Coaches, Speak Up!

The other day, I came across some surprising comments from Coach X, a national team coach, who had been to the recent Rotterdam World Championships. The gist of his comments was that while he had no problem discussing the latest round of rule changes and bellyaching about them, he had no time to decide whether the rules were good or bad, and had no time to complain.

I always thought that a coach was an advocate for his players. As such, I find it inconceivable that a coach would abrogate a portion of his responsibilities to his players without trying to be part of the decision-making process. It’s true that presently coaches have few political means of being part of that process. Voicing our concerns through email would be a good start.

Coach X states that he has no time to decide whether a rule is good or bad. Maybe he doesn’t, but for coaches who struggle to make Judo relevant at the grassroots level, we can’t afford to meekly accept IJF decisions because ultimately they impact our programs. We have a sport where referees not only enforce the rules, but make the rules as well. And the referees keep tweaking them and tweaking them without much thought as to what it is doing to Judo. In fact, one of my assistant coaches, who is a PJC referee, shocked me when he said that he didn’t care what the rule changes did to Judo or to our own club!  Meanwhile back at the dude ranch, we are losing students and competitors to Brazilian jiujitsu and submission wrestling because the IJF has sissified, emasculated, and sterilized Judo, and laden it with a list of things you can’t do that is longer than the list of things you can do.

Coach X states that the IJF is doing some wonderful things developing Judo in the Judo-underdeveloped nations. Yes, it is, but this doesn’t mitigate the rules catastrophe foisted on all of us in Judo, whether we go to the Olympics or not. The level of dissatisfaction with Judo rules has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years. The number of competitors has dropped all across the U.S. I don’t think it’s just because the economy is in the tank. It’s obvious that in addition to hijacking our sport, referees are at a loss on how to right our ship.  There is a strong need for outside-the-box thinking, and a stronger need that that come from coaches and athletes, possibly former high level competitors.

So, yes, Coach X, we must get on with the business of doing, promoting, teaching and training Judo, but we coaches must also use our right to dissent in order to advocate for our athletes, and for our sport.  We can no longer sit back and watch the IJF parade, or the USA Judo parade, go right past us. In many sports, coaches and athletes serve on committees that make the rules. In Judo, this is clearly not the case. This must change. It won’t until we coaches decide to voice our concerns to our national, continental and international bodies, and do what Coach X won’t do.

Through our silence, we have allowed the IJF, really the IJF refereeing commission, to hijack our sport. Without coaches, there are no athletes, and thus no need for referees and championships. Coaches, don’t be silent. Raise holy hell. Find a way to become part of the decision-making process.

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