When USA Judo began its newest fund raising venture a few years ago- charging coaches $75 to be a “certified” coach- I called the chairman of the coach education committee to voice my concerns about this. Outrage was what I felt when I found out that at the time there were no requirements to go along with the fee and the title. The chairman, an acclaimed former elite competitor and coach, assured me that requirements would be forthcoming, but in the interim, “we need to become professional,” and the $75 fee would set us on the right course. Recently, another well-respected former elite player and coach mentioned that he was pleased that the IJF’s new requirement that coaches wear suits and ties to the competition draws and to the medal rounds made Judo more professional.
I’ve been a Judo coach since 1972 and a certified coach since 1974, so I was shocked at how I had overlooked the solution to our coaching problem in the U.S. for so many years. All we had to do was simply charge an annual fee and dress like a professional, and voila, we are professional coaches. Why had I not thought of that?
As the French say, l’habit ne fait pas le moine, or the clothing doesn’t make the monk. I’m all in favor of coaches dressing appropriately, which usually means wearing the team’s sporting attire, not suit and tie. So, sorry, but suit and tie don’t make us professionals If we must insist on the way a coach looks, let the focus be on coaches being fitter and trimmer. That would make more sense than the suit and tie. Coaches are after all role models, and Judo is marketed for its fitness and health benefits. Obviously, the annual fee is even further removed from making us professionals.
To get a better grasp of what it is to be a professional, here’s a passage taken from The Teaching Gap by James W. Stigler and James Hiebert:
We believe, however, that attacking the problem simply by arbitrarily assigning professional characteristics to teachers mistakes the trappings for the profession. In fact, a profession is created not by certificates and censures but by the existence of a substantive body of professional knowledge, as well as a mechanism for improving it, and by the genuine desire of the profession’s members to improve their practice.
So where do we stand in Judo? After interacting with American coaches for nearly thirty years as a member of the USJA Coach Education Committee, I am convinced of the following: we do not possess a substantive body of professional knowledge, our efforts of improving that body of professional knowledge are minimal, and sadly most coaches lack a desire from to become professional.
Let me shed some light on the last comments. The Judo coaching community is still stuck on the traditional ukemi-static uchi komi-go kyo no waza-kata model. We have ignored international Judo techniques. We have not looked outside Judo to better our pedagogy and methodology of instruction. Our coach education programs are infantile at best, repeating traditional dogma while ignoring the readily available advances in athletic training methods used by other sports. Since most coaches are volunteers who teach Judo for the love of the sport, there is no real incentive to become the very best that you can be as a coach. The only reason that many of our coaches are certified is because they are forced to be certified in order to coach at tournaments. Remove that requirement, and few would certify.
For American coaches to become professional, rather than merely assume the trappings of a profession, I would recommend the following. First, establish a professional reading program like our military has done. Most of our most successful military warriors were voracious readers with huge personal libraries. There are many books that coaches should read to gain knowledge of human performance, business management, and leadership. Outliers: The Story of Success, The Talent Code, and Talent is Overrated are three such books that have been published within the last year. They should be mandatory reading.
Second, develop a mentoring program for our junior coaches. Mentoring is a crucial part of the leadership and management development within business and military establishments, and it should be in the Judo community. While I believe that mentoring should be an integral part of the Coach Education Committee program, coaches should feel free to go out and seek a mentor, or to offer themselves as mentors.
Third, establish a national coaches association to empower our coaches at the political level. This association should be responsible for setting standards for coaches, encouraging coaches to self-educate, policing and rewarding coaches, advocating for coaches and their athletes, and giving them a true voice, not token representation, at the national level until such time that it can attain a voice at the international level.
Lastly, we must improve the quality, and to a lesser degree the quantity, of our continuing education offerings. Many of our coaches currently will not expend time, effort, and money to attend clinics and seminars that offer little new information. And I can’t blame them. We must make better use of the Internet to provide our coaches with clips of international Judo techniques, and warm-up and training drills. While I am a firm believer in the value of the Internet and a professional reading program, we must ultimately get our coaches back on the mat to learn Judo, methodology, and pedagogy, and to interact with other coaches. We must get our big fish out of their small ponds in order to reinvigorate them and help them grow.
So contrary to what my coaching colleagues said about professionalism, diplomas, certificates, high annual fees, and suits and ties, more fit for the boardroom than for the Judo mat, are not the answer. Judo coaches will only become more professional if we can get them to buy into a professional reading program, mentoring system, coaching association, and getting back on the mat.