Lesson: Mapping Out a Strategy

Lesson: Mapping Out a Strategy

Over the course of a couple of month’s you become aware of one of your budding athletes showing promise; he came in third last month in an invitational and is doing much better in practice, throwing heavier brown belts and stumbling a few black belts. He’s still getting thrown around but not as easily as he was several months back. After practice you approach him, “ Harold you seem to have gotten better recently. You threw Tom tonight; he’s hard to throw for anyone. Harold still looking at the floor, smiles with pride at having been noticed by the coach. And, that’s how it all starts. Senior judo.


  1. What does a coach have to know?
  2. What are words that count?
  3. Is Strategy the same as Tactics?

Queries for what a coach has to know:

  1. Was there always a coach to help us?
  2. What is the history behind the concept of coaching?
  3. Should we coach a junior the same way as a senior?
  4. What’s the best age group to get the best results in judo competition?
  5. What qualities are we interested in with coaching juniors?
  6. What are some things that differentiate juniors from seniors?


Back in the 50’s judo competition was predominantly a kohaku shiai, a red and white tournament affair; dojos where put into either the red or white side and competed reds against whites. There were basically three divisions, yonen gumi 12 and under, shonen gumi 13 through 16, and seinen gumi 17 and older, within each groupings students were lined up pretty much by how big you were or if you had a reputation you might be moved closer to the end of the group. In the seinen group there were different color belts so they were adjusted by belt ranks. There was no girls competition back then, just males. Everyone sat around the contest area crossed legged, Indian style and waited your turn at “winner stays up.” That’s after an hour of waiting for your turn. The person who won the most was 1st place, second most, 2nd. And 3rd most wins 3rd. Oh, and there wasn’t a coach to be found, – – –  anywhere. The concept of a coach hadn’t evolved yet, all your preparations should have been done at the dojo.

The idea of coaching in judo is a fairly recent concept and really didn’t get started till the onset catalyst of international championship play which started in somewhere around the late 40s to early 50s with the first world championships in 1956. Coaches were assigned, usually more for past ability as a champion and/or for political reasons. Teams were being sent abroad and someone had to be in charge of the delegation of foreign athletes. That duty fell on the coach or the manager. The understanding of what coaching is has changed since those early years. The International Judo Federation has taken steps to standardize certain athletic practices of coaching by instituting certification classes that use modern concepts used by professional sports coaches. Many or these concepts are included in this program. The USJF program has gone a step further to meet the needs of a larger section of our population who love to compete. They are those who are juniors, non-elite seniors and masters, 30 years and older who, may not quite be elite but still feel the fire, and challenge for competition.

Senior Elite Judo:

Starting from the premise that a judoka shows a lot of promise and wants to excel in competition. What are some of the thoughts that should run through a coaches’ mind when searching for “best coaching practices?”

How much potential does he or she have? Are they physically strong? Are they endowed with athletic abilities? Are they mentally tough? Can they listen to directions? Do they have flexibility? Are they tough minded? Do they seem to have a desire to excel? Are they smart? Do they have that “Je ne sais quoi,” ingredient, that seems to over ride other negative qualities that press you to want to aid them? What qualities are present that make you want to help?

How much time and effort will be needed to reach the level the judoka wants to achieve? Possibly a State or National Champion. Granted, some or many of these “want to be” positions are formed or obtained along the way to various hoped for final goals. Not everyone who ends up a champion thought from the beginning he or she would be one; they just ended up that way. Many take a step to a stepping stone, then decide to go to the next, then the next, then the next, till, –  – voila! The age group who best exemplifies and can take maximum advantage of “best practices” is the senior age group 16 through 35, specifically elite seniors athletes. This elite age grouping also most exemplifies what we think of in terms of as, “real coaching,” but the truth of the matter is, this grouping  barely accounts for only 5 to 10% of our judo population if even that much.  Do you have the what it takes to do the job? You can get the knowledge in this program, the experience you’ll have to work for.

