Over the years, many people have explained to me, usually in that voice reserved for small children and people with mental disorders, that they work smarter instead of harder. Okay, two things:
- One, you don’t have to choose between,smarter OR harder.
- Two, harder doesn’t necessarily mean more of the same.
If you have practice for two hours three times a week, doing two hours of randori with no rest isn’t necessarily the smartest choice. People don't fight two-hour matches. What can make a difference, though, is more time, and particularly more individual time. If you add another practice each week when you can work on new techniques, improving their existing techniques, combinations and gripping.
If you can’t add another practice, maybe you can make your current practices more effective. I’m always surprised when people spend the first half-hour of a ninety-minute practice on conditioning. People don’t need to drive 35 miles to get to your club so they can do push-ups and sit-ups. Have them do that on their own.
2. Have a reason for what you do
This seems pretty obvious but you would be amazed how many people, to use Mark Guerrero’s term, “Phone it in”. That is, they aren’t really paying all that much attention to their practices, often doing the same routine day after day.
I just said above that your practice time could be better spent than doing a bunch of push-ups and sit-ups and yet I have run practices where we did exactly that for an hour or more – sprints, jump rope – and very little judo. Sometimes I’ve done it because we had just done so many throws, so many rounds of randori, so many drills over the past few weeks that I thought it would be good for the players to have a different work out for the day.
At the training center we do a lot of conditioning because we have the extra hours in the day and it is more fun for people to do their sprints, strength training and cardio together once or twice a week. They do it alone the other days (or they should!)
In visiting clubs, if I see the coach doing something I wouldn’t have done, I ask why and I am always impressed when the person has an answer, regardless of what it is, because it shows he or she has put some thought into running practice. For example, I know clubs that do free practice right after warming up. Their argument is that people get injured more often when they are tired, so you should do your lower risk activities near the end of practice.
On occasion, I have made players do a two-hour randori session. Part of mental strength is having kept fighting when you just felt like you were going to die. And you didn’t die. That teaches you something. Unless you’re completely stupid, in which case you’re on your own.
3. Know your players’ goals
At the same club that did randori first, I asked wasn’t that a bad idea. After all, you need to be able to compete in a tournament when you are tired. In fact, the most important matches may be at the end of the tournament, when you are tired. What about that? The instructor laughed and pointed out that they were a bunch of old people at a small club and almost no one competed, so who cared. The one or two people who did compete on occasion in local tournaments would get one or two matches. He said,
“Our big goal isn’t to win the Olympics, it’s to be able to get up and go to work on Monday.”
I once looked at a player’s pool the morning of a tournament, saw the name of the little girl she fought first match and immediately started worrying about how our player was going to do against her. I was going to ask some of my friends if they had ever heard of her and how good she was. Then, I caught myself as I realized:
"Everyone in this division is under eleven years. How good can any of them frigging be?"
Just like the better players, the better coaches are the ones who can remain calm under stressful situations. I still need to work on that personally, but I’ve gotten better at it. When you are screaming at the referee, constantly pacing nervously back and forth, swearing at your players, getting drunk the night before the tournament – basically, any dysfunctional way you can think of that people deal with stress – it is not helping. Your players are nervous. They need you to be calm. If you aren’t calm, fake it. I mean this very seriously.