Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Things Discovered Cleaning House

I don't so much clean house as throw things out. You know those people who clean up before the housekeeper comes? I am the opposite. After the housekeeper comes and the floors are mopped, dishes done and everything put in the closets and on shelves I go through and throw out all of the clothes that don't fit, books no one is going to read ever again. You know those people they talk about in shows like Extreme Hoarders. I am the opposite of that. There is almost nothing I won't throw out.

My husband, on the other hand ... When we married he had 15-year-old copies of computer magazines, a CP/M computer ... His argument against throwing away anything was,

"We might need this some day."

and I would respond,

"For what? In case the Smithsonian calls?"

Exasperated, I turned to him one day and said,

"Year after year, I am going through drawers, closets, shelves and throwing things away. And yet, we never have any less stuff. Does that tell you anything?"

Hopefully, he suggested,

"That I'm a good provider?"

So, I was at it again and discovered a few things under the clutter. In the bedroom, at the bottom of a drawer under several feet of phone line (which I tossed out), two extra headsets for an iPhone and various random cables, I found a bronze medal from the British Open. Pinned on the bulletin board in the bedroom is a gold medal I won in the Austrian Open. I remember that I was extremely upset about getting a bronze medal and very happy winning a gold, but it was all a very long time ago and I have rarely thought about either tournament in years. Sometimes I go to people's houses and they have this little shrine to themselves with their medals and framed newspaper articles and I think- Why? I mean, really, why look back instead of ahead? Ronda's silver medal from the world championships and gold medal from the junior worlds are in the house somewhere, I'm pretty sure. I don't understand when people are shocked that I say that. It's not about the medals. What's cool is the fact that you won them. And then you move on with life and do something else.

Another thing I came across lately was a grant I had written for a judo organization in 1998. They received a few thousand dollars for their programs from a local foundation. I wrote several grants, raised money, taught clinics, attended meetings, ran practices and a hundred other things for the past twelve years on one judo committee or board. It struck me how much of my life had been devoted to judo, either as a competitor, instructor or volunteer. It reminded me once again how happy I am to be doing the things in judo I enjoy and not the paperwork, meetings and the rest of the administrivia. I've done my share and now I am very pleased to be doing something else.

The third thing I came across left me thinking the most. It was a DVD made by parents from Eastside Judo, a club Ken Otto, Dan Hoffman and J.D. run in St. Paul. The DVD featured five students from St. Paul who trained hard and then came to San Diego to compete in the USJA Junior Nationals. Their students didn't all win. That wasn't the point. It was about highlighting how much the students had learned, how far they had come and how they fought their hearts out, sometimes against far more experienced players. The point was how special these kids really were. It was an extremely important point because some people might argue that they were a team of kids average in many ways who were mostly special to their coaches and their parents. That is the exact point. We're all like that, ordinary in a lot of ways and, if we are really, really lucky, have some people who care about us enough that we develop, mature and do extraordinary things.

A couple of weeks ago,  I was down at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, waiting for Ronda, and outside the gift shop they have a big banner that was the slogan for one of the Olympic Trials that she won.

"Amazing awaits."

And I thought to myself,

Amazing awaits. For all of us. That's so true, you just have no idea.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

God, I’m Lucky

This week, I resigned as USJA President and today, I missed not one, but two flights back to Los Angeles. That almost takes a special kind of skill. If you know Ronda very well you are now wondering if her propensity for travel fiascos is hereditary.

So, why am I feeling incredibly lucky? Well, I  am just leaving Seattle which I had the luck to visit at a particularly beautiful time of year. While I was here at a software conference with some of the smartest people in the world, I got the chance to go do judo at Ippon Dojo in Tacoma and spend time with Jason Harai who is one of the brightest young coaches I have met in America. We spent a couple of hours talking about how we teach judo, why he does things one way, for example, having standing randori first, so people don’t train when they are tired, and thus reduce the risk of injury. I do it the opposite, having people do matwork randori first because I think warming up reduces the risk of injury. Both of us kind of went, “Huh,” and I am sure were thinking about the other person’s opinion.

