Two weeks ago, I emailed four IJF officials asking what prompted the latest IJF edict against coaching from the sidelines. Marius Vizer, IJF President, and Vladimir Barta, IJF Head Sports Director, responded to my inquiry, for which I am grateful. This is what Mr. Vizer had to say:
The new rule was made first of all due to the behavior of coaches in the last period, who seem not to understand that like in any sport, in judo too, the athletes are the main actors, not the coaches, with all due respect for coaches, as I also used to be one of them. Also, at the basis of this decision is the IJF strategy, according to which we want to promote the image of elite athletes and to develop and free the creativity of all the athletes on the tatami.
The athletes are not slaves or robots and many times, we have noticed that they were dominated by their coaches in a way that is not in accordance with what the relationships between athletes and coaches should be. Moreover, we took the initiative to develop the personality of the athletes on the tatami and outside the tatami, according to the principles of our sport.
Mr. Barta’s response was much longer and even included a video clip featuring a Czech coach swearing bloody murder at his athlete, who also happened to be his daughter. Even with my limited knowledge of Slovak, which is similar to Czech, I could make out the word for “prostitute” which apparently is also used for the f-word in Czech. A friend of mine was nice enough to translate the minute and a half clip. It was the most foul language that I had ever heard from any other coach in any language that I know. Since I can only handle three, maybe this foul language is more prevalent than I would think.
Messrs. Vizer and Barta are concerned about Judo’s image within the international sporting community and the general public at large. Huge sums of money are being spent to publicize the educational benefits of Judo and to project a global image of our sport that is distinct from other combat sports. We should all be thankful that the IJF has assumed this responsibility.
It’s apparent the IJF wants to redefine what coaching is, and what support athletes should receive during matches. Mr. Barta goes to great lengths to note that athletes in other sports- swimming, tennis, cycling, golf, figure skating, skiing and gymnastics- seem to perform well without the benefit of match/contest coaching. “I strongly believe that coaching is to prepare the athlete during the training period, before the competition and finally before the contest,” he states.
Concentration is a word that is creeping into the conversation more and more. Mr. Barta further explains his position:
And finally to give the advice during the contest when there is time to listen and to concentrate for very easy and direct important message. This is exactly the messages which should be transmitted when there is relatively quiet part of the contest.
The fight itself is not only the moment of maximum concentration for the athlete but also for coach to know what to say and how to advise when next MATE.
Lastly, the IJF Sports Director rages against what he perceives, often rightfully so, of negative coaching and attempts to influence the outcome of matches. Specifically, he cites the following instances of infringement to the coaches’ Code of Conduct:
- Calling for the opponent to be penalized for passivity
- Announcing the score even before the referee does so
- Calling for a lower score for the opponent
- Trying to influence a decision already taken by the referee
If you’re like me, you’re probably fed up with coaches who scream shido blue/white for no apparent reason other than to influence without merit the referee. On the other hand, at times, more often than should be accepted, when shido is not called, the referee team needs to be prompted. It goes without saying that this “shido blue” tactic wouldn’t have to be used if shido for stalling weren’t such a big factor in winning matches, or if referees could issue verbal feedback on the fly during the match to prevent having to penalize players. Proactive refereeing is what AAU and Freestyle Judo rules allow for, and it makes for a wonderful flow of technical Judo rather than the ugly tactical Judo we are subjected to.
All coaches are being punished for what the ten percent of uneducated rogue coaches do. Will the new rules solve the bad behavior, or will all coaching eventually be disallowed because some coaches still don’t get it? If verbal communication is forbidden, will coaches resort to creating non-verbal communication codes with their athletes? Could the IJF also ban this non-verbal communication if it occurs between hajime and matte?
Maybe what needs to happen is simply to expand the Code of Conduct and make it more specific. The current document is rather generic and vague. A list of examples of inappropriate comments would go a long way to solving the “coaching” problem. Of course, better refereeing and simplified rules with fewer “grey areas” subject to interpretation would result in fewer outbursts from coaches.
A final word on the subject. In the past, we have used coach liaisons at U.S. tournaments with great success, although the idea has been dropped from our major events because we now have referee juries. I had the privilege of acting as a coach liaison during both the U.S. Senior Nationals and the U.S. Open. The role of the liaison was to keep coaches in check and to approach the head referee when coaches had problems with decisions on the mat. We found out that when coaches are directed to tone down their behavior by their peers- active coaches, not federation officials who were once coaches- there is less backlash and things run more smoothly.
While I really don’t care what the IJF does at the international level, I must voice my concerns because things roll downhill pretty quickly from the international level, immersing us at the local level with bans and restrictions that hamper the national development of Judo. I can’t get USA Judo to confirm in writing what it will do, but so far it appears that the matside ban will only be enforced at international events held in the U.S. Nonetheless, to prevent even the thought of implementing the ban at all levels, I suggest that we revive the coach liaison position at most events. Come to think of it, since my players no longer attend tournaments with IJF rules, I’d be a prime candidate for being the coach liaison since I would have no coaching conflicts!