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Judo: Play the d*mn game! 

Hi All,

I have not commented for a little while on my coaching, so I want to reflect on what I have been doing and also expand on something that has been running around in my head.

So the Navy Judo has been on a hiatus whilst some logistical details are worked out. So my coaching has been just at the Alresford Judo Club with Mr. Ray Whitfield.

The two classes are juniors (under and over 8 years), and we are working on both ensuring they learn the BJA syllabus and that they learn to play the game of Judo (thats my main aim).

What is apparent in the club and to be honest in my visits to other clubs and discussions with other coaches; is that in Judo clubs often the game of Judo is not played very much. We do alot of teaching, alot of drills, exercises, etc.

But often very little time is spent actually playing Judo. Be that in light simulation (Randori) or actually competing in some format. One of the interesting moments in my "Transformational Coaching" programme was being asked/told to coach some fundamental movement skils to youngsters in their Football (Soccer) lessons at University of Bath.

When we all reflected on the experience together, I think all the coaches said the same thing. All the kids kept asking "when are we playing a match?". It would appear that in that environment/culture they play a game every time they come to class.

In Judo I would say that we hardly ever let our kids/students play the game of Judo. Most clubs (and it's not all by any chance) do have Randori, generally at the end and maybe 1/2 hour of a say 1 and a half hour session.
Not many clubs (in my experience) have competitions weekly, within the club for example. An in-house ladder where there is a impact of winning or losing.

Why do I think we need to play the game more?
So, this is a big question and the answers will annoy many; you have been warned. ;-)

If (and it's a big IF), you think that Judo is a sport (or at least there is a sport element that matters in Judo), then part of our role as coaches is to give our students the experience of doing Judo as a game. Also, we need to make our players the best Judo players we can.

Now if we don't let students play the game of Judo, how can we expect them to be able to play the game of Judo??
We need to allow them to learn through practice of playing the game. The theory goes that if we let them play the game of Judo more, they will learn from each experience, becoming better players of the game.

If we have our students spending most of their time listening to instruction, or practising individual techniques in isolation; they will get better at learning techniques, right? (and yes I am simplifying).

So if, our job is to get kids good at learning throws, the common lots of Judo instruction model is correct right. BUT, if our role is about competition (and that is a debatable subject of course, though I contend that the sport element of Judo is vital to all other elements of Judo) then is the standard model of teaching throws in isolation perhaps is not good. And perhaps we need to explore a different model where students spend more time competing inside their club and being coached loosely from matside, after matches or in different sesisons based around what they did when actually playing the game of Judo.

Part two: What do they love about Judo?
The second reason I am proposing we should have kids in Judo compete/play the game more in Judo is to do with why kids want to do Judo.

I know lots of Judo games, this website in fact started life like that and my list of Judo games I know has been used by many many coaches (in fact it even ended up uncredited in a book of Judo games: Creative Judo Teaching: The Essential Coaches Guide to Methods and Lesson Planning for the Teaching of Judo in Schools, Colleges and Clubs).

And games are good tools for kids Judo. I appreciate also that often Judo classes struggle for members and keeping kids in the club. And often the solution is to keep it "fun" to play more games (and not juts ones that have Judo content).

In fact if you watch the IJF's own "IJF Coaching Series - Coaching Judo to Juniors" DVD, there are lots of great ideas on how to make Judo fun for kids.

And it was a segment in this DVD that originally got me thinking about what Kids Judo should be, and how that might affect Judo clubs and the experience kids have in Judo.

In the DVD there is a young French Girl who answers the question "What do you like most about Judo?" and her answer?

"Playing football at the beginning"

To me that is a really bad answer and one I would not have put on a DVD! To me, that young lady is a future footballer, not a future Judo champ. To me, that child does not enjoy playing the game of Judo as much as she likes playing the game of football.

Now, it is a few seconds on a DVD, I don't know if she has gone on to be a great Judoka and now loves Judo becuase she stayed in the club thanks to the football.

My point is, do we want the next generation of Judoka to be in Judo becuase they like playing football, or playing bulldogs, or being able to learn a throw and get the next colour belt?

Or do we want the next generation of Judoka to be in Judo becuase they love fighting and competing and learning through playing Judo? Do we want people in Judo who love competing or who love practising breakfalls and turnovers in the club to get that next belt.

Do we want people who will Randori all night with a smile on their face, or people who can't fight but can do wonderful demonstrations of individual throws with their willing Uke?

Do we want people in Judo who love competing and will stretch themselves to be the best they can be, or people who want to play non-Judo games?

I am generalising of course, but the core question is this:

If our clubs do not provide the "game of Judo" then those that stay in sport are less likely to be those that are going to stay in the game? If we provide club sessions that allow people to play the game of Judo, then the membership would be of people who like to play Judo?

So... if we want Judo competition and all the great positives that it brings, then do our clubs provide that opportunity? Or are our clubs providing a type of Judo experience that does not lead to competition but to staying in the club and being happy learning throws and other elements of Judo?

Is this why we struggle? Is this why we have big drop-offs? Do we get kids into Judo on the "Olympic Sport" ticket, then lose them because they never get to play the game of Judo?

Is it vice versa?

My personal view is that Judo clubs need to foster competition, we need to give the kids in the classes the game of Judo. If they like it great if not, we are not the only hobby in town.

For me this is important as I do not think that we can reach the higher levels of Judo involvement; without FIRST having competed to the highest level we as individuals can achieve. Competing makes us improve ourselves as individuals. We master ourselves and from there we can progress beyond competition Judo into the more important Judo factors that make Judo a way of life, not just a sport.

BUT... I feel strongly that we need to compete first to experience that learning in the flames of competition and that testing of ourselves. Once our competition days are over (or at least perhaps peaked) we can then develop our Judo in different areas, to improve others and our societies. But I don't feel we can skip that first step.

I am not proposing that every club needs to be aiming for Olympians! Nor that clubs should not teach technique, history, kata, culture. WHat I am saying is that we need to be careful to ensure that our clubs are developing Shiai Judoka.

A player may love competing but be very poor at doing it, perhaps their highest level is coming second at your club. But if your club has no internal competition that person will never reach their highest potential. And if that happens as a coach/club we have failed that person!

I, for example, was not good enough at playing the game of Judo to compete at Olympic level. But I loved (and still love) fighting. I trained and trained and fought and fought and loved it. Then I stopped, I took to coaching; later I took to creating Judo websites. Then I got my academic Judo education at University of Bath. Then I competed at the World Masters, not I continue to learn (from coaches outside of Judo), I still do the web thing, I do Judo research and I try and help others to learn via the we and of course JudoSpace.

It is not about producing Olympians, it is about producing people who make Judo part of their Life. And competing is key to doing that. I know many many many Judoka and those most addicted to Judo are those that competed. I don't think that is coincidence, I think it is a feature of competing in the game of Judo.

So returning to the topic of this post, is the experience you see in your Judo, in your club, in your area, in your nation delivering competition for all? So they too can become addicted to Judo like I have?

And... if playing the game of Judo is what addicts us, then is the format of the Judo being delivered right?

Thanks for your time,



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