Youth Technical Director

“Player development continues to be the core of what we do. By its very nature it’s a long-term process, so it may not be as sexy as announcing a national team competition or coach or winning medals, but it’s actually probably the most important thing we do.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if this were coming from USA Judo? Well, it didn’t come from USA Judo. It came from U.S. Soccer’s president, when he introduced the federation’s newly appointed youth technical director.

Even though U.S. Soccer should be applauded for creating the new position, isn’t it a bit late? You see, they developed the national team program and the adolescent program (13-18 year olds) prior to developing the youth program (6-12 year olds) which I think is backwards. How can you develop a national team program when your raw material and programs at the grassroots level are less than adequate? Seems to me that you forgo winning at the national team level for a decade or so while you strengthen the youth program.

It appears that we are working ass-backwards in Judo too, or going through the motions while pretending we are developing Judo. Although we have some of the ingredients of a national team program- a high performance director and national training centers- these are only labels with little substance behind them. We also have on paper an under-23 team but not much of a program. And unless it snuck by me, we don’t have anything that would even remotely resemble a national youth development program. So, we continue to have the results we have- a few dedicated players manage to win some international medals in spite of the national program, not because of it.

Judo and soccer in the U.S. suffer many of the same ills. We play both sports in the U.S., but we have no Judo or soccer culture. There is pressure on youth coaches to win at the junior level often with precocious athletes who fall by the wayside once maturity levels of the not-so-precocious athletes catch up. For both sports, winners are often the biggest, strongest and fastest, but not necessarily the most technically proficient. In fact, internationally we are behind when it comes to the technical skills in both sports.

U.S. Soccer’s youth director has been tasked with creating a national educational curriculum for players and coaches.  Don’t answer all at once, but why doesn’t Judo have a youth technical director? Why don’t we at least have national guidelines for youth development?

Creating a youth technical director position is the easy part. Formulating the ideas contained within the educational curriculum requires a bit more work. The most difficult task will be how to get coaches to buy into a national youth development program that targets long-term goals and technical development rather than the short-term goals of winning what really are meaningless tournaments at the junior level?

Education has to be the greater part of the solution. Our coach education committees and development committees need to step up to the plate. Our promotion requirements should be adjusted to reflect the needs of our players rather than the demands of the go kyo no waza and nage no kata. And ultimately, our tournament rules must foster an environment that rewards technical rather than tactical abilities.

By now, you’re probably wondering about some specific ideas that should be implemented. For starters, we must point out to our coaches the importance of long-term goals vs. immediate gratification, so that they can then convey that same message to parents, players and club directors.

We should rethink having national championships for players under a certain age- maybe somewhere in the 9-12 range. We encourage those young players to compete because coaches derive satisfaction from having national champions at age seven, and tournament directors need the income these players generate, but from a national perspective it doesn’t mean squat to be a national champion when you’re barely out of diapers.

From a technical viewpoint, the focus should be on tachi waza, not sutemi waza, and definitely not any of the dropping type throws, which tend to retard technical development. I bet we all know junior national champions who won thanks to drop seoi nage, but never managed to break through to the senior ranks for lack of other skills. Coaches should encourage their players to develop large inventories of Judo skills, and should discourage them from the overuse of their “early” tokui waza, either in competition or in training.

Finally, emphasis should be placed on principle-, behavior-, and situation-based drill training, rather than the traditional uchi komi-randori-kata model.

It should be noted that several nations have instituted competition parameters that should lead to stronger technical development, even though they are being instituted for the safety of the players rather than expressly for their technical development. For example, Judo Canada’s newest parameters for under-9 and under-11 competition forbid sutemi waza, maki komi, tani otoshi, headlock throws and dropping throws, all of which can pose some danger to a young uke as well as retard tori’s technical development.

As always, waiting for our national bodies to come up with the right plan can be an exercise in futility. Coaches, either singly or in small groups, should formulate their own development plan by looking at what other sports, other countries and other successful coaches have already implemented. I offer a few caveats though: don’t imitate lock, stock and barrel someone else’s program, think outside the box, and never be satisfied with your creation.

In spite of our ability to work outside of the establishment, wouldn’t it be nice if just once the establishment would come through for us?

7 thoughts on “Youth Technical Director

  1. So in your opinion do you think that with the US not having a National Youth Program\Guideline to groom our young players that only the few dedicated players will ever manage to win medals on the International level and never any World\Olympic medals?
    It’s kind of sad that in the history of judo in the Olympics the US has never won a gold medal.

  2. Yes, lacking a development plan for youth certainly does hurt our chances of winning at the higher levels. It’s not the only factor that affects our chances, but it is certainly one that may have the highest impact on our results.

  3. Gerry’s points are well taken. We really have NO plan for moving young people into international level training or competition. In a sport where one matures in their 20’s we expect children to move from high school champion to international star with no change in their judo. Entirely too much emphasis is placed on youth championships and little work on true development.

