Thursday, May 2, 2013

How I Pick Winners

I have been wrong about people but only in one direction. That is, sometimes I have underestimated people and they have turned out, years later, to be far more than I would have predicted. Olympic and world silver medalist Lynn Roethke springs to mind. When I first met Lynn she was one of those people that was so damned nice that you wished she'd win but I just saw no chance of it. Her first problem was that she was too small for her division. She faced up to facts, dropped two weight divisions and started winning. She needed to move out of her comfort zone in Wisconsin and she did that, too, training in Colorado Springs at camps (where we first met) and then moving to New York and later California. I will say that in the cases where I was wrong, they were always people like Lynn who made massive changes in their training and choices.

I have not been wrong in the opposite direction. People I expected to win international medals always did. Often, these were not the same people everyone else expected. For example, when my lovely daughter, Ronda, was young, she never was selected for those programs for "high potential juniors", but I expected her to win.

Darlene Anaya, who won a bronze medal in the world championships, surprised a lot of people by her performance but not me.

If I was going to select a team I would look at this:

  • When in a match and down by a score, pinned or in other disadvantageous situation, does the person fight out? I don't mean put up a good fight, I mean escape and turn the tables. Being able to shake it off when the fight isn't going your way both shows mental strength and the ability to adjust.
  • In training, when no one is watching, is this person going their hardest? Being a small person is a big advantage to me, because I can slip into a corner of the gym, climb up on the bleachers and watch without people noticing me. A lot of those who other people rated highly dialed it down when they didn't have an audience.
  • How do they react to a loss? Particularly if a young player lost to someone who was supposed to have beaten them, say the current Olympic team member, I'd watch what that person did afterward. Was the kid barely holding it together because he was so devastated or was he happy to get a silver medal in the U.S. Open at 17. (I got a silver medal in the U.S. Open at 17, lost to one of the best women in the world - and I'm STILL upset about it!) No one has the right to beat you, ever.
  • Does this person have the best coaches, best training partners - if not, I mentally add on points. If you are in the running with no advantages then when, like Lynn, you make a change and get better coaches, better training partners and a better situation for training, then you have the possibility to make a big leap in comparison to your competitor who is already in the best possible scenario.

Why did I expect Darlene to win a world medal one day? When I was 19, I won the U.S. Open, collegiate nationals and senior nationals. (There was no women's world championships or Olympics back then.) This little fifteen-year-old brat came out in the semi-finals of the nationals and tried to beat me. No, of course she didn't beat me. She was 15! But she expected to, she came out swinging (not literally, this was judo, after all) and when she lost she was heart-broken. She wasn't happy to be fighting for a medal in the national championships when she was barely out of middle school. She was from somewhere in (I think) New Mexico and she trained with her dad, her little brother and her little sister.

For those of you would would point out that Darlene didn't get out of the pin that day and thus refutes my first point - no. My other point is that you don't judge people on a single match or tournament. Everyone has good days and bad days, or when they are young and small, can get hopelessly outmatched.

EXCEPT - my other other point - anyone I see give up in a match, I mean just decide it's too hard and quit fighting, I know will never win in that sport. It doesn't mean they may not go on and be wildly successful in some other area of life but if you don't care enough to fight NO MATTER WHAT then this particular discipline is not your passion. Go find something else that is.

I could ramble on more, but I have to get back to work.

How do YOU spot winners?

(Also, sorry I didn't approve the comments on the last post for days. I was in San Francisco and just got back.)


Anonymous said...

It's true, there are many sleepers out there that go under appreciated and inappropriately judged. However, I disagree on a few of your points. You can get angry and upset all you want if you lose, but that's not going to change the fact that you did and there are better ways to use your mental energy. When I first started Judo, I used to get tapped and thrown many times by the more experienced students (two of them were blackbelt). In fact, it was a Judo club, not a Judo school and I was the only beginner there. I didn't get angry one time. Instead, I asked questions "cool move, what did you do?", "can you show it to me?" and reflected on what happened. I put my mental energy into understanding and improving. No one starts off good at anything and I acknowledged my beginner status for what it was. However, I disagree with the whole "no one has the right to beat you." It's empowering, but if it applies to everyone, then it ceases to have any value. I prefer "It's my responsibility to win!"

People have different temperments and some even have Martial Philosophies. I'm a Budo Martial Artist myself and anger is not a virtue in, or out of battle. It's believed to only cloud the mind and distract.

plam said...

Reversing an osaekomi at 24 seconds (would have to be 19 now) for the win is pretty awesome, yes. My students found the YouTube video and played it in class.

What about the ability to watch one's competitors? I am really terrible at that. Perhaps that is a second-order criterion?

Jerri Elliott said...

Looks like I am doing the right thing, getting out of my comfort zone this summer by training at the Pedro's. Here's to hoping it goes well!

Could you write up a post about getting ready for competition (how training should possibly change, dealing with pre-fight nervousness, etc), please?

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of a time the wrestling club asked me (the judo blackbelt) to help with the wrestling class for a few practices. The coaches were talking about this hot shot kid “Hearst” (the town he was from). I told them that this kid will never be any good. He has some natural talent but doesn’t listen and when you show him something he only tries it once or twice. He wasn’t coachable and won’t inprove. I told them, the best kid you’ve got is that kid over there “Dolphin” The other students called him Dolphin because he was chubby and always wore miami dolphin sweatpants . The coaches told me he’s just a beginner and not very good. I told them – when you show him something, he listens and works on it until you tell him to stop. If I tell him to run the stairs – he doesn’t ask why or how many times, he just does it. I chuckled when the “Dolphin” later won the Ontario high school championships twice and “Hearst couldn’t qualify.

Marissa Rives said...

Hey Ann Marie,

I'm the producer of MMA Programming at SiriusXM Radio and we're trying to put together a special show on Thursday May 9th with the mother's of our favorite fighters. We've had Ronda on several times and would like to have you on as well. If you're interested shoot me an email at

Hope to hear from you soon! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I used to compete against Darlene Anaya in fact, I lost to her at the WO'S U.S. Open in Sept. of 1981. Darlene is a good person and very skillful. I almost had her choked out(just 2 seconds more perhaps !) but the bean bag was tossed out onto the mat. I have never felt bad after losing to Darlene. In fack that was the only time I had a match against her. At the 1981 Olympic Festival in Syracuse, NY we trained together everyday but fought in different weight brackets. She was great to train with and I enjoyed that as she helped me with my judo.
Jodi Canova-Moore