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?