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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University of Bath, Bsc Block 3, Day 3.  

Well, today was a funny sort of day, I only had a single lecture. Well I received one and delivered one. So I spent some time working on my research project and stressing about it mainly. I am finding that I am rather out of sorts, not quite into the flow of things yet. I am not surprised as I have been in a bit of a “funk” and struggling for a few months to get into the academic work I have had to do. I am sure (or at least hoping) that being here clears the cobwebs out. We shall see.

Anyway, my lecture, then I shall comment on Scott McCarthy's (CEO of the BJA) lecture.

My lecture was to the new first year FdSc students, a “Introduction to Technology”, basically the lecture was about the technology that will help them through the FdSc. I had them listen to me talk about stuff, then do a practical where they had to enter some data in to excel and then wrote something in word.

It was quite enjoyable to share some of the stuff I learned from when I did the FdSc. I am hoping it went down well. I am in fact going to hold a little informal workshop for them tomorrow after the final lecture. Probably help them install Zotero and show them how it works in a practical situation.

And now ladies and gentlemen... Scott McCarthy.

Scott's lecture was on “Relationship Marketing in Sport”. As the CEO of the British Judo Association (BJA), I was looking forward to it. I am quite a critic of much of what the BJA does, specifically their poor use of the internet.

So when part way through the lecture Scott started bringing up the BJAs plans for a Facebook page/group and the “amazing” spam engine they have spent way too much on, on their great website, I was... well... you can guess.

Scott showed a mockup of a BJA facebook page, which someone (presumably paid) had been working on. I wonder why he didn't just use the existing (over 12 months old) BJA facebook group at ... amp;ref=ts

If I had to sum up what I saw, I would say that the over-arching feeling I had was that the BJA are completely naïve in web matters and are being led down the garden path by whomever they are getting their web advice/services from. They paid for a email mailing list system, come on! It's a system slightly more fancy than that which you can get for zero, but only slightly. There are open source projects that are well established they could/should have used.

Also, should I mention to the information commissioner that they are sending un-solicited emails? Should I also mention that the CEO happily showed us screenshots from the email software, including pages of peoples email addresses. Bad.. very BAD! Much like the recent flamewar I caused on the BJA forum about a member of staff confirming a users identity. It is indicative of how little they understand the web, let alone the legal ramifications of not understanding it.

I shall back away from the subject for a moment, it is possibly unfair to paint Scott with the same brush as I would use for the rest of the BJA based on my negative experiences. So let me go back to my notes from the lecture.

Scott spoke a lot of the “challenges” that they faced, specifically in achieving a goal they have set to be one of the top 5 nations in the world by 2013. Not sure who decided that one, but it makes 4 medals in 2012 look like a really sensible goal. They have another goal to increase adult participation by what amounted to about 32 adults per club in the BJA. Yet he was unable to answer any questions about the BJA strategy to actual have clubs capable of delivering that. HUH?

He also mentioned how according to a survey only 25% of those doing Judo were doing it via the BJA. But again there was not strategy/plan/intervention to tackle that challenge.

Scott spoke about Judo meeting fitness goals of some research they had seen and yet he had not seen the NICE guidance on physical activity. But hey, it is only the opinion of the government, it is only the most health service in this countries voice. Why would you need as a national governing body trying to use fitness as a selling point need to know about the view that the UK government will be applying? Go figure...

I questioned Scott about why in his slides the “Club” was typically around the middle on the lists of most important, looking at my notes here I noted the following:

6th License holders
7th Clubs
9th Players
10th Volunteers
12th Parents

When I asked him about this he said the lists were not in a priority order, but we all know how these things work, the important things are at the top right? What was at the top was almost always

The Board and The Staff

Which is kinda telling I thought.

My big issue with what Scott had to show us in his numerous slides was that they need and want to deliver more Judo, they want more licenses sold. More participation, more sales, more performance. All good stuff.
Given that the BJA does not have a production facility, in other words they as an organisation can not deliver Judo, it was disturbing that the clubs and the club members were not high on the BJA's priorities IMHO. I would have expected Scott to have spoken extensively about how important the clubs are, about how the coaches are the most valuable asset the BJA has and that they need to woo and support them.

