Sunday, June 27, 2010

Business, Judo, Life

This was on my voice mail recently:

"Are you dead? Did you quit judo? Do you hate me? Why haven't I heard from you?"

I am not dead, I haven't quit judo and I don't hate my friend who left the message. I have been working an enormous amount lately. I am a consultant on staff at the university. Just for the heck of it I am taking a graduate course in data mining. I'm doing consulting work for my clients. On top of all of that, to prove that I am clinically insane, recently I put in bids on two contracts. If you've never bid on a federal contract, you have had a charmed life. The most recent document we submitted was about 200 pages and it has to be 200 pages of research design, analysis, qualifications - not just s#@t you made up. We won't  know if we got it for a while but, win or lose, I am enormously proud of the work we did and of my team that put it together. Of course, I would prefer to win, since it will mean a fair amount of money for us.

So... this all got me to thinking about the very different attitude I have taken about winning and losing in business and in judo. As part of one contract we needed a section on "past performance". This is a summary of the similar work you have done. Putting this together, I came up with a list of 22 contracts we had completed, and I know this wasn't the full list but it was most of them over the past 20 years. Most of our contracts are from 2- 5 years, so that is a good amount of work. I recalled as I went through the list a few we had bid on and did not get. The really odd thing is, every loss I had in judo took me years to get over. I would go lock myself in a room and cry for hours. Sometimes days. I would be upset about it every time I thought about it. 

Oddly, I never cried over any work we lost out on. In fact, once, when we had a grant that was not funded and I asked the first author for the reviews and he admitted he had been mad we didn't get it and thrown the reviews away, I was shocked. To me, those reviews are my chance to see what I did wrong and correct it for the next time. This is really odd because, unlike judo, when I don't get the contract or grant, I lose money and, if I can't get enough funded, people lose their jobs. 

Why are losses in sports so much more personal? 

I'm not sure, but two reasons I can think of are:

Opportunities in business are continuous.  I have an idea of how much work is reasonable for our company to do, the rate we want to grow, and we are often booked a year or two in advance. There isn't a week that goes by that some possibility doesn't come up where we can submit a proposal. When we are looking for more work, we'll usually let two or three pass by before we find the right one. Sometimes we'll even start on a bid only to drop it a week later when something more promising comes across my desk. Just imagine if the Olympics came every week.

There is more of a time lag between when you put out all of the effort and when you find out the decision. In competition, yes, you have trained for years, but the real time of competition, you fight your hardest and right then are told if you win or lose. Usually, I will put in a proposal and not find out if we won it or not for another two to three months, sometimes as much as seven months later. By then I've done a lot of other work, been paid for a lot of the work I did in the past. Imagine if judo was like that - if you competed, and then you went home. A few weeks later, you'd get a letter telling you not that you won that tournament, but that you won one two months earlier. The next month, your medal would come in the mail.

That disconnect takes some of the emotion out of it. Maybe that is why people were interested in watching me fight but no one is interested in coming to my office and watching me create diagrams of a designs for a data warehouse. Okay, well, maybe that's not the ONLY reason.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Coaching and Ego

The fact that I'm writing this at nearly 1 a.m. gives you some idea of my current schedule. However, I often run into people who tell me they noticed I am not writing in my blog very often, so, this one is for you ...

At practice yesterday, two points occurred to me about coaching and ego. Ronda and Eric were doing randori and Gary Butts made the comment,

"AnnMaria will go stand there to make sure they don't go through the window."

One of the black belts who was visiting for the first time laughed, but I went and stood by the window. Going through a plate glass window could seriously hurt somebody. Afterwards, I was telling the other black belt, who also coaches, that my views on coaching had changed over the years. When I was younger I thought, like many people, that a real judo coach could beat everyone in the room, that age didn't matter, size didn't matter, it was just skill.

As I got older I realized that was 
  • Wrong
  • Irrelevant

I am a little, old person. When I was a little young person I beat a lot of people bigger than me at tournaments. Read this next sentence slowly.

There is no such thing as winning at practice.

