The Seeds of Success

If you follow international sports as I do, you probably know that a nation of 330,000 just qualified for the 2018 World Cup in soccer, while a nation of 330 million failed to qualify for the same event.  Why did Iceland qualify while the United States failed?  Who cares, some of you might be thinking?  Well, the answer is simple.  There’s much to learn from Iceland’s success in soccer, and from America’s failure, because Judo in the U.S. suffers from the same problems when it comes to national development.

Much like East Germany in 1950, the Icelandic approach to success focused on coach education.  Coaches were required to achieve a European (UEFA) ‘B’ or ‘A’ coaching license.  Some of you may point out that USA Judo also has ‘B’ and ‘A’ coaching credentials, which is true, but all comparisons stop at the letter of the credential.  To obtain a UEFA ‘B’  license, coaches are required to spend 60 hours of practical units on the field, 60 hours of academic units off the field, and a minimum 3 hours of assessments during an official coaching convention.

These are the assessments:

  • Practical coaching assignment, i.e. a training session prepared and run by a course participant with players appropriate to the course level;
  • Theory of coaching/management;
  • Laws of the Game;
  • Match analysis, i.e. a practical exercise where the candidate observes a match and produces a report;
  • Thesis/special study on child/player development, i.e. a substantial work on a coaching topic (e.g. tactics);
  • Background report during work experience/ study visit, i.e. a document containing a participant’s conclusions and observations on the work of a team and coaches he has followed;
  • Logbook of coaching activities, i.e. a diary of the experiences gathered by a participant during the course;
  • Other assessments of the candidate’s competence in football-specific areas, as defined in the syllabuses of minimum content provided by UEFA.

Holy smoke!  You can see that USA Judo, USJF and USJA coaching programs offer nothing even remotely close to the UEFA model.  Let’s be perfectly honest; our Judo coaching programs are mostly designed to fundraise, and to keep our insurance carriers happy.  They are not designed to develop master coaches.

Some of you might submit that you’re not interested in international competition, so a rigorous coaching education program isn’t really needed.  And, of course, you’d be wrong.  Such a program would lift all Judo programs from grassroots to the international level.  I’m pretty sure we’d all like to see more kids and adults doing Judo in our local dojos, or competing at our local events.  Better coaching is a benefit to all of us.

Another step that Iceland took was tackling the problem of facilities in a country where the climate is not a friend.  Full-size and half-size domed fields were built, allowing more kids to play soccer under highly educated coaches.  While we don’t have a climate problem in the U.S. when it comes to Judo, we do have a facility problem: not enough dojos because we lack coaches to run these dojos.  Wouldn’t it be great if each of our small communities had a Judo dojo?

When it comes to the failure of the U.S. men’s soccer team, much of the failure has been placed on our youth development program, where short-term goals emphasize winning tournament trophies at various levels rather than developing sound technical and tactical skills.  These short-term goals also focus on precocious players- faster and stronger for their age than other kids- while more technically proficient players, but physically slower and weaker, might be neglected or rejected.  This happens in Judo, too, as many coaches don’t care about long-term development, or can’t recognize which athletes will ultimately be the studs once they mature physically.

If we want to see better results at international events, and if we want to have more people doing Judo, and staying in Judo, we must tackle coach education honestly.  What the national organizations are doing currently is an embarrassment.  Since I don’t envision that they will implement coaching programs with teeth, it’s incumbent on every coach to self-educate, to think outside the box, to learn from other sports, and to become master coaches.

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