The Crisis Still is in Coaching

by Gerald Lafon

In a 1979 article entitled The Crisis Will Be in Coaching, Phil Porter declared that, “We are going to have a really hard time to find the coaches to train these young people, because we have seriously neglected coaching programs of all kinds.”  Porter was talking about finding enough elite coaches to train the top 100 players in the country.

Since 1979, not much has changed. We still have a crisis in coaching. True, we have required coach certification programs that satisfy our legal obligations, but they do little to make a meaningful difference in the abilities and knowledge of our coaches. While anything is better than nothing, our current program of coach certification does little to solve our coaching dilemma: too few qualified coaches.

Although Porter didn’t say it directly, it’s difficult to train the top tier of our athletes and coaches without a stronger, larger base of local athletes and coaches. If we are serious about the development of Judo in the United States then we must be willing to tackle the hard task of raising the overall abilities of our weakest link- the local Judo coach. In order to do that, we certainly do need “coaching programs of all kinds.”

Defining Coach Education

Our first task is to decide what a coach must know. As I see it, three areas need to be addressed:

  1. Teaching class: the how, what, who, when and where of teaching and learning
  2. Competition coaching: preparation of athletes, matside coaching, tournament bracketing, and developing knowledge of contest rules
  3. Business development: how to run a Judo club as a business. This includes fund raising, marketing, advertising, selling, zoning laws, city regulations, etc.

A New Model of Coach Education

Whether our coaches teach free or make a living from teaching Judo, we must strive for a corps of professional coaches, educated in every aspect of the Judo industry. A sound coach education program should result in the following:

  • More trained coaches, especially those willing to make a living teaching Judo
  • More clubs in more communities
  • More students attracted and retained over longer periods
  • Greater Judo skills and athletic abilities among local participants
  • More competitors at all levels
  • Divisions that are deeper and more competitive
  • More international medals won

Current coach certification programs cover only some aspects of class teaching and very little of competition coaching other than contest rules. This is clearly not sufficient. We need to address the immediate “nuts and bolts” requirements of our coaches as well as their long-term development. I propose the following programs:

Continuing Education: A major drawback to our current system is that once coaches certify, we have more often than not lost their attention and interest until it is time to re-certify three or four years later.  We have also in all probability not addressed all their needs at the coaching clinic they attended. Many professions require continuing education. It makes sense for Judo coaches too.

Continuing education, both mandatory and voluntary, comes in many forms. It can be attending clinics; reading (articles, coaching newsletters and books); viewing and analyzing (videotapes, DVDs or Internet clips); or interacting with a mentor, which I will address later on. Much of continuing education can be conducted via distance learning to make it easier to acquire new information. However, interaction between coaches is invaluable and should not be neglected.

Reading Program:: An old adage in Judo is that you can’t learn Judo or anything about Judo from books. I disagree.  USAF General W.L. Creech, the Commander of the Tactical Air Command, said that, “The best intellectual growth comes from being a consummate, even voracious reader of books of all kinds.” Our best WWII generals- Eisenhower, MacArthur and Patton in particular- were voracious readers. Recognizing the importance of reading in the development of leadership, the U.S. Marine Corps has implemented a Professional Reading Program for all enlisted and officer ranks. Consider the directive from General M. W. Hagee, the former Commandant of the Marine Corps:

All Marines must develop a disciplined approach to studying, thinking, and discussing our profession… The selected books will facilitate a common understanding, stimulate intellectual curiosity, and…bolster professional education within our ranks… to make the critical decisions upon which future victories will rest.