    Bill Montgomery
    Interim Coaching Chair

  4. Back in 1988-1992, USJI did have a national youth development program that was functioning. I know, because I was the guy who was in charge of it. Bruce Toups, when he was still the Director of Development for USJI, appointed me as the Chairman of the Junior Development Committee. My program organized numerous national training camps, both at the various Olympic Training Centers (at that time in Colorado, Michigan and New York) as well as numerous USJI training camps in differetn parts fo the country. We also sent numerous junior (under 21) teams to Europe, South America and Asia, as well as to Canada and Mexico on a regular basis. After Bruce retired from his post in 1988 or 1989, we continued with our program under different leadership and I had to fight all the time to keep the program going. I had a junior development training program organized, in print and actually working. I also had some of the top judo coaches assisting me in this effort and we had a functioning, successful program. Eventually, being as unpolitic as I was (and continue to be) I ran afoul of the hierachy of USJI and got fired. Some of the same people who gripe today about no organized program for youth development are people who undermined our work 20 years ago. You can consider this sour grapes if you want, and it is, I suppose, but this is why I decided to work in judo (and jujitsu) taking another direction. Those of us who are working in the AAU Judo program are quitely offering an alternative to much of what people find offensive to “mainstream” judo.
    I read Bill Montgomery’s comment from May 3 and he’s right. Bill’s a friend of mine and I think he can work within the USJA to get some positive things done as far as coach education.
    I don’t read blogs very oftenand this is the first time that I can remember actually responding to a blog, but now that I took your (and ohers) advice Gerry and started my own, maybe this is a good time to offer an opinion. It seems (to me) that the more things change, the more they stay the same in judo in the United States.

  5. Mr. Lafon, Mr. Montgomery, Mr. Scott.

    It starts in the club with the Sensei. If your Sensei is worried about the Team Trophy, promotion or his reputation you get the Junior National Champion that hasn’t/can’t transition to the Senior Ranks. When the Sensei takes the long view it provides the child room to develop their bodies. The Judo we teach a 6 year old is not the Judo we are going to be teaching a 16 or a 22 year old and we must respect that.

    Development is more than just winning a Olympic/World Championship medal. At the end of a career, what do our Former Elite Athletes have to show for the life spent doing Judo? Do we have jobs for them that can support a family? Did they receive a free college education while they were fighting? Can they purchase a home of their own? The answer to all of this is usually no. They enter a real job force that is fierce right now and they don’t have the experience gained from years of hard work on the job scene. What happens? They get jobs, not careers. See, jobs pay less than careers…

    Employers don’t care about your exploits on the Judo mat. This is the problem, not necessarily having a Youth Program that doesn’t address the future needs of the person.

    Education is what sustains success in business. While I’ve read the talk about Coaches Education and player education, I haven’t heard once the word Education used in developing future business men and women, by Judo people. How many Doctors have we turned out of our U23 program?

    Gone are the days of General Fullerton who seem to be able to control all of the egos. Until such a man emerges in Mainstream Judo, we will continue to beat our heads upon the rocks.

  6. I’m not sure exactly what Mr. Smith means, but I’ll take a crack at it. Judo, for me, was my ticket out. Judo provided me with the discipline needed to go on and actually be the first in my family to finish high school, and then actually graduate from college. What prompted me to be successful in life was the fact that, during my efforts to be a judo (and later sambo) champion, I learned a lot of valuable lessons about hard work, playing by the rules and standing up for myself. Not one of my judo coaches said anything about career enhancement or job training. In my effort to be a champion in judo, I learned (from coaches, others and most of all, from myself) that the same things that made me good a judo also can (and did) make me good at other things, like paying attention in school and having a successful career. Judo, has, and continues to be, a “ticket out” for many people like me. As a coach, I’ved used judo as a tool to help my athletes become better people. Winning championships eventually becomes almost incidental as one progresses in his or her judo development…and development in life. Our club motto is; “Success is an on-going process.”
    It’s not ego that compels Gerry Lafon, Bill Montgomery or me to comment on the poor organization and lack of support for our judo athletes or for a coherent national program. I’m not beating my head on any rock. We’re doing something about it and have a successful judo program within the AAU.

  7. My fellow judoka, please forgive my lack of tact. I do not intend to be disrespectful of my betters. But I have a pragmatic nature. We constantly speek of “player devopment” and “developing champions” The US has a dismal international record. I see three directions we could cast blame. First, our athletes. In this sinerio we would have to believe that the American athele is inferior in body, and or mind, to his forign counterparts. I think this premise would be abserd. Second, our overlords are incompetent. This is my favorite. At the present my USJA hate has cooled to white hot. Sadly though, Nickolas’s horrible Osoto, can hardly be blamed on Colorado. Our third option, unfortunatly is us. Somthing is horribly wrong with eather our, technique or our methodology. There is an old definition of stupidity. It goes something like this. “stupidity is doing the same thing over and over. Expecting a different result. Let us quit blaming others. If we don’t learn to walk, we never will run.

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