I was a bit shocked at how much periphery rubbish was in the slides and talk. Given the state of the world and Judo in the UK, I would have hoped that the big boss would have been focussed on helping the clubs. But no, he was excited about using Facebook (which is slow). He was excited about the merchandising, yet the BJA is notoriously expensive for mats or suits. You can get everything the BJA offer cheaper by going elsewhere, be it mats, Judogi or insurance. It is a distraction that presumably makes a small profit, but at the detriment of the reputation and relationship the BJA has with the clubs. The perception is that the BJA is trying to profit off the clubs and off the members. Which is cool and fine, maybe, but at least be good value.

Here is the thing, the BJA wants Growth, Retention and Elite (or sustain, grow & excel). This things are all outside of what the BJA can deliver within the business. They rely on the clubs for delivery and progress of these goals. So their customer is the clubs, they need to serve the clubs and make the clubs feel like the BJA is helping them. But I hear over and over that the clubs feel that the BJA increases their workload, that they don't get friendly, enthusiastic help from the BJA. That the BJA is more expensive than the alternatives. That they are just trying to make money.

I feel the need also to comment on the audience Scott was speaking to. This is a room full of level 4 coaches, the highest qualified coaches in Scott's country. People doing great work, trying to deliver the goals that the BJA have, yet you'd be hard pressed to find someone who had a great opinion of the BJA and what they were doing and their engagement with their clubs (and them).

Now my issue with all this is that the BJA is a great institution. The BJA is a force for good, well at least on the grand scheme of things. Scott McCarthy is trying to do good things, the staff are wanting I am sure to do good stuff. But they have been failing and the talk he gave today did nothing to change my view that they have got it wrong and will continue to get it wrong.

I am no MBA, I am just a Judoka with a platform to criticise. I am also a Judoka with a unique perspective, despite what some think, I have no cross to bear, also I am not “biting the hand that feeds me” as the BJA does not feed me. In fact I have virtually nothing to do with the BJA. I buy a license from time to time, I have nothing to gain from the BJA succeeding or failing.

So here is my non-MBA view.
The BJA has lost it's way. Somehow, somewhere they have forgotten that the clubs are their customers and that they are a service organisation. They forgotten somewhere that they need to provide a compelling offer to the British Judo community. They need to help the clubs, help those that run the clubs; the coaches.

Forget about all the silly periphery, forget about growing the organisations staff to 80, focus on what the member clubs need on a day to day, week on week basis. Then deliver it in the best way possible. If clubs need to get Judogi, the BJA needs to use it's size to bulk procure suits and be able to sell them to clubs cheaper than the clubs can buy them elsewhere. If a club needs mats, they should be cheaper from the BJA. If a club needs a grant, the BJA should have have experts at the ready to leap to your aid. If you want to get more members, the BJA should be helping you do that. The BJA website should be a tool to promote the clubs and help them get new members. If clubs are looking to build a dojo, the BJA should have experts ready and capable of assisting with planning permissions, rent negotiations, rates exemptions etc. If you call the BJA asking about setting up a club they should be biting off your hand to help. The BJA should be more enthusiastic about your club than you.

But that sure as heck ain't the way the coaches I talk to feel about it, and it sure as heck was not the message be delivered to a room full of coaches by the CEO of the BJA.

Surely he should have at least been selling that vision to us a room full of Judo coaches.

You remember that scene in the film Jerry McGuire when Tom Cruise sells himself to Cuba Gooding right? That bit about him not resting until he saw Cuba wearing shoes with his name on, wearing a t-shirt with him on it drinking a can of coke with his face on it.

