Think Small!

I’ve noticed recently that many coaches are thinking about running a “good” tournament.  I’m not sure what “good” means, but it probably indicates that most tournaments have lots of negative aspects to them, which leads many to think that they can do better.  I do know that it’s very difficult to get a good turnout for your event, especially if it’s your first.  Couple that with what’s typically a lack of support from the local clubs, assuming you even have other local clubs besides your own, and the prospect of renting a facility, getting awards, and running an event that doesn’t take money out of your pocket is a scary proposition.

On the occasions that I have talked to or emailed coaches about running tournaments, I always offer up the idea of running smaller, in-house tournaments rather than trying to rent a facility and hope for the best.  Their first reaction is to spout all the reasons why they can’t run a tournament within their club.  What about the safety area? What about referees?  What about this, what about that?  Good grief!

Then, I get the impression that an in-house tournament really isn’t a real tournament. Perhaps it’s even beyond their dignity to run an in-house event while other coaches are running “real” tournaments.

Finally, the last reason for not doing an in-house tournament is the suggestion that there’s more money to be made with a larger tournament, which is true most of the time.  It’s also true is that you can lose your shirt if attendance is not great.

While I’m absolutely not against making money by hosting tournaments, it’s more important that tournaments serve the welfare of the athletes, and aid in their development as good players and citizens.  Therefore, you get a bigger return on your investment by hosting 3-4 in-house tournaments a year than one big annual event.

For many of us, the dream of running a large tournament is not realistic.  But if you really do want to run a large tournament, then you should use the same business model I suggest to coaches who want a permanent facility for their Judo program: start small, develop a clientele, then expand like any other business would. Starting small implies starting with an in-house event.

Most clubs are large enough to host small, in-house tournaments.  The mat in my facility is 33 x 42ft or 10 x 13m, which is large enough to run two competition areas.  The facility itself is large enough to have three- and four-tier bleachers inside, and a 3-tier outside the roll-up door.  My largest event had 125 competitors, and more spectators than competitors.  Needless to say that when you pack that many people into 2,400 sq ft, the atmosphere is awesome.  Naturally, tournaments can be run on smaller mats that might only allow for one competition area.  But if you run a ne waza tournament, more competition areas can be used.

Jim Hrbek, my good friend from San Antonio, Texas is running two in-house tournaments on the same day.   He’s calling it a “doubleheader.”  The first event is Rapid Fire, which features 1-minute matches and only standing techniques.  The second event is Mat Madness, which is a ne waza only tournament.  Great idea, isn’t it?

I’ve seen a photo taken in the 1920s of a group of players standing around a small mat outdoors at the occasion of a Judo “tournament”  in San Diego, California.  I can remember Murakami sensei from Los Angeles reminiscing about traveling down to San Diego, about 110 miles away from Los Angeles, in order to compete against Kawaishi’s club on a canvass-covered mat filled with Lord knows what.  It worked back then, why snub the idea today?  By the way, Kawaishi soon departed California and headed to Europe where he became the father of French Judo.

The benefits of in-house tournaments are staggering if you take a few moments to think about them.

  • Little to no start-up costs
  • Not labor intensive to set up since the mats are already there
  • No extra cost to rent a gym
  • Cheaper entry fees (I hope) because you have no extra overhead
  • Smaller area creates a more exciting ambience
  • Smaller turnout allows you to provide more matches per player
  • Generally takes less time to run an in-house event: everyone likes this!
  • Great opportunity to experiment with different rules to increase experience
  • Can provide tournaments more often for your own players
  • You’re assured that more of your players will compete since it’s at home

In Southern California, I have developed a small tournament circuit.  My club hosts four tournaments a year.  My daughter, whose club just moved from her garage, now has a permanent facility large enough to host in-house tournaments.  Another club about two hours away can also host in-house tournaments. The coach has suggested we run a ne waza tournament since her area is slightly smaller than mine and my daughter’s.  We all have spring-loaded mats.  None of us will use IJF rules.

I’d like to see us compete once a month.  In-house development tournaments are the way to go from every perspective: cost, rules, enthusiasm, ease of operation, and greater skill development.  I don’t understand why coaches are so wrapped up in thinking big, when the better option is thinking small.

One thought on “Think Small!

  1. Hear hear! Well done, and good luck with this excellent venture. Local, creative, and respectful of the inquiry that was at the heart of judo’s development as an educational “way” is where the future of judo must lie.

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