This is the Judo blog of Lance Wicks. In this blog I cover mainly Judo and related topics. My Personal blog is over at where I cover more geeky topics. Please do leave comments on what you read or use the Contact Me form to send me an email with your thoughts and ideas.

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Attacking the "Participation leads to Performance" myth. 

Please look at the picture below:

Scott Dixon

It is a photo of Scott Dixon, one of the top sports people in the world today. He is a driver in the US based Indy Car Series, and regarded one of the best drivers there is. Scott started racing cars at 13 years of age, he was racing salon and single seater cars with adults and performing admirably.

What is interesting about Scott when we talk about Judo and performance vs participation Judo is that Scott never “participated” in driving cars until he raced them (performance).

In New Zealand he could not participate in driving cars until he was 15. I.e. he could not get a drivers license until he was 15. He in fact had to get special permission to get his racing license at 13, and despite being allowed to drive on the track could not drive on the roads.

Scott is the best example I can think of to show that performance comes from doing performance (and performance training) NOT from participation in an activity. Scott had never “participated” in “recreational” driving. All he had done was race (perform). Initially in go Karts then in cars and now in some of the fastest vehicles in the world against the best in the world.

He never drove in recreational manner (like you and I would do, say going to work or on a Sunday) until after he became a high level performer. He won his first car racing title (against adults) before he could drive on the roads.

So why bring that up on a Judo Blog?

I bring up Scott Dixon because I regularly see and hear the discussions in Judo about the pyramid model. About how we need more people participating at “grass roots” if we want more medals. That more participation leads to more medals. That participation leads to performance.

Sure, some people go from recreational participation to performance Judo; but how many? And did they really do recreational Judo, or were they just performers trapped in recreational Judo until somehow they found a way out to performance Judo.

It is interesting to pose the question, would Scott have become the driver he is, had he started his driving in a participational manner. If rather than starting his driving in a competitive environment he’d simply gone to a driving instructor and learnt how to do parallel parking and 3 point turns would he have become a great racing driver?

I suspect the answer is no. Scott grew up around motorsport, his family were heavily involved in the sport and he started competing young. His love of racing was fuelled by racing and he got better and better until he became a world beater. Would driving around the suburbs obeying the road rules have fueled the passion for racing, would it have developed the skills needed to be the best? Or would he have become what the rest of us are, merely people driving cars to and from locations.

How does this relate to Judo?
In Judo are we providing environments where the passion to and for competiting is being fueled? Are our new members being taught to be Scott or to be a Bus driver or everyday commuter?

I personally feel that outside of a few small locations, we are producing bus drivers not racing drivers. And if we want success at the performance level (especially elite level), we need to address this issue and not always be about participation.

The top Judo nations and centres, do not provide recreational Judo. Japanese Judo (and I generalise) is about throwing and being a champion. The performance centres producing medals here in the UK (Scotland, Camberley, Bath, etc) are not recreational, participation clubs. Some provide recreational Judo as well, but they provide real competitive environments and a focus on the sport of Judo, not on participating in Judo as a hobby.

For me, I do not see a link between Participation and Performance. I see people stepping between the two different activities. Driving to the shops will NOT lead you to a career as a racing driver. Equally, Scott does not leap in his single seater race car and drive to the shops at top speed.

In Judo, attending a Judo club and doing Ukemi and a technique and some randori is not going to make you a champion. It is unlikely to develop the passion and the skills needed to make you a performer. At some point you will have to leave participation Judo and start performance Judo; if you want to become a performance Judoka.

We also need to consider the aptitude of the people coming to participation Judo and performance Judo. If someone enjoys participation Judo, it means they like doing Judo like that. If they enter into performance Judo and stay and like it they like competing.
It is very likely that the person who enters recreational Judo will not like performance Judo and vice versa. There will be those who enjoy both (me for example) and many enjoy both today, because that is simply what Judo is like. But, there are those who do Judo for winning competitions, so building performance programmes based on building participation is not a guaranteed winner. And is pretty much guaranteed to be a inefficient method of finding more performers.

As a sport, we need to acknowledge this and create ways that a young person can become a performer from day one. Then we may find the next Scott Dixon and from a early age they will develop the passion and skills to be a world beating Judo player.

National Governing Bodies and all the way down to clubs need to consider how we might break from the traditional club structures and build opportunities to build programmes that are purely about competition and not participation.

These programmes could develop young athletes faster and retain them better. Of course we do care about participation Judo, so we need to provide both. But currently, I would argue we provide solely participation Judo (especially for younger people) and don’t have any performance Judo programmes that start with absolute beginners.

My homework, and yours if you choose to try, is to think about how you might change the way you coach Judo to create a performance only programme in your environment.


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