I had the chance to work out with the cute children at his kids’ class. Really, if you have seven-year-olds doing judo no matter what they do, they’re adorable. Many of his older kids were very motivated and talented and a joy to work with. The adult class was another bunch of interested, fun people. In both groups, I had the chance to teach judo assisted by people like Robin Harai and the other instructors at Ippon Dojo. It was just plain fun and challenging.

I have the freedom to work with people who I enjoy and ignore those who embody, as a friend of mine put it, “haterism”. That’s my new word for the week.

As for missing the flight, the first one was I simply mis-read the itinerary and thought my arrival time was my departure time. The nice people at United Airlines put me on the next flight. However, I was talking with a really fascinating woman from the conference about possible work we could do together and by the time I figured out the trains at Sea-Tac Airport to get from where we met to my terminal, I ran up to the gate as the plane was pulling away. After getting a severe talking-to from the agent, they booked me on yet another flight to LA.

I was bummed for about five minutes but then I realized that the time I had spent with this woman may turn into a very productive business relationship and I am in business after all and this was a business trip. So, I had a glass of Chardonnay and spent the rest of the time working on a lecture on data visualization which is I think going to be my next big thing.

It was a great week. I solved some problems that had been nagging at me about how to take greater advantage of high performance computing capabilities, met some incredibly cool people, both in the software world and in judo, and no longer have to deal with people who are frustrating and petty. A friend of mine asked me what I am going to do now. I told him that I was going to do judo with people I enjoy, work with people I respect and make a bucket of money. It’s all good.

I really am lucky.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

What Exactly is Success, Anyway?

What is success? Is that a silly question? When I teach about program evaluation one of the examples I use is the Head Start program in America. This program for children aged three through five years old was originally conceived in the 1960s as a means of raising children's IQs. It failed. It turns out that a couple of years of a good preschool program don't raise your IQ. What they do, though, is reduce your chances of failing a grade, and since school failure is related to high school graduation, Head Start even increase the probability you will graduate from high school. It is also related to a lower risk of being placed in special education. So, most people would agree, less special education placement, less failing grades, more high school graduation = success.

Is the West Coast Training Center a success? Let's see, two years later we are still having practice every weekend, we have increased the number of talented instructors teaching, like Richard (Blinky) Elizalde, shown above. Of those who are coaching or training at the training center the following have started teaching in a new program in the two years since the training center began - Victor Ortiz, Richard Elizalde, Allen Wrench, Sam Garcia and Ronda Rousey (the middle school program starts this Friday). Tony Comfort also started a new club but he has since relocated to northern California due to his career.

If judo is to grow, we need new programs. I know that the training center was but one factor in supporting these individuals starting their own programs. Obviously, all of them learned a lot of judo from Guerreros, Goltz, Tenri, Mojica, Venice and the other clubs where they trained. Certainly Sensei Elizalde has been teaching at one venue or another for decades. I do think that the practice of getting in front of a class one, two or three times a weekend on a regular basis makes it that much easier to move into running your own program.

Ronda agreed,
"I know that without having the experience coaching at the training center I never would have volunteered to teach this middle school program. It gave me a lot of confidence as a teacher. I knew I could do it because I had done it with this group."

What else do we need to succeed? We need to retain more teenagers and young adults. Every club I have seen experiences a dramatic and depressing drop off in this age group. Depressing because these are the players who we have often invested eight to ten years developing and then they quit. The West Coast Training Center practices are predominantly players in the very age group that we want to keep.

We have a dramatic, disproportionate drop off in female players in this same age group. The West Coast practices are usually 40% or more female players.

Finally, we attend a lot of events out of the area as a group. While all of the players and coaches have their own clubs to support at local events sometimes when we go places such as the San Jose Buddhist or to the winter camp in San Diego we attend as a group. This builds stronger social relationships among the players (which research in sport psychology shows to be related to retention) and it is also a benefit to the event organizer that has 15 or 20 additional people show up and attend.

If success is having 100 people on the mat every day, then we haven't achieved it.

If success is, after two years, being in a permanent facility with good players who are regularly improving, with good coaches who are also branching out, then I would say the training center is a roaring success.