You see, that is why they call it practice. It is practice for other things, one of which is going to tournaments where they have winners and losers. Also, I worked out with Miguel Tudela at my old club, Tenri Dojo. Miguel was, at the time, the number one judo player in the 209 and over category. I could not beat Miguel, even in my prime. Size does matter and the only people who pretend it doesn't are the really big people.

Even if you can beat everyone in the room, so what? If you are that tough maybe you should be competing and someone else should be coaching. You may find it is a whole lot harder when you have to go four minutes round after round against someone YOUR SIZE and you DON'T know all the moves the other person is going to do because you never saw him or her before and they ARE going at you 110%.

I had my knee replaced last year. That isn't an irrelevant statement here. A critical job of the coach is maintaining the athlete's safety. I was working out with - a coach - my foot got caught between the mats, I got thrown from the knee up. From the knee down my leg stayed where it was. 

Now, I have a different view as a coach. I am watching the facilities, making sure the mats don't come apart that, no one goes flying through a window or smacks into a wall. If there had been someone there watching that day, maybe I would not have been injured. 

In our new facility, the mats are permanent and blocked against the wall so they can't come apart. Ronda laughed at me because even at the training camp in Tunisia I picked up some of the mats and moved them so there wasn't a gap. I used to do that regularly at the old location for the West Coast Training Center.

I am always walking around picking up belts so no one can trip on them, standing by the window,  making people turn around so they are facing the mat while waiting their turn for randori, rather than with their back to it, moving over people in matwork who are about to run into each other. Yes, it doesn't look as cool as throwing people or armbarring them and it isn't really as fun, either. You know what is way less fun, though? Having your knee replaced.

(Oh, just so you know, I am watching to see people do their techniques right, don't get bad habits, don't break the rules and other judo-related points. I'm not just a movable mat for the window and walls. My point though is that correcting type of behavior can feed a coach's ego, where the standing by the window, fixing the mats, well, not so much.)

The other part of being a coach and ego is kind of a no-lose situation that occurred to me yesterday. When you are a competitor and people you used to be able to catch in pins, throws, armbars or chokes you can no longer catch nearly as often, you get frustrated. Even if it is because they are getting better, the fact is, they are getting better than you. So, if you catch them - good! I am a good judo player. If not, bad! They are improving faster than me.

If it bothers you as a coach if your players start throwing you and armbarring you, then you missed the point somewhere. 

Now that you are a coach, it is like this. If I catch them - good! I am not totally old and decrepit yet. If I can't catch them - good! They are getting better. That's the idea. I'm a good coach. So, you get to feed your ego either way. Kind of makes up for the mats- windows - belts thing.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Like Switzerland, but without the Chocolate

I realize we came back from Tunisia a month ago, but business has been wonderfully crazy busy. I am taking a five minute break to write this post. My advice to anyone who has a chance to go to the training camp in Tunisia next year is that you should go. It would be especially good for just about any American player. I mostly watched the women's practices. The first thing I noticed is that there were several countries you don't see that often. Tunisia, of course, Kazakhystan which I probably spelled totally wrong and Spain all had a lot of players. There were a few from Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Australia and I don't remember who all else. There were some really good players but there were also a lot of upcoming athletes so if you are coming to your first camp, this would be a good choice. There is also the fact that EVERYONE was incredibly nice.

In Tunisia most people speak Arabic and French and neither Ronda nor I speak either. It didn't matter. All the players at camp went out of their way to get matches with each other. When Ronda hurt her knee, the Spanish coach came up to me (at least I speak Spanish) and offered to have their doctor check it for her and tape it. Some how she made the Tunisian coach understand that she wanted to come to practices and do gripping, matwork and whatever she could with her knee taped up and the coach was fine with it, so she was able to attend every practice and get in tons of matwork.

Then there is the country itself. It is amazingly beautiful and not at all what I expected, given all of the negativity we hear in the news about Arabic countries and Africa and here you have both together. The food was great. The people were great. The history was amazing.

Even the cab drivers were nice. We went on a tour of the historical sites between practices and Ronda commented on how friendly everyone was. He said,

"In Tunisia, everyone is welcome. We get along with everybody. We are the Switzerland of Africa. Like Switzerland, but without the chocolate. No chocolate. It's too hot here. It would melt."