The Chicken-and-Egg Dilemma

In his latest blog post, Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code, asks, “What would you do if you received a check for $50,000 tomorrow to help develop talent in your team/school?”  The four options were; pay for new facilities, hire the best single teacher or coach, bring in a series of camps and seminars, and pay existing teachers and coaches more. So, what would you do? What comes first? The chicken or the egg?

Back in 1950, the newly created German Democratic Republic (DDR), or East Germany, had to answer this chicken-and-egg question. How were their meager resources to be spent? On the athletes, the coaches, or the training facilities?  Doug Gilbert answers this question for us in The Miracle Machine.

The answer was to opt for coaching: trained, professional coaching. Coaches who would go out and find the athletes while getting along with makeshift facilities and equipment until better facilities and equipment could be developed.

They did this by inventing…the Deutsche Hochshule für Körperkultur, or the German College of Physical Culture.

It’s now 2011, and how did American Judo answer the question? In my opinion, we didn’t do much of anything that has a lasting effect on the growth of American Judo. The obvious answer to our chicken-and-egg question should have been the same as that of the DDR: coaches. Yet, this is not what has transpired.

We continue to give lip service to coach education, and we do practically nothing to empower coaches to start clubs. On the other hand, we do push training for referees. In the past, and it may be true today although I don’t want to waste time researching this, we had more “A” referees than any other country in the world. The truth is that international referees don’t have any bearing on the quality and growth of American Judo.  We’re still at the bottom of the totem poll in terms of numbers of players and results at the international level.

USA Judo spent a small fortune to hire a bunch of office workers for the national headquarters. In spite of the high administrative costs to run the national governing body, I still can’t get answers to basic questions when I need them, which fortunately is not very often. USA Judo runs a coach education program that is more of a fund raiser than it is educational, yet implies that coaches who go through their “kindergarten” level clinics are “professional” coaches. Oh, we did get a new logo for our sport. That too cost a small fortune.

The U.S. Judo Federation (USJF) states, “The vision of the USJF is to have JUDO in every american [sic] community.” I dig that, but how do we effect that vision? Can’t have clubs in every community if you don’t have the coaches to run them. While the USJF has adopted a manual for its coach education program, it’s the same old stuff, the same old model that just hasn’t worked very well for us in the past sixty years. Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. I didn’t say that. Einstein did. But it certainly applies to American Judo.

The U.S. Judo Association (USJA) could be a bright spot, but I’m quickly losing faith. It has adopted a very good coaching manual, Successful Coaching by Rainer Martens, but it is not required…yet. The USJA managed to obtain- it actually fell into the USJA’s lap- a $30,000 grant for a program called Kelly’s Capers, but the diffusion of this worthy program is not very efficient. And, it’s a program that is primarily focused on adults, which constitute a minority of the American Judo population. How do we handle the 60-70% of the population that Kelly’s Capers can’t help?

If coaches- trained and professional- were the answer to the great success of the DDR, they can be the answer to American Judo. We have two major stumbling blocks before that can happen. One, American coaches need to understand that, regardless of their rank, they know little about Judo in general, or teaching Judo, or running a Judo business; and two, our national organizations need to admit that one-day certification courses do not develop professional coaches.

We need a Marshall Plan, or perhaps a Lafon Plan, to save Judo in this country. The majority of our limited funds and time should be devoted to bettering our coaching corps. Daniel Coyle says,

When given the choice, invest in people over facilities. Teachers are the real engine of the day-by-day learning process that drives any hotbed. The addition of one master teacher creates more talent than a million dollars’ worth of bricks and mortar.

It takes decades to develop master coaches. In the meantime, we need to develop competent coaches who in time will become master coaches. A strong mentoring program would facilitate the intellectual development of coaches. If you are a coach and you don’t have a mentor, you are doing yourself and your students a disservice.

We must launch a national program to create more clubs. To make this possible, we must develop a business management system for our coaches. When was the last time a coaching course or seminar told you how to run a Judo business. For God’s sake, many of our clubs don’t even have a web site. It’s 2011!!! If consumers don’t know you exist, how can they find you?

