"I am 41 years old and started judo late. I am a brown belt. I will never be an elite competitor and I feel as if most people in judo place no value on me because of that. Being small, middle-aged and female makes that doubly so."
Is it true that we don't value recreational players? Speaking for myself, I would say that I do, very much so. One reason is that I know that people like this woman are much more likely to stay in judo, become a black belt and eventually teach the next generation than the 13-year-old who won the junior nationals this year. Think about the difference in persistence, maturity and just knowing your own mind that you have at 13 versus at 41.
As I told her, the people like me, who competed internationally and then stayed on to teach are RARE. I can think of hundreds of people I knew as competitors who have not been on a judo mat in years. Many of those who do still teach, such as Randy Rhodes in Missouri, I think Lee Naumann is still in judo - these were guys from my club but not household names or Olympic medalists. They were, if we were honest about it, recreational players.
Our recreational players are likely the real base of the pyramid and we better start treating them right. Our USJA board member, George Weers, once asked,
"What does the USJA offer that the average club coach really NEEDS?"
I would answer that we could offer programs to help develop their skills and those of their players. I was just on the phone with John Moe inviting him to bring players to a technique competition we will be hosting at the West Coast Judo Training Center. This program is funded by the USJA and USJF to be a development program. We often try out new ideas and host clinics with people from Sensei Okada to Chuck Jefferson to Richard Elizalde to Ronda Rousey. We have a new clinic coming up with sambo world medalist Roman Mitichiyan. All of these are just to teach more judo.
Back to the technique competition - this is for people to show what judo they KNOW, not how tough they are. Being tough and knowing judo can both happen in the same person, but they don't always. What if you start judo at 40 years old and have to go to work on Monday? Maybe you would like to be recognized for your technique and we certainly want you to have good technique because odds are you will be teaching the next generation. Maybe you are just 13 years old and would like to show off. I'll give more on the specifics in my next post.
Bill Montgomery, one of our incoming board members, said in his inimitably tactful manner,
"I have news for you people, ALL of our judo players in America with the exception of one or two, like AnnMaria's daughter, are recreational players. I hear people say, 'My son, Joe is an elite athlete.' No, he isn't. Your son Joe is ten years old! He still needs to be reminded not to wipe his nose on his sleeve. He is beating other ten-year-old orange belts- oh, excuse me, green belts - that is NOT an elite athlete. Almost ALL of our judo players are recreational. They don't work out seven days a week, 52 weeks out of the year. That's okay. I can accept that as long as they are good people. And, if they're not good people, we don't want them around anyway."
I agree with Bill completely. I see a lot of silliness with people asking me, "Where should I take my 11-year-old to compete?"
I will say the same thing I always do ... You should take your child where he or she will have the most fun. I plan to hit the AAU Nationals this summer because Julia can visit her cousins and grandmothers in Missouri and I want to stay with her in a cabin and take her to swim in an honest-to-God river, which she has never done. Tournaments in between are primarily chosen based on whether we can stay at a hotel with a pool, because she needs to be a very capable swimmer by this summer. I can fish her out of a swift current, but I would rather not. Our other deciding factor is whether there is accompanying fun stuff - we are definitely hitting the All-Women's Tournament in Las Vegas in January (despite the name, competition starts at age five). My little girl has won the USJA junior nationals once and placed in them several times. She is a recreational judo player. You know why? BECAUSE SHE IS #@!ing ELEVEN YEARS OLD !
I am probably going to judo hell for this but when I was in Boston this week I did not take my daughter to Pedro's Judo Club, even though they teach very good judo there. I took her to the Museum of Science and the New England Aquarium. Although she made and 'A' in science, I was not too pleased with her standardized test scores and I thought she might benefit more from seeing a scaled-down model of the solar system and learning about marine life. We also spent a lot of time in the pool and babysitting my granddaughter, Eva.
Do you see those two people in the picture ? Only one of them is an elite athlete but they both do judo and I love them both. This ad has been brought to you by reality.
Please, please, please, if you are a player, or a coach, or a parent, trade in all the medals for a share of stock in reality. Love your children, value everybody on your mat, because those people you are lavishing all of your time on because they are this year's silver medalist in the senior nationals or a three-time junior national champion at age ten - they aren't much more likely to win world medals than that 40-year-old.
Coincidentally, I ran across this article in Black Belt Magazine from 1975 about women's judo. My name isn't mentioned anywhere. My coach's name certainly isn't mentioned. I was 16 years old and did not even compete in the senior nationals. I was a freshman in college at the time and it never even crossed my mind to go because I could not afford to travel across country.
So, is my point that those recreational players are worth attention because some of them might turn out to be a world champion, like I did?
No. My point is that I wouldn't have BEEN a sixteen-year-old college freshman if it wasn't for the good influence of my recreational judo coaches.
Everyone who steps on that mat is important. That's reality.