Thursday, March 7, 2019

The three kinds of coaches

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve had a visitor, Miracle Kim Sandoval, here for the past three weeks who is an elite boxer from Chile. I know nothing about boxing but I called around and got some recommendations and went to a few clubs. We would have gone to more, but as I said in the previous post, four hours a day to take someone to practice, wait for practice and come home is really more time than I can spare on a regular basis.

It’s only been possible to do that for three weeks because I’ve been able to work during the practices. Being able to work anywhere is like a super power of mine.

I run a company that makes educational games, like our cool augmented reality app for kids, Math: The Universal Language.

So, here is what I have learned

There are people who love the game, people who love the player and people who love money.

I took Kim to Hayastan MMA several times where the coach, Roman Karmazin is a former world boxing champion. I’d also like to point out that when I asked Gokor Chivichyan and Gene Lebell if they could formally invite Kim to the US to train to help in arranging her visa, they didn’t hesitate to do so. Good people.

When we first arrived, Roman Mitichyan (yes, weird they have the same name) interpreted for us and warned me that Coach Karmazin doesn’t speak much English, but I told him that was no problem, neither does Kim. Random fact, Roman Mitichyan his amazing - he speaks English, Spanish, Armenian and Russian, as well as acts and sells real estate.

Roman Karmazin loves boxing. He spent hours helping Kim improve her form and even invited her outside of class to the park to give her a conditioning workout.

There are some professional and aspiring professional fighters in the boxing program at Hayastan but there are also just people who really like boxing. Everyone was super nice and welcoming, even though most of them were easily  twice her size.

Our next stop was Wild Card Boxing. Ronda recommended them as a place she was sure no one would behave inappropriately toward Kim. Let’s face it, she is very young and very cute and in some clubs that can make you very vulnerable. I have no problem with smacking someone with a chair if it is warranted but I’d prefer not to have to do it.

The coach we met at Wild Card, Sammy, clearly loves boxers, as do most of the other people I met there, from Freddy Roach’s nice sister and all the other people at the front desk to every trainer I spoke with in the gym.

The first day, they had Kim jump rope and shadow box for about 20 minutes and once it was clear she was pretty good and serious, Sammy worked with her extensively for the rest of the time she was there. He talked about his own experience being an Olympian from a small country in Africa.

The next time we came, he started working with her immediately. The entire atmosphere was super-focused and professional. We were mostly there when the professionals practiced, just because it fit in with my schedule.

Our third gym, which will remain nameless, charged me $100 for an hour of training that was pretty much the same as Kim received anywhere else. Now, that may be the going rate but I would point out that the other gyms did NOT charge that because it is pretty clear Kim is not from a situation where it’s feasible to pay that kind of money. It may be because that was the only gym that knew me as “Ronda Rousey’s mom”. At Wild Card, I was just some random lady that walked in with a boxer from Chile and at Hayastan, I have known Gokor since he was a teenager and Gene since I was a teenager.

The other gym was also professional as far as the level of training, although less gritty than Wild Card. Someone commented that at Wild Card “you can smell the sweat” (you could prefer that or not, depending on your taste).

It would have been more convenient for me but I really can’t afford thousands of dollars a month for someone else’s kid’s training. I still need to finish putting Julia De Mars through college.

Both Ronda and Maria pointed out that there is no money in women’s boxing so the gym was most likely not interested in Kim as a potential money maker for them.

All three gyms told me the exact same thing about Kim - that she has a lot of talent, trains her heart out and has potential to qualify for the Olympics and maybe win a medal. Having had some experience with judo coaches, I would have been skeptical if it was only the third gym that said that. I’ve found for $100 an hour, coaches usually tell everyone their kid has talent.

 They all identified the same strengths and weaknesses and areas she needed to work on.

Kim liked all of the gyms a lot.

Roman is what you think of as a Russian Olympic athlete - very serious, hard-working but also very good.

Sammy is also very hard-working but he is more personal.

