Wednesday, July 9, 2008

My Mom Thinks I'm Cool

Why have a very disproportionate number of American international medals come from people who are coached by their parents?

Consider these records:

World Gold Medalist: Jimmy Pedro, Jr. - Jim Pedro, Sr's son
World Silver Medalist : Liliko Ogasawara - Nagayasu Ogasawara's daughter
World Bronze Medalist : Darlene Anaya - Tony Anaya's daughter
World Silver Medalist : Ronda Rousey - my (usually) lovely young daughter

What advantages do these players have? Yes, they all had pretty good coaches, but there are other really good coaches in this country - Yonezuka (okay, well he did have Mike Swain who won a world gold medal and Olympic bronze), Nishioka, Legros, Cahill, Doug Tono, Maurice Allen, Evelio Garcia, Israel Hernandez. Besides, these same coaches had other players. Ogasawara coached Celita Schutz, who did well, but not as well as his daughter. Jim Pedro, Sr. had a lot of other people who made world and Olympic teams, but none as successful as his son.

I would suggest that one advantage these players have is the luxury of TIME. Today, I glanced over at Julia at Sawtelle. She was doing matwork with Saki Watanabe, who is 11. They both competed in junior nationals in the last week and both were, not surprisingly, a bit flat at practice after that. Normally I would yell at Julia to train harder, but I let it pass because I knew that this was just one random practice and I would have plenty of time at the training center to work with her this weekend. Time is an advantage not to be underestimated. Because I know I can take her to other practices to make up slack time if I deem it necessary, I can relax and let her be a kid sometimes. If I notice that she needs to work on her conditioning, I can take her to the Ugly Pink Building Hill and make her run sprints uphill.

(Thanks very much to Jerry Hays for the video below of Ronda winning the finals of the Olympic Trials.)

The other big, related advantage that coaches' kids get is ATTENTION. Look at the words I just used. I glanced over at Julia. If I notice she needs conditioning..

There is a great line in the movie, "The opposite of sex," one character is explaining to his fiancee that he is hurt she did not think of him first when she needed help, instead of trying to solve the problem herself, he said,
"In a crowded room, you look for me first, and I'll do the same for you."

There is a whole area of research in psychology called "attachment theory", beginning with the attachment of infants to their mothers, and then later, to their fathers. Attachment is often defined as,
"The recognition of one person as unique among all others. "

Coaches are human, too, and they love their kids. Any coach who claims to treat his/her children just like all of the other kids in the dojo is a liar. Even if it is only subconsciously, we NOTICE our children more. We notice if they have trouble fighting left-handed players, if they are not as physically strong as the other kids, if they are off-balance doing tai otoshi. Yes, you may treat them all strictly the same during practice - although, in my experience, most coaches' kids are expected to do more and get less slack - but when you get home, or on the way home, you inevitably start in on,

"I saw you fighting Anthony and he kept countering your harai goshi. Never get a high grip on a person taller than you. It throws you off balance and you are more likely to get countered."

There are the subtle things you do because you have paid more attention to this child you love and so you are more tuned into the things they need. Last week, I was doing randori with Julia at Sawtelle and I was fighting her left-handed. She stopped and said,
"I know what you are doing. You are fighting me like that because I had trouble with that one girl at the tournament that fought left-handed."

She was right, too. Would I have noticed if Sarah Crosby had trouble with left-handed players? Well, she didn't particularly, but I did notice some other things. However, unlike Julia, I didn't see Sarah the next practice because she was practicing at her own club. I am at EVERY practice with Julia, because I drive her home. There it is again, the element of time, blended with attention.

I asked David Matsumoto once about how he got along coaching his daughter, Sayaka. He told me that they left judo strictly at the dojo and didn't talk about it again once they left. If so, he is an exception. Most coaches' kids, I believe, get an enormous amount of "teaching on the fly" (a phrase I stole from the Harvard Preschool Project study of children who develop exceptionally well). That is, I don't sit down for hours on end and lecture Julia on the finer points of judo, nor did I do that with Ronda. However, I have dozens of judo videos and DVDs around the house and I watch TV less than an hour a week. During that hour, more likely than not, Julia will wander through the room while I watch Hayward's video on gripping or advanced judo tactics, Jimmy Pedro's Grip Like a World Champion, a DVD of Ronda at the Olympic Trials, the World Championships or something else. She may watch for 15 minutes, say "That's boring," and get up and go do something else. During that 15 minutes every week, she is likely to learn something.

On the way to judo and on the way home, which adds up to about 3 1/2 hours each week for Julia at age 10, and was probably 15 hours a week for Ronda at age 15, we talk about judo. We talk about why Julia/ Ronda had trouble with a particular player at practice, things that concern me that I think she should watch out for, what I think she should do to train more. And we also talk about other things, like how Julia wants to get her hair cut this weekend. A regular coach maybe has 5 or 10 minutes at the end of practice to discuss strengths, weaknesses and training methods with a player, and certainly not with every player. Don't fool yourself. Judo is a mental game and there are no stupid champions.

