Coach Education: Reinventing the Wheel?

Although most U.S. Judo Association members don’t yet know it, we are working on yet another revamping of the coach education system. It’s unfortunate that we have to address this so soon after the last fix, but four years ago we threw out a lot of good stuff and didn’t replace it with anything meaningful. “The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing” is a French proverb that sums up our coaching situation. After serving on the coaching committee for nearly thirty years, I’m getting tired of the changes that seem to make little difference in the quality of our coaches.

Four years ago, I issued a call for action entitled The Crisis Still is in Coaching.  Although most of my recommendations are used successfully in other coaching and mentoring programs, mine were ignored by the board of directors. Today, I’ve been asked to serve once again on the coaching committee to repair the damage, and to produce a service that will make a real difference in our coaches’ abilities.

We’ve had four years to think about what’s wrong with our coaching program. In my opinion, we have four main issues to deal with:

  1. On-the-mat and off-the-mat requirements;
  2. How to impart information to our coaches;
  3. What to impart to our coaches;
  4. Lack of written materials.

We have finally had the courage to recognize that most of our coaches don’t have the necessary technical skills to be effective Judo coaches. To remedy this, the USJA Coach Education Committee (CEC) under Jim Pedro instituted a “Must be on the Mat” policy to be certified. This was a complete change from the previous system we used under Chris Dewey’s stewardship of the committee, which allowed coaches to access coaching manuals and exams online. As expected, it created much grumbling.

I am a firm believer that coaches need to put time on the mat with their colleagues. Much is learned through the interactions and discussions that ensue from seminars, clinics, and camps. However, we must also recognize that attending a clinic, and spending four hours on grip fighting and a handful of international techniques won’t even begin to make a dent in the technical deficiencies of our coaches.

The function of the USJA CEC should be to teach coaches how to be better educators. It shouldn’t be to make them better Judoplayers. That’s the function of the USJA Promotion Committee. Our coaches are technically weak because we have a weak promotion system that has produced too many over-ranked coaches stuck on classical demonstration Judo, ignorant of the skills of international Judo, and armed with archaic pedagogy. To make our coaches more technically proficient, drastic changes need to come from the USJA Promotion Committee, not the USJA CEC. Temporarily, I hope, we do find it necessary to do remedial work within the CEC courses, which robs our coaches of time that should be spent on attaining academic knowledge.

This leads us to the second of our four main issues: how to impart knowledge to our coaches. I think the obvious answer is we must make better use of the Internet. A USJA CEC site could provide video clips of warm-ups, drills, refereeing instruction, and international techniques, along with articles, comments, suggestions, and perhaps short exams that would qualify as CEUs (Continuing Education Units.) Many of our coaches are requesting information that should posted to the Internet site rather than discussed on the mat during clinics. If we do this, we’ll have more time for the nuts and bolts of coaching, which is the third of our main issues; what to impart to our coaches.

One of my favorite quotes is Donald Rumsfeld’s, “As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”  Traditional Judo coaching is hampered by, “the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” In my opinion, the main unknown unknown of Judo is pedagogy, the art of teaching!

I know it’s shocking, but a black belt is not adequate preparation for teaching. Blindly using the same model of instruction you were subjected to doesn’t cut it. Coaching clinics that don’t go beyond the standard fare of liability, first aid, women in Judo, and a rehash of the ukemi-uchi komi-randori model of instruction aren’t much help either. For this reason, pedagogy should be the main focus when we assemble our coaches on the mat. This is especially true when dealing with coaches at the first two levels of the coach education program. Almost everything else that’s important to a coach can be handled through the judicious use of the Internet. This would include, how to run a business, how to become a non-profit organization, how to develop an Internet presence, etc.

Lastly, we come to the most tedious problem to solve: the lack of written materials. Currently the USJA has no standard curriculum, syllabus, or manuals, which is distressing because we’ve been at coach education for some thirty-five years, and we should not be in this position. Four years ago, we had standard manuals, but they were discarded because some of our leaders decided they were not Judo-specific enough. We could have easily supplemented them with Judo-specific information rather than completely eliminate them, but that was too logical for Judo.

The bible on coaching Judo has yet to be written, and I don’t know if it ever will be. There are many good generic reference books on coaching that we can use in our coaching program. Successful Coaching by Rainer Martens is one such book. Of course, it too would have to be supplemented with Judo-specific information, but that process is manageable.

Here’s a bit of déjà vu: an earlier version of Successful Coaching was the main manual of the American Coach Education Program (ACEP), which the USJA used as the vehicle for its coach certification program. The ACEP program, along with the manual, was discontinued by the USJA because of its cost. The USJA could have abandoned the ACEP program without abandoning the manual. Again, too logical for Judo.

We could also reclaim the three “discarded” manuals developed by former CEC chairman Chris Dewey, and supplement them. We can also use a series of books, and a professional reading program, to shore up our lack of written materials. Our options for written materials are numerous. My only wish is that whatever we do, we do it right this time so that it survives for a long time. Reinventing the wheel is so unnecessary!

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