Friday, September 13, 2013

Be Like Frank

There are a few judo coaches I really admire, and one of them is Frank Sanchez of Guerreros Judo (the father, although Frankie, Jr. and Eric are fine coaches also). An excellent coach in a different way, Jim Pedro, Sr. once told me,
After I'd been coaching for ten years, I looked back at when I began and couldn't believe the mistakes I had made. Every ten years, it's the same way, I just shake my head about the things that I didn't know ten years ago. I'm sure ten years from now, I'll be thinking the same thing about some of the decisions I'm making now. That's just the way it is.
I definitely think differently than I did ten, twenty or thirty years ago. Like Jim, when I was younger, I was all about winning. I think most coaches who have been successful competitors start out that way. We loved the sport, the training and most of all competing, so we assume everyone is going to want to be like us. Some coaches never mature past that way of thinking.

With the benefit of 42 years in the sport, I can look back and see how successful some clubs and players were in competition and look forward and see how those same players and coaches turned out. If we define success in terms of junior national medals won - there were "successful" programs where coaches ended up in jail for molesting players. Other "successful" programs had less than 1% of their players ever attend college. Other programs centered around one instructor and once that person was no longer around, these just fell apart.

I used to think the point of judo was winning. That was the point of my whole life for 14 years. Don't get me wrong, personally, I LOVE winning and I HATE losing - but not everyone is me.

While winning the world championships - and other tournaments - was a great thing, and the thought of it still makes me smile to this day - how sad would it be if my life had peaked at 26 years old? Getting an education, being a good parent, contributing your talents to your community, writing a book, creating software that makes people's lives better - all of that is great, too.

There are other aspects of judo that are every bit as important as winning - a lesson I did not learn until I had been coaching for a while:

  1. Getting exercise
  2. Having a good time
  3. Making real friends
  4. Developing discipline
Some of those aspects relate to being a good person, like discipline, others, like having friends, having a good time and getting exercise just relate to having a good life, not in the future as an adult, but right now, as a kid. 

When we selected the students from Gompers Middle School to send to the AAU Nationals we looked at these things:
  • Cannot have a grade below a C
  • Cannot have been in trouble at school
  • Most attendance at judo
One of the students asked me, 

"Will you be mad at us if we don't win?" 

I told him no, I'll be mad at you if you don't try your hardest.

I've told this story before but it is worth repeating. 

Years ago, I was watching a tournament in Florida. My friend, Frank Sanchez, ran a club in a not very wealthy part of Los Angeles. The parents held fundraisers all year long and had raised enough to bring 25 or so kids to the tournament. Standing next to Frank was a coach from a club that won a lot of medals. The coach had been a very successful international competitor himself. He asked,

Why do you bother bring kids like that eight-year-old out on the mat to this tournament? One or two of the kids you brought might become a champion, but most of these kids are going to be nothing when they grow up.
Frank answered, 
First of all, that eight-year-old's parents worked just as hard to raise the money for this tournament as anyone else. Secondly, that eight-year-old is having a great time this week. And you know what else?  None of my kids is ever nothing and you're an asshole.

Be like Frank.

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