Resources. People always ask me when I knew Ronda was exceptional. There were two incidents that stood out. One was when she was about 12 years old. My friend, Jake Flores, Sr. said to her,
"So, I hear you've started judo. I know a little bit about judo myself. Ask me anything."
Ronda regarded him very seriously, with all of her scrawny 80-pound self and said,
"You've seen me fight, right? If you were coaching another girl to beat me, what would you tell her to do?"

Jake and I were both blown away by the insightfulness of that question from a 12-year-old green belt.

The second time was when I was sitting at my desk one day, Ronda was about 15 years old and fighting 57 kg. I heard Ronda yelling, "Mom! Mom!"
I ran into her room expecting a fire (it wouldn't be the first one in the house, although Ronda was not responsible on the last occasion). Ronda had a video from the Olympics on pause, was pointing at the Cuban and said,
"That's how I'm going to beat her. When she gets that grip, I'm going to do this, watch!"
and she grabbed me and demonstrated how she was going to beat the current Olympic gold medalist.

While both of these examples demonstrate some motivation and interest on Ronda's part, there is also the fact that she had resources. She had access to Jake Flores, Sr. who had coached three people who made it to the U.S. Open finals recently, and had two players in the Olympic Trials. She just happened to have a video of the last Olympics on a shelf in her room.

Time. Attention. Teaching on the Fly. Resources. These are advantages coaches' kids have.

What if you are not a coach? A couple of things you can do are provide the resources. You can get DVDs from Hatashita Sports or Fighting Films. Neither of which give me a cut, by the way. If you buy them at Golden Tiger Martial Arts, the USJA does get a cut and you get a 10% discount. Still no love for the AnnMaria Retirement in the Bahamas Fund, though.

Attention and Time: Let's face it, no matter how amazingly awesome your kid is, the coach is going to love his/ her own more. However, one way to get more attention and time is to take your child to camps and clinics. When Ronda was younger and I would take her to a camp or clinic with Hayward Nishioka or Pat Burris or Mike Swain and not that many kids showed up,the clinician might have felt a little depressed but I LOVED it. Come on, if there were only 15 kids there all day, mine got more attention. I have never understood the reasoning of people who spend thousands of dollars to go to all of the point tournaments so their child can make some junior team and then don't have money to send them to camp. Ronda made at least two junior Panamerican teams and one junior world team when she did not attend. However, she did go to training camp at San Jose State University twice, two Daiheigen Yudanshakai Camps, just about every Nanka clinic and practice from the day she started judo until she moved away, every camp after the U.S. Open except for one year when she was injured - in fact, this was the only age waiver I ever requested, was to get her into the camp when she was 14 and the minimum age was 15. The "elite" players couldn't be bothered with her so she went a lot of rounds with Pat Burris and Maurice Allen as the same elite players often couldn't be bothered with them, either. If the coaches see your kids more than the 20 minutes on the mat at a tournament they will have more time with them and likely begin to notice them more.

DO BE CAREFUL where you send your children. Not all camps take the care of your kids that you would and there have been coaches who have molested children. If at all possible, go with your child. If you can't go, find another parent you really trust and trade off going with your children.


Anonymous said...

So what about all the talented, hard-working kids out there who don’t have World and Olympic Champion parents to coach them?
Are they at such a big disadvantage that they will never be as successful in judo as the kids who do?

Dr. AnnMaria said...

Mike Swain (world champion), Kevin Asano (Olympic silver medalist), Margie Castro (world silver medalist, Olympic bronze medalist) to name a few were NOT coached by their parents as far as I know.

So, no, of course kids who are talented and hard-working do succeed.

My dad never even saw me compete and my mom came maybe five times. She DID, however, see that I got to practice 8 hours or more each week from the time I was 12.

I do think kids who are coached by their parents have an advantage but it is not an insurmountable advantage.

Also, as you point out, talent and hard-work on the part of the KID plays a big role. After all, Paris Hilton had the money to go to Harvard Medical School. So, obviously, opportunity is great but it is no substitute for talent and motivation.

Anonymous said...

AnnMaria, I agree with your comments wholeheartedly. Especially the section on "teaching on the fly!" It's in the car on the ride home, or at the dinner table when the questions are asked and you have that perfect "teaching moment" to impart a little wisdom or experience. I like to call them "clinical pearls" from my time in Medicine. "You know the big picture, but doing it this way, may be better!"

PS I was a fan of your's during your time on the circuit.

Mark Dillingham

Unknown said...

i was 63kg, and it was gella vandecaveye, the belgian - not the cuban - that i was watching.

because you lied and told me she was gunna show up to the US Open!

Dr. AnnMaria said...

I believe she was at the U.S. Open the year before and won it. Well, EXCUSE ME if I caused you to learn more about judo.

Your extremely unrepentant mother.

whittet said...

Time in the car and noticing details is quite important to all the students. This explosion of knowledge eventually trickles down from those who receive it to the other students. Do you think it likely that judo is using 'attachment theory' to squash participants need to dominate and fight destructively in the greater community? Regards!