I believe that each community in America could support a Judo club if only we had enough coaches. Since we don’t have enough coaches maybe we should take a page from the American Youth Soccer Association (AYSO) when it set up shop almost fifty years ago. The AYSO recruited volunteer parents, mostly with little knowledge of soccer or coaching, provided them with a manual, a brief coaching clinic, a few balls and cones, and then cut them loose to coach their child’s soccer team. Many of these neophyte volunteers actually developed into relatively good soccer coaches after several years, in spite of knowing little initially or never having played the game themselves.
The naysayers will say that Judo is so special that only trained experts- read “black belts”- should teach clubs. I say that, yes, Judo is special, but not so special that we can’t develop a program to support coaches and provide them with the necessary tools to run good beginning programs in their neighborhoods.
Running an AYSO-like Judo program is not complicated. I know it is contrary to our mentality, but we need to encourage and empower non-black belts to teach Judo. We then need to provide them with an easy to follow and easy to practice curriculum (either Internet-based or in DVD format), a basic course on teaching methodologies, and a mentor to help solve issues and offer encouragement. Lastly, an Internet-based continuing education program will help these coaches grow into Judo and coaching. It might come to you as a shock, but this is how many high school sports programs are taught- some academic teacher with no coaching background in the sport gets volunteered to coach a team, and grows with the students.
I know that developing a Judo club from scratch is no piece of cake. I talk to enough Judoplayers to know that there is interest in setting up a new club, but once you factor in cost of mats and finding a facility you can afford to rent, it often becomes prohibitive to get started. To help with the financial burden, my solution is garage Judo. That’s right. Turn that area of the house where junk is stored into a Judo dojo.
Garage Judo is a cost effective way to start a Judo club. I know that most people very seldom think about the garage as an option, but it is a great one until you can develop a decent membership to support renting a larger, commercial facility. Your typical two-car garage is large enough for a 6 x 6m mat. That’s eighteen tatami mats measuring a few inches short of 20 x 20ft.
If you are used to larger surfaces, a 20 x 20 mat might seem too small to run a Judo program. It isn’t. I had a garage program for eight years. My mat was a permanent spring-loaded one. Standing in the garage now, I can’t quite fathom how four adult couples did randori in it at the same time, but that’s what we did, safely and productively. Valerie Lafon Gotay (2x U.S. Olympian) and Todd Brehe (2x U.S. World Team) both cut their Judo teeth in my garage.
Jesse Jones, the former USJA president also ran a garage program for years before moving to a commercial location. Many of the Brazilian jiujitsu clubs in my area started with a few guys rolling around in someone’s garage. Once the sport and membership picked up steam, out went the garage and in came the commercial location. This sort of transition is still valid today for those just starting out.
To make Judo grow in the U.S. we need more coaches and more clubs. We can develop more coaches if we stop thinking they must be black belts before they can teach basic skills to beginners. Trying to find a location for a club in a community center or a YMCA that has a decent time slot and mats for a Judo class can be frustrating, and mostly a fruitless search, depending on the community you live in. By using your garage- or barn or room addition- you control every aspect of your club. Teach there permanently or use it as a stepping stone to a bigger facility. Above all, commit to teaching Judo somewhere!