Monday, May 25, 2009

Everybody Brought their A-game

A celebration of good coaching (mostly)

The California State Judo championships was a great tournament. Watching it gave me a bit of encouragement about the state of judo in America, particularly in California. Mind you, this is the state championships, which is quite competitive, so it wasn't a random sample of players. Many clubs with 50 or 100 members only brought a dozen or so to compete. This was a good choice, I believe. There isn't much point in putting players, especially young ones, into a situation where they are over their heads.

I saw a lot of good judo players, all of the home grown. We have always had very good standing techniques in California. Watching the matches, it was evident that players' knowledge of grip-fighting has increased significantly over the past few years. Past age 10 or so, you saw very little of one kid just letting another grab him or her and then the match started. People fought for their grips, realized when they were in trouble, broke grips. Of course, as anyone would expect, the younger ones weren't as good at it as the older ones, but those changes will come with age and experience.

Among some players, I saw better transition from standing to matwork. This has been another perennial weak point and although it has not increased as much as the gripfighting, the improvement overall was noticeable.

This says a lot about our coaches. Those kids are learning from somewhere, and watching them gave me hope. Many of our coaches have "gotten with the program", they have had the commitment, and the humility, to learn new things and pass what they learned on to benefit their students. We are all blessed to have these coaches, and there are a lot of them.

The kids who lost just because they were younger, not very experienced, made a mistake or were just overwhelmed being at such a big tournament, I was okay with that. They still gained from the experience, learning to overcome their fears, learning to not attack off-balance, to off-balance their opponent and so on. They will go back to their clubs more motivated to work out, and their coaches will have some good knowledge of what that individual needs.

There were also players that fought the same way players from those clubs did a decade ago, and those players were generally on the losing end. That made me a little sad. Even if a coach donates a lot of time and is a generally good person, letting your own pride interfere with learning more and helping your players better is a little unethical. In the Darwinian scheme of things, those clubs will lose players and maybe eventually close. It's too bad, really, because some of those coaches do have a good deal to offer.

However, back to speaking of good ideas ... Just like our coaches and players are getting more sophisticated and analytical, so are our leaders. I heard Dan Takata, head referee and Mitchell Palacio, CJI President, discussing complaints. Their view was that anyone who wants to make an ethical complaint against another club or person should NOT do it at the tournament. This is when tempers flare, someone's child was unfairly treated (or, at least they think so) and is crying in a corner. Rather, a day or a week later, write it down and submit it. Given time to cool off and think it over, you'll often realize, sitting back in your living room in front of the TV, that even if you were correct, that it was not a nation-changing event that your child did not receive that yuko and not worth fighting over. The other smart thing that Jesse and Mitchell decided to do was give two third places. I wondered about this until I kept score at three different tables and saw several heart-breakingly close matches where one player lost on flags in overtime. There were a lot of GOOD players at this tournament and many of the differences were very small. When the player came off the match in tears and parents came over complaining I could say,
"I don't know why your son/daughter did not receive the win. It was a very close match and the referees had to make a judgment call. Still, there are two third places and your child tied for third. Make sure they get their medal."

The kids were happy to have a medal after they fought so hard, the parents were happy because their kids were happy, and they DID truly fight hard, and I trust they will all be back at judo this week.

What more could you ask from a tournament?


Carlos Graña said...

I've organized local tournaments and yes it is very important to have a double repechage system awarding two third places especially in categories with more than five competitors.

We also give medals to all competitors even if they were only 3 or 2 especially to kids and adults that are usually starting out in the sport.

It's a great incentive for players to keep on trying.

Missy Wombat said...

Carlos, I was just wondering about your last two sentences. At the interclubs we have here it is almost impossible to walk away without a medal and indeed, at the last one, everyone got a little trophy for competing.
I do take issue with the comment that it is an incentive for players to keep trying. I´m actually starting to wonder if it is devaluing the medals and trophies because even if you perform poorly and don´t do your best, you get to walk away with a shiny prize. And the inner drive to win can decrease if that shiny prize is expected.

I´m not one hundred percent sure where I stand on this - it´s still something I am developing a perspective on - and competition for kids has become an unexpected issue in our family so I have heard many opinions bandied about lately. However the over justification effect was a factor in our decision not to let our daughter compete in local competition for a while albeit not the main reason.
I am a novice judoka myself and compete when I can although I am totally outclassed by young women with several years experience who are twenty years younger. The participation trophies are completely meaningless to me. I was totally chuffed however when I was given the female encouragement award for the competition.
And having competed in the arts as a kid myself, it wasn´t the participation certificates that were the incentive, it was the hope that I was good enough to collect the big trophy at the end of the day.
If we do want to reward the kids who are not in the top three, maybe we should have awards emphasising different qualities:¨best sportsmanship¨, ¨best throw¨,¨most courageous¨, ¨best technical effort¨.I just don´t want to encourage mediocrity or have kids of all ages shift their motivation from the intrinsic to the extrinsic.

Carlos Graña said...

What I meant was if the category has 2 or 3 competitors, which is very common in the girls division and boys divison, especially the heavy weights, in order for them to receive a medal, They would to at least win a match.

Every time a little kid loses both boys and girls, their gender doesn't matter. They leave off the tatami crying. You can find a lot of them in tears in the locker room.

In order to keep their interest and at least giving a shot. We give the third place independent of the result. Reasons, why the competitor will not keep on trying. Simply won't bother showing up and that person won't have someone to compete with.

Most of the kids come from homes with low resources and the medal is very important to them. One kid the other day, it was his mother's birthday and didn't even have to give her a present. He won a medal that day, was so happy, that he would finally have something to give her on that day.

I do get your point on the devaluation of medals. But, I don't live in the USA, in live in Chile.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

Hi, Missy -
I think this was a little different than an interclub tournament. This was a really hard competition in almost every division so the kids who got a medal really earned it. The more de-motivating option would have been if they did all of that work and got nothing.

Missy Wombat said...

The whole issue of kids and competition is such a minefield! Noone wants to see kids crying in frustration after a match but I also wonder, if this is not uncommon and kids are genuinely getting discouraged, if the whole format is right. Are the kids fighting the right kids? Do they have the opportunity to fight at least one bout with someone of similar size and experience?
I´m not in the US either, I´m in Australia.My daughter doesn´t have the opportunity of serious competition [which would be interstate] until she is over 10 at the earliest so I have a couple of years to work out the deal about competition before it starts to get serious.The state titles involve the same people as the interclubs and tend to be at our dojo so they are no big deal. So how do you recognise hard work and effort and a big judo heart in those kids who are the ones that really keep the sport going but never quite will reach the elite?
I wonder what the Europeans and the Asian countries do...