In the end, I told Kim that I think coaches are like boyfriends or girlfriends. While a minority are abusive or toxic, most coaches are good for certain people and not others. If Kim was my kid I might pay the $100 to save driving 2 hours, but probably not. I’d want someone more personally invested., but if I was really driving 80 hours a month, I might change my mind about that.

Here is the thing - there is no right answer here. My own coach, Jimmy Martin, told me straight out that he wanted me to win because it made him look better as a coach. That was fine. I wanted me to win, too. As long as we were aiming at the same goal, we didn’t have to be best friends. When I had my knee replaced , I didn’t give a damn whether the orthopedic surgeon gave a damn about me or not. For other people , a personal relationship with a coach is important.

I think this is probably true in every sport. Some people love judo, some people love judo players and some people are in it for the money (not so much in judo, but there are some.). You just need to find what works for you.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Do you have any idea how lucky you are to be doing judo in the US?

Whenever two American judo players get together it is required for them to discuss “what is wrong with judo” and contrast the support in the US with other countries.

Let me tell you a story about a young lady, Kim (The Small Miracle) Sandoval, who has been staying with me for the past three weeks. She is a boxer, from Chile. Despite having only turned 17 years old this week, she has had 24 fights already. She has won 21 of them. Her losses came from a woman who is 60 kilos (she’s 48), a woman who was in her 20s that she fought when she was 15 and in the finals of the South American championships.

So, she is young, she is talented and she is throwing everything she can into boxing. She even is on a modified home-school program so she can do well academically and train three times a day.

The support she receives from the Chilean government is - nothing.

She is in the U.S. because I bought her plane ticket and let her stay at my house. Although I am one to support people, I cannot spend four hours every day driving her to practice, waiting for her to practice and driving her back. I run a company that makes educational games, like our cool augmented reality app for kids, Math: The Universal Language.

I took her to three gyms here in Los Angeles and they all said the same thing, that she has a lot of talent, heart and physical ability. They all agreed that she has a good shot of making it to the Olympics.

Two out of the three clubs were willing to let her train at a very low cost, since she has no money to pay. One of the coaches went out of his way to meet her and give her extra training on his own time.

What she really needs is a sponsor to buy her a few plane tickets to come up here a few times a year and train. She could also really use some help getting to tournaments. She can’t even afford to go to boxing tournaments outside of Chile. (If you are going to ask why Ronda doesn’t fund her, just stop. If you are asking that question you obviously have no idea how much Ronda does to fund various charities and causes. It’s a lot.)

Despite her obvious work ethic and talent, no one was interested in helping her all that much.

Two of my daughters pointed out the obvious - there is no money in women’s boxing, so anyone who is helping her is just doing it out of the goodness of their heart.

Which brings me back to judo.

Most of us in judo in this country have parents who pay for us to attend tournaments. If you are very talented, there is usually someone in the country who will step up and pay for expenses your family can’t afford. For me, it was Frank Fullerton and Bruce Toups. Thank you.

Most successful competitors in judo in the U.S. have gotten support from individuals. Lynn Thursby is just one person who has been very influential in providing financial support. There are others but I’m not sure it would be okay with them to give their names, so I won’t.

Sadly, to me, most of those competitors seem to take it for granted. “Of course you should fund me. I am winning medals for this country. And the National Governing Body should fund me MORE.”

While the second part of that statement is probably true, the first is not. We, and I include myself in this, are all lucky to be doing judo in America where a sport that has minor participation and almost zero probability of making much money can still get sponsorships for our top athletes. It may not be as much as you would like and it may even not be as much as you deserve, but keep in mind that there are a lot of countries where no matter how good you are, you will get nothing .

I was nowhere near as nice a person as Kim when I was her age. I was dedicated, but not as dedicated as she is at that age. My mom was supportive but not as supportive as Kim’s mom is. To be fair to my mom, I was the middle of five kids, where Kim is the youngest of six, so it’s a bit easier for her mom.

Still, by the time I was her age, the Chicago Yudanshakai was paying my way to the national championships. Thank you.

Every now and then, I stop and am grateful for the opportunities I have been handed. Yes, I worked my ass off but so do other people around the world and they don’t all get the opportunities to train and compete that we do.

We are lucky.