We must develop an online coach education program to supplement our clinics and seminars. How about a professional reading list? All branches of the American military have one. Why not Judo? Hopefully by now, the “you can’t learn Judo by reading a book” mentality is dead.

National organizations need full-time, paid professionals to run their coach education programs. Our volunteers with full-time jobs don’t have the time or the wherewithal to do an adequate job. All the stuff that needs to be developed for an online coaching program won’t go very far without paying people to do the work.

Finally, we must offer more coaching seminars than the usual, one-day coach certification courses. Many of my assistant coaches have been to three or four coach certification courses that I have run. According to them, they are finally starting to understand. Mind you, these are coaches who are on the mat three times a week with me, yet they are just now starting to get it! This tells me I need to do something different.  I need to hold more seminars.

Starting this year, I’ll run quarterly seminars in Southern California to address specific themes and issues. These will be shorter, more hands-on, more challenging, and hopefully more meaningful in the long run than the once-every-two-years certification courses. I’ll still do the longer courses, but my money is on the shorter ones.

One last thought about the survival of Judo in the United States. Better coaches will undoubtedly make a huge impact in spreading Judo to all our communities. Unfortunately,  in the world of MMA and submission grappling in which Judo competes, we are saddled with an incredible handicap: our insistence on adhering to IJF rules. So for Judo’s sake, abandon the IJF ship, especially at the grassroots level.

Oh, by the way, what would you do with $50,000?

5 thoughts on “The Chicken-and-Egg Dilemma

  1. It is in my nature to be contrary. I hope to always be respectfully so.
    The East German athletic Machine, put copious resources in systematic, institutional doping. It was always suspected. Hence the old joke; why doesn’t the East German woman’s judo team ever wear short skirts. The answer if you haven’t heard it, is not suitable for this forum. After the fall, the West Germans declassified all of the East’s records. Providing all the sorid details in black and white.
    Money, in my never to be humble opinion, has little to nothing to do with athletic sucess.

    Respectfully ( I hope )
    David Schrock

  2. I knew that someone would bring up drugs to dismiss the technical side of the program. You are missing the forest for the trees as far as my mentioning the East German program. Doping was not the sole privy of the East Germans. Sure, they did a better job than others, including Americans. Drugs alone do not make international caliber athletes. It still takes a structured national program with skilled coaches to do what the East Germans did. Their emphasis on coaching was noteworthy.

  3. Excelent point. I do not know how one could analiticly judge the effects of steroids on world class athletes. With the advantage the labs seem to have, there can be no certainty to who is using, or how much. Therefore it falls into the relm of suposition. If one were to conpair what the Babe did on hotdogs, beer, and loose women; with what Barry did with serroids. Well, most men would choose the hotdogs, beer, and loose women.
    Hopefully I did not move the focus to what we can’t change (sterroids) From what we should should change. Our system of judo has been repeatedly proven inferior. I agree that coaches are the key. However I do not share your optimism, as far as the national organizations go.


  4. I’m wishful, not optimistic, when it comes to the national organizations. They are after all a form of government that takes our money and creates little other than obstacles and hoops to jump through. I believe true progress comes from the private sector, from people like me, who have ideas and are willing to share, push, prod, cajole, and mentor others.

  5. I just sponsored a Kelly’s Capers clinic here in Roswell (14/15 April 2012) and had a great turn out for it. Mostly it was people I knew, but that’s the way these things go.

    As far as KC being primarily for adults, I’ve used it to extremely good effect in my youth class even though we’ve only had it in place for a week. One of my youths used what he learned at tournament (21 April 2012) and placed first in his division and it was his first tournament.

    I’m thankful for the Kelly’s Capers program but I’m not putting a bunch of faith in the success of judo because of the efforts of national organizations. I hate to reference the old saw, but I’m “thinking locally acting locally” (I know its a paraphrase) when it comes to growing judo in my corner of the world.

    As for the $50,000, well, first I’d buy new mats and then I’d get training for me and my assistants!

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