doesn't.
- The above is a fact and I have to state it because when other people do they often get told by some smart-ass, "If it's so easy, why didn't you do it?" I did. Three times. If someone tells you not to do footsweeps standing still, they are right. If you have won 17 national championships and they never won anything, they are still right and making smart-ass comments like that makes you both wrong AND annoying.
- Most of our young brown and black belts start out as genuinely good people. They have a little success and then all of the people who are "elite" coaches come out of the woodwork. Next thing you know, that young person is convinced that he or she is the next Olympic champion, based on having placed third out of eleven at the last junior nationals. Because most of them were raised by very good parents, and really are deep down still nice people, they don't actually say, "What do you know? You never won anything?" but they begin to have that attitude, and their judo pretty much stops improving at that point.
It would be funny, if it wasn't so sad, and I have seen it through generations of players now. What is the solution? There are a few, really.
- Focus on developing players and let them have a good time. This is why Chuck Jefferson, shown above, is one of my new favorite people. He was willing to come out to the USJA/USJF West Coast Training Center this weekend and work with a group of kids age ten and under for two hours, and then stay and work with our more advanced players for another three hours. As a very insightful coach from Texas once told me. I firmly believe that for the cream to rise to the top, it must have something to rise from" For kids to stay in judo, they have to enjoy it. Your next Olympic champion is going to come out of those hundreds of "Little League judo players" who are having fun. And the hundreds of kids who aren't going to the Olympics are having fun, which is great in itself.
- Focus on making our players at ALL levels and ages in better physical condition and better technically Below is a photo of Chuck helping our young players with uchimata. He didn't come in with the attitude that, having won international gold medals he should not be teaching kids ten and twelve years old to have a better uchimata or that he was doing anyone a favor teaching them. He conveyed to everyone in a very businesslike sense that this was important. Okay, we all had a good time playing games and now we are going to get to the serious work of making your judo better. If we did this for all of our young players, they would be better when they were 15-year-old brown belts, not elite, but better.
- If you are one of those "developing elite" players or if you really are at the international medalist level, be humble and be hungry, two traits I have seen far too little of. In the U.S., you can get recognition for being a national champion at age 11. In most other countries, they don't even have junior nationals for that age group. What if you were the toughest ten-year-old in the entire world? As Ronda said yesterday, "One, no you're not and two, who cares?" Must have been her day for one-liners. If you really want to make it, you should be trying to learn every day. I know that there are suggestions for different techniques or different ways to do a technique that Ronda hears from me or Jim Pedro or other people that she is skeptical about but she tries out anyway. Sometimes she concludes she is right and no, that won't work for her. Sometimes, she finds a new way to win. Right up until the day I won the world championships I was convinced my judo wasn't as good as it should be. Twenty-three years later, I still feel that way. The key is to never be satisfied that you have all the answers, to always be looking for a way to get better. HINT: The way to jump up another level is seldom to keep doing the same things over and over again faster and harder. SECOND HINT: If you weren't working very hard to begin with, ignore that first hint.
- When you really do get to that developing stage, always go after the one person in the dojo who you think can beat you up There was a great article by Nobel Prize winner James Watson. One piece of advice he gave was, "Never be the smartest person in the room." His reasoning was that, if you can learn from the people around you, you will get better and better. Below, the last picture of Chuck is with Victor Ortiz. I was proud to see all of our players at the training center lined up to randori with Chuck over and over. They wanted to fight the best person in the room, rather than grab someone smaller and less experienced to show off. It's times like that I am reminded that it is all worthwhile and we are moving in the right direction.
Well, I remembered I WAS going to post this time on the discussion Ronda and I had about why most U.S. players don't win, but well, I didn't. Maybe I will do it next time. Or, then again, maybe I won't.