Coaching Senior Non-Elite Judoka:

The principles of coaching used to train elite athletes can apply to senior recreational athletes or masters as well. The biggest difference between coaching elites and recreational athletes will be the intensity level. Where elite athletes usually start their journey in a time when their quest for Olympic or World Gold is a do or die central focal point in their life. The recreational athletes are usually mature late starters with other responsibilities that take precedents in their life; family, children, jobs, education, or other avocations. That doesn’t mean the embers of desire to seek excellence are burned out. Quite the contrary. Many are continuing or returning enthusiast’s in search of that high they find in defeating another determined soul, who also wants to defeat him and excel to the best of their ability.

Masters AKA Veterans Judo:

Anyone 30 years of age and older qualifies as a master judoka. These brave souls, especially as you enter the 60s are dedicated or addicted somehow to judo, It takes a special type of person to want to physically go all out in trying to throw, pin, choke, or arm bar, another person when that other person is maybe more able to do likewise to you. Still, there is a certain thrill that can be had by a well executed taiotoshi that lands your opponent flat on his back as the referee yells, “Ippon!” Masters come back for different reasons. Perhaps they didn’t get enough competition before quitting as a young teenager. Perhaps they missed the camaraderie and the beer after practice or tournaments that taste so good. Maybe it’s a self test to see if they still have it. What ever the reason may be, they need a good coach to be there for them. – at least to ask them for their doctor’s physical exam to show that you care.

Coaching Juniors:

Coaching at the dojo level or local level may be a different story though. Here you are often asked to sit in a chair and basically bark out commands in hopes that one of the ideas you yelled out will aid a competing junior student. This may be coaching, but at a nascent  level, unless you know the student and his strengths and weaknesses, and have been helping in his or her progress on a long term basis. Many times this kind of coaching is on a one or two time contact/per tournament commitment basis, then on to the next student who happens to be at your dojo. It’s not a long-term commitment. It’s a “hello/goodbye” pat on the back, and on to the next kid. This type of coaching is still common even in today’s American judo scene because there is a lack of knowledgeable coaches to care for the many children in judo. We can, will, and have to do better than that in USJF Coaching.

On the negative side, there are some senior coaches who forget they are coaching young impressionable children treat them as they would an adult, barking out commands and not even waiting for them at mat-side after. We must remember they were brought to learn positive qualities and hopefully, have a little fun in the process. Being yelled at is often interpreted as not being good enough, is not fun.

Actually, Junior Coaching is just as important as senior coaching only the needs of your student are a lot different as are our goals for this age group. It doesn’t have to be very complicated at the younger age brackets of 6 through 13 years of age. What is important here is remembering a couple of needs in the formative years. Children love to play and they are in their formative years where everything is about learning how to navigate their environment, you included. Even with older pre-teens and early teens need to know they are worthy important individuals.

You as a coach affirm them, letting them know, win, lose, or draw, they are valiant for trying their best. Research in Child Development has shown that children do best in sports and exercise programs when they are encouraged to do their best with less emphasis on competition.

Parents have brought them to you because you are the expert. They have brought them to you to build confidence, respect, determination, self-esteem, team work, a search for excellence, and an appreciation for others. Through coordination of body parts moving through space children learn the benefits of economy of motion. Not only in judo techniques itself, but judo enhancing games that are played in the dojo.

Here are some things you will find; 6 to 8 year olds are learning to play with one another. It’s a time for learning to share. Share a practice, sharing time, space and partners, share exchange of throws, share time with a group, like sitting quietly at the end of practice and bowing together. 9 and 10 year olds by now are seeking order in their lives. It’s a time where values are becoming increasingly important. Right and wrong are black and white issues with little gray in between. Cries of “ Billy’s cheating!” are heard daily in the 2nd grade. 11 and 12 year olds and even early teens are looking for acceptance amongst their peers.

Most likely all along the trail from 6 to the teens there is a growing undercurrent of a need for recognition. Judo is a technically difficult activity and once a young individual is able to do some of its moves they are given praise. This affirmation by the coach gives the student “confidence” that he or she is on the right track. Hard work and effort by students in a dojo or tournament, win or lose, should be rewarded by praise for “taking the initiative of trying,” it’s the gold dust we sprinkle for crossing the bridge.