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.


WillDampier said...

Probably one of your best posts ... you certainly work well under pressure ;).

I think that the transition from player to coach is important and something that I think should be encouraged in dojos. As competitors leave their prime (and lose their desire to win) its natural to start helping out with class.

But I always here the current competitors talk behind the person's back "Oh, well he doesn't compete anymore, all he does is rondouri with the white-belts" or "He just helps out with drills and doesn't do them."

I think losing the ego and transitioning to a coach's role is a critical step the advancement of one's own judo and should be encouraged. Its also important for the continuation of American judo ... if everyone keeps their ego as the move into a coach's role we'll have a terrible time teaching beginners.

Andy said...

I was about to say this was one of your best posts, and look, someone beat me to it. I suppose the non-competitive (while still ego-feeding) thing to say would be, "Good! I chose the right blog to spend my time reading!"

I don't get out much, judo-wise, but when I do visit other clubs I care a lot about the things you talk about here.

There is no such thing as winning at practice.

What a great resetting of perspective this is.

Anonymous said...

I've seen it numerous times where AnnMaria-sensei will step in between two pairs of students doing newaza (at potentially great risk to her knees, one of which she had surgery on within the past year) so that either of those two pairs of students do not roll onto each other. She'd probably get the worst of it, but she is there to coach, period, and if it means to sacrifice yourself so that others can become better than you, she is a great example of that. Come see for yourself.

Just a dad.

Stephen said...

Size does matter and the only people who pretend it doesn't are the really big people.

Made me smile.

The same is true for those who say strength doesn't matter.

Stephen said...

BTW, I'm reading the ethics texts you linked from on your other blog. Thanks, those were very much worth the time (or have been so far).

Mitch Lewis said...

'member me? Mitch Lewis

Dr. AnnMaria said...

Mitch! My old (well, former, not old) strength and conditioning coach?

JustinT said...

There is not enough good things I could say about your blog. In the study of Martial Arts and Martial Strategy. True Knowledge over power is what we strive to attain. In the finding of knowledge we fight to stay uncorrupted by it, and then we obtain the spritual.

Ann Marie you have obtained the spritual. You have obtained true wisdom. You have obtained truest understanding most will never obtain.

As I place the flat of my left hand(Knowledge) over the fist my right hand(Power) I bow to you, and thank you for sharing such knowledge with us all.

Anonymous said...

An excellent article and great attitude. In my last job - as I plodded towards retirement as a competitor.... These are the tag lines of my email sig:
"If you bungle raising your children - not much else matters."
"My goal is to be a great teacher, my goal for my students is that they become better than I."
Thanks for taking the time to write and I enjoy a person with a similar mindset.

Brad Webb
Japan Shotokan Karate, Dallas

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that reassurance. I teach Judo to Kids and help teach at CCSF. I started about 6 years ago when my son did. I'm 48 and recently noticed that the college students get younger every year. I work with the white belts and try to pick out one basic thing they need to know like posture or whatever. At first I naturally go easy then one day I can't throw them at all. I'm a little jealous. They are getting better and I'm just fighting to stay as strong as last year. Then I feel guilty for my attitude. I know I helped them get better. I don't know if they realize that but in the end it doesn't matter so long as I know.

P.S. My wife calls me Mr. Safety :) so I totally get the unglorious part.

Don Griffin, Shodan, CCSF

Max said...

I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoyed every little bit of it, I have you bookmarked to check out all the new stuff you post.

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