This is the Judo blog of Lance Wicks. In this blog I cover mainly Judo and related topics. My Personal blog is over at where I cover more geeky topics. Please do leave comments on what you read or use the Contact Me form to send me an email with your thoughts and ideas.

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On Critical Analysis and being a Judo coach. 

One of the most important skills any Judoka and in particular any Judo coach can have is the ability to look at things critically and assess the value of what they read, see or hear. In this post I shall briefly outline what I mean by this and why it matters, as well as covering a little about how to develop this skill.


When I was a young Judo player, my coach always told me to practice every technique I was shown, then AFTER learning it properly decide if it was “for me”. It was my first exposure to critical analysis. Later when I watched videos and competitions I learnt to identify the techniques that I could try to incorporate into my Judo. Later I learnt about the tactics players employed and if they would work in my situation.

As a coach, I have learned to listen to what other coaches say and teach, and to ignore the chaff and keep what I think is useful. I have also learned that Judo is not just about throwing or groundwork. There is preparation and tactics to consider too. As a coach I need to decide what my opinion on weight lifting is, or more specifically what I think it is in the context i might be at the time. I need to decide if a Judo throw is valuable to teach to a player, or if it is above their level, below their level or just plain not something I want them to learn.

I need to read books, journal articles, watch videos, competitions and training sessions. I need to take all this information and decide what is worthwhile and what I can afford to ignore. This is the essence of what I call critical analysis.

Critical analysis for Judo and Judo coaches matters, and here is why. We have limited time to work with Judoka to improve and prepare them for competition or for recreation for that matter. No matter what our goal as a coach, kids classes or national squad, we need to be able to assess new ideas and methods and make a decision about there worth to us.

Here is an example that outlines the difficulties and the importance of critical analysis:
Children have limited attention spans, they are also easily distracted. I might read a (hypothetical) journal article that suggests that banning parents increases concentration in children by 10%. Do I ban parents from watching my sessions?

What I need to do is consider this information along with other information I know and also look at the information and decide how important it is. In this example we shall say that the study was done by a club coach in say... the UK. It was based on one night he had no parents watch and he “felt” the kids concentrated more.

I bet at this point you are saying, this is a rubbish study, not worth the paper it was printed on right? Well what if that coach happened to be Jigoro Kano himself? Would that influence your opinion? Yes, it would right? And so it should, one of the things you need to consider when assessing new information is the source and Kano is a good source.
of course you also need to consider the size of the study. In this hypothetical study the size of the sample is tiny, so this is a negative for the study. It could well outweigh the source. This is an important point, just because a piece of information comes from a trusted source like a high grade or a senior coach, it is not necessarily good information. you need to look at more variables than just the source. Where did the person give this information? Was it at the pub? Or in a peer reviewed journal? On a forum or on a respected website?

Now... what about Judo stuff you ask, this scientific stuff is all well and good but if Koga shows me a Seoi Nage, then that is how I am going to teach it... he was awesome!
I, as a coach need to look at what Koga does and assess if it is appropriate in my situation, if I have a club full of 12 year old kyu grades then Koga's Seoi is not perhaps relevant to me. His use of Kuzushi, or Kumi Kata may be right, but the actual throw might be beyond my students.

You need to look at your club and assess what you are trying to achieve and what you are doing as a coach. For example, if you are teaching a competition session, you may wish to re-consider teaching sutemi waza as it is often countered and what I would call a “high risk” technique. Everytime you put your back on the ground in a competition you take a risk that it will go horribly wrong and you shall be scored against. So as a coach you need to critically assess if a technique is suitable to be taught even if it is a valid throw that some of your students could score with. Is the risk outweighed by the opportunity?

The same goes for exercises, dills and games. Have you looked at them in your context and made a conscious decision that the drill is suitable for your club. In my own experience, I taught Capoeira, where one of the fundamental movements/techniques is a full squat, with the knee going beyond 90 degrees. From my education in the gym I knew that this places considerable (excess) strain on the knees and that the rule of thumb was/is to never go down below 90 degrees.
But, the move (cocorinha) is a fundamental defensive move in Capoeira, if our students did not learn it, their progression and participation in Capoeira would be hampered considerably. After much consideration and debate amongst colleagues I/we decided to continue to teach the technique regardless of the risks as it was essential to the art of Capoeira. We did however, ensure that we treated the move as a risky exercise and informed all our students that we knee the risks to the knee and gave them the choice not to participate in that exercise.

In Judo, we have parallels, do you teach drop seoi and similar dropping techniques? Do you take the “safety first” approach and decide to protect knees by not doing it? Or do you look at it as an effective technique and teach it as your students will find it a throw they can use?

The question is have you collected and analysed the information surrounding you and made informed conscious decisions based on the information and your experience?

This is the art of coaching, the ability to merge science with experience and insight. Anyone can learn the knowledge and skills of coaching, but applying them appropriately is where the “coaching magic” occurs. It is where coaching goes from a science to an art.

Hopefully, this blog post will encourage you to review all the information available and to analyse it on many levels from many angles to become a better coach.

To close, I like to bring up Leonardo Da Vinci in this context. He was an amazing artist, he create great works of art. However, he was also a great student of art and of the subjects he painted/drew. He studied the human body in great detail, sketching the anatomy of humans, learning the bio mechanics of how the human body worked. He then used this science to create art, he applied his knowledge with insight and that is what made him the genius he was.

* Image from Wikipedia

To me we should all be aiming to be the Leonardo Da Vinci of Judo coaching, studying every aspect of Judo and then creating beautiful Judo by understanding Judo at a level only possible by building on layers and layers of knowledge that has been assessed, analysed and applied in just the right places.

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