Where’s Judo’s Futsal?

Three recently published books- Outliers: The Story of Success, Talent is Overrated, and The Talent Code– have dealt with a common theme: ten thousands hours of deep, deliberate practice over ten years are required to achieve mastery in any field.

In The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, there’s a section on the development of Brazilian soccer that got my immediate attention. Soccer is a sport I know, having played it since I was ten years old, but the development of Brazilian soccer was a story I was not familiar with. From a coaching viewpoint, it’s a fascinating story that has repercussions for Judo.

Soccer’s World Cup, first held in 1930, is the Olympic Games of soccer, and like the Olympics it’s held just once every four years. Prior to 1958, Brazil had not been very successful. However, since 1958, Brazil has won five World Cups, the most of any nation. Why?

In the 1950s, the Brazilians started using in earnest a training tool that had been invented in 1930 by a Uruguayan coach as a rainy-day option. The Brazilians adopted the concept and called it futebol de salao, which is Portuguese for “football in a room.” Futebol de salao became futsal.

With the adoption of futsal, the Brazilians soon developed many great technically skilled players. According to The Talent Code, “futsal was soccer played inside a phone booth and dosed with amphetamines.” It was played anywhere on a basketball-sized court, with a smaller but heavier ball that hardly bounced, with five or six players instead of eleven. The game required sharper passing and ball handling skills in a smaller area, quicker decisions, and better vision of the game than normal soccer. According to a Liverpool University study, futsal players touched the ball six times more per minute than soccer players! Futsal was a deep, deliberate sort of practice, and it increased players’ learning velocity. It better prepared players for the regular game played on a larger field with eleven players.

By now, I hope that you are asking the $64,000 question. How do we develop a Judo version of futsal? How do we pack more opportunities for skill development into our training and into the game of Judo? What aspect of Judo training and competition can we manipulate to create a laboratory for skill development? The obvious answer is that we must change the rules of the game.

Because I believe that most Judo tournaments should be deemed developmental, we should feel free to manipulate IJF rules. Yes, I hear the uproar! If you don’t teach players to fight under IJF rules, they won’t be successful on the major scenes, whether national or international. My retort has always been that American wrestlers have no problem wrestling under different sets of rules (high school, AAU, freestyle, collegiate, Greco-Roman, Olympic, etc.) while still winning at the Olympics and World Championships. Why should it be any different for Judoplayers? It’s doable.

I don’t have all the answers right now, but I do know that our current rules are not conducive to lots of attacking. I believe that our insistence on terminating a match when ippon is scored is detrimental to skill development. Because we have terminal ippon, we also have great risk in the game of Judo. With risk, and the mind-boggling devaluation of ippon, there is reluctance to attack. With reluctance to attack, we have fewer attempts, and thus fewer opportunities to develop skills, which is the exact opposite of what we want if we are trying to develop skill rather than designate winners and losers.

For development purposes, we must devise rules that encourage attacks while keeping failure in proper perspective. One of the solutions, in my opinion, is to do away with terminal ippon!  There’s historical precedence for this since terminal ippon, symbolizing death on the battlefield, wasn’t always the rule of the day. A touchdown doesn’t end a football game, and neither does a home run end a baseball game. Why does ippon terminate a Judo match?

Other solutions might be to to let matches run their full course regardless of scores, and to award numerical values to yuko, waza ari and ippon to make scores cumulative. We could use periods like they do in wrestling. Shorter periods of combat interspersed with a minute of rest may lead to quicker paced matches with more attacks.

Soccer has been called the beautiful game. Sadly, Judo has degenerated into the ugly game. Hopefully, the new IJF rules will bring back our own beautiful game of stand-up Judo with huge throws. To help this along, greater scoring values could be given to the big, high amplitude throws, while lesser values could be given to the flop and drop throws.

Lastly, we should not have a scoring system that allows negative points to win matches.  How can three penalties for gripping have a greater value than a throw that earns a yuko? It’s abominable. Award penalties by all means, but assign them a small numerical value. This prevents ugly, penalty-driven, tactical wins that most of us abhor. To increase technical proficiency, we must simply make it hard to win solely by penalties.

I’ve only scratched the surface in the search to develop a Judo version of futsal. My suggestions are mere food for thought. Hopefully, they will get your own creative juices flowing. I encourage you to help me discover futsal for Judo.

7 thoughts on “Where’s Judo’s Futsal?

  1. In PA, we have been using non-terminal ippons for novice divisions. They play for 3 or 4 minutes and scores are totaled at the end.
    Wazari- 5
    Yuko- 3
    Koka- 1

    It has shown to let the white belts get some real experience and not be afraid of being aggressive out of fear of being countered.

    The rules really affect the way a game is played. If you want to discourage your athletes from doing stand still judo, give penalties when an athlete doesn’t move for 2 seconds they get penalized. (not good for real rules, but within your own club it would get them moving.)

    Coach, you are absolutely right that one set of rules isn’t right for the development at all levels of judo. If you ever figure the answer out, I’d love to see what you come up with.

  2. Excellent points here. I seem to recall Jimmy Pedro (and maybe Mike Swain?) being involved in trying to promote a form of league judo where ippon was not terminal, for just the reasons you’ve mentioned. I wonder what their experience was with that.

    That aside, North American judo could certainly use some fresh thinking at the developmental level. Good luck!

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  4. Hello

    You do have an interesting perspective in this blog.
    Perhaps there can’t be any, at least just like in football, but what about drills we already have in judo? Modificating them in some way perhaps?

    I know this is quite rude simplification , but anyway.
    I mean drill, where say 5 judokas are in ring and 1 stays in the middle. One by one all charge against that one and he/she uses appropriate technique to the attack ?

    Only problem is that it’s very exhausting and You can’t do it alone.
    Otherwise , when taken enough lightly, and perhaps imitating some street situations, it can be most enjoyable 🙂

    Of course I understand, You already know this one, just thought to suggest.

    ps. I must apologize my english, it’s not my native language.

  5. I think that the way the Japanese practice simulates this. They randori so much that they are exposed to the “live” aspect of Judo for many more hours on average than players from most countries. Contrary to the poster who mentions non-terminal Ippon in competition (this is done already in the randori of every club in every country I have been to) I do not think that competition is where the adaptation is done in Brazil but in practice,the way they practice is different and so they get different results when it comes time to compete.

  6. Obviously, doing lots of randori (scrimmaging in team sports) has a lot to do with skill acquisition. However, I don’t think it’s the holy grail. It’s still not futsal. We can do better. For randori to become futsal and to impact skill acquisition as futsal does in soccer, the rules and objectives of randori need to be tweaked.

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