If the military man can read in order to improve his fighting and leadership skills, why can’t Judo coaches do so to improve their teaching and business skills? While many coaches own and have read a fair number of Judo-specific books, they are undoubtedly missing the boat on other topics. Many non-Judo books are very relevant to our job– books on athletic performance, psychology, sociology, education, military leadership, biographies of famous coaches and athletes, etc.  A coach education program should develop a list of recommended books for each of these topics. It should also recognize the specific needs of local, national and international coaches. For example, here are some books I recommended to one of my black belts when he stared a new club:

•  Strong Together!, by Walter Gain & Jurgen Hartmann
•  Strength, Speed and Endurance for Athletes, by Jurgen Hartmann
•  The War Against Boys: How misguided feminism is harming our young men, by Christina Hoff Sommers
•  The Feel-Good Curriculum: the dumbing down of American kids in the name of self-esteem, by Maureen Stout
•  What It Takes To Be #1: Vince Lombardi on Leadership, by Vince Lombardi Jr.
•  Beyond Winning: the timeless Wisdom of Great Philosopher Coaches, by Gary Walton
•  Judo for the West, by Geof Gleeson
•  Anatomy of Judo, by Geof Gleeson
Judo Inside Out, by Geof Gleeson

Mentorship Program:: A great many of our coaches toil in solitude far from resources and from colleagues who could provide supervision, feedback and encouragement. Still they forge ahead by trial and error, often with meager results. With some help, some information, someone to guide them, things would be better.  One way to make things better would be to use the American version of the sempai: the mentor.

While some of us are already mentoring junior coaches, there is no official program for coaches who wish to seek out a mentor nor is there a push to encourage coaches to seek out mentors. We need to rectify this. I propose the development of a general mentorship program as well as a career tracking mentorship program. Under the general mentorship program, coaches could request a mentor through the national organization. Under the career tracking mentorship program, developing coaches would be recognized and selected by the national organization, then mentored and groomed for national or international assignments. The national organization would support this financially.

Promotion Track:: We need to revisit the way coaches are promoted within the Judo ranking systems. None of the national ranking systems in the U.S. prepares our coaches to be the professionals they should be. They follow the same track as competitors, general non-competitors and officials. We must recognize that coaches are the lifeblood of Judo and that their preparation and education as coaches have been mediocre at best. It is time that Judo coaches come under a promotion system for specialists, ensuring compliance with the requirements of the coach education program.

Performance Requirements:: Many foreign and domestic coaching programs require one thing that all of our systems fail to require: coaching performance guidelines.  Those systems require the coach to have produced athletes who have medalled at specific tournaments, i.e.  “E” level tournament, national championships, international championships, etc.  In U.S. Judo all you have to do is complete a course (sometimes without even taking a test!), meet the rank requirement, pass the background check, and pay the fee. The result is that we have coaches certified to our highest levels who have never produced national or international level athletes. Furthermore, many of these “certified coaches” aren’t even running clubs. If coaching levels are to be meaningful, we must require coaching performance guidelines based on the performance of the athletes.


Shortly after its declaration as a nation in 1949, East Germany faced a tough decision in its national sports program. It needed to support its athletes, to build sports facilities and to train professional coaches. It could only afford to do one of those, not all three. It chose to develop a corps of professional coaches first. We all know that East Germany then produced one of the greatest sports machines ever seen,

It is clear that we are not on the right path in training coaches in the U.S.  We need changes that may be unpopular among coaches threatened by education and performance requirements.  Still, I am convinced that many coaches would embrace a coach education program designed to help them become more effective Judo instructors, program directors and trainers of athletes. We must change the scope of our coach education program in order to get our sport out of the closet and into mainstream America.  And until we do that, the crisis still is in coaching. Our athletes deserve better. Judo deserves better.

2 thoughts on “The Crisis Still is in Coaching

  1. I agree with the information in the blog. In my opinion, the obstacle is that we don’t have one judo organization managing US Judo.

    Here is this question again that has been asked trillions of times, why do we have 3 judo organizations in this country. It seems that everybody wants to be the chief. It looks like there will not be an end to this multiplicity of organizations in the future.

    I am so frustrated with all the organizations running in the US.

    Thank for the great information here and I will do my best to learn how to be a better coach for my students.

  2. As an American, I believe competition is a good thing. Thus, in theory, 3 organizations are better than one. Can you imagine the added degree of disrespect and poor service if we only had USA Judo? Alas, all three organizations are unwilling to have high standards for fear of losing members, thus the ridiculously watered down requirements for rank and coaching advancement. We’re better off not expecting much from them, and turning to the outside to better ourselves as players, coaches, and businessmen.

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