Apply that to club coaches and the CEO should have been selling that story, that he would not rest until the BJA was carrying us to our dojo in a rickshaw pulled by the BJA, to a Dojo built by the BJA, so we could teach a class of students found by the BJA on mats provided by the BJA, in Judogi provided by the BJA. The BJA would do the paperwork, handle the money, do everything so that we the coaches could do what we want to do... coach Judo.

But sadly, that was not the vision we were shown. :-(

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University of Bath, Bsc Block 3, Day 2. 

Day two, well day two is always a bit odd, Day one is all exciting and getting started, day two is a bit different as it is the start of the real work.

The first lecture of the day was with Andy Hibbert looking at sports marketing. We looked at the concepts and theories of marketing and how they apply to marketing sport in terms of professional sports and volunteer driven sports. It was interesting to consider Judo in this context and how much effort has been applied to marketing Judo.

The lecture was the setup to the lecture we had in the afternoon with Andy looking more specifically at the Olympic Games and the marketing phenomenon that it has become. It was interesting to look at the income figures of the IOC (International Olympic Committee).

Equally fascinating was the way that the IOC has leveraged and protected the five rings and the brand that is the Olympics. Looking at TOP (The Olympic Programme) and the way sponsors are grouped and of course what they get from being associated with the greatest sporting spectacle there is.

Our assignment shall be interesting.

Our Keynote for today was with Brian Ashton MBE, former England Rugby Team head Coach and now Director of Coaching at the University of Bath. We had Brian as a lecturer in an earlier year (2006?) and he was very good as a guest lecturer, he was excellent again this year. It was interesting as he has the 2007 World Cup campaign under his belt now.

His lecture was on “Managing the performance athlete” and was very informative. He covered a quite broad range of areas, focussing on the roles Management, Leader and Coach. He talked about the need for a shared vision, one that was athlete-centred. He discussed taking a vision and making it reality, he discussed selection issues, the support team, managing the support team, communication, learning styles and evaluating success.

What intrigued me in this lecture is that Brian was part of the team that won the World Cup with Clive Woodward, then he went into 2007 as the head coach himself. The 2007 campaign was when I grew to really respect Brian's work. In that tournament England was able to turn themselves around and get to the within grasp of winning the event. They missed out... just. But that transformation was amazing.

It is always interesting to hear what someone like Brian has to say, and specifically what he says to a Judo audience. It is interesting also to listen to the ideas and questions that come from a Judo crowd to a Rugby Union coach.

Brian for example had some views on communication and contacting players within a match that was interesting in view of the recent rule changes in Judo with coaches being moved away from matside. There are contradictions in what is happening in sport and in Judo AND Rugby.

It is interesting that Rugby has support staff carrying messages onto the field, players being subbed on with messages, half time talks, etc. Yet, Brian spoke of allowing the athletes to do what they do best, and once they cross onto the pitch letting them do their thing. But I am not sure if that ties with what is happening. Is Brian the end of an old model, or the vanguard for a better way? AND... should we be leaving athletes alone or increasing communication in Judo?

I was struck by the thought that a research project should be done to look at the amount of input that the coach has in Judo and in Rugby and compare the two. Brian for example described how much time was spent in the halftime talk in Rugby. I did a dead simple run at the numbers and worked out it was maybe 3-4% of the match time. I wonder if in Judo we actually have more contact with players during Matte, but it would need study. It would be good also to compare word counts between what players hear on the field and on the tatami. Of course we'd also need to assess effectiveness and the amount of impact it has (positive or negative) on the match.

All in all a good day.

Wednesday should be interesting as we have Scott McCarthy, Chief Executive of the British Judo Association since 2002. He is speaking on marketing a sports organisation. It will be interesting to hear what he has to say... and how it is received? The rest of the day is taken with Research related lectures.

I shall also be giving my own lecture “Introduction to Technology”. Hopefully it is well received and useful.
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University of Bath, Bsc Block 3, Day 1. 

Well folks, welcome back to my blog posts about my ongoing education at the University of Bath. In this my 5th year at TeamBath, I am determined to complete my goal of blogging about everyday I spend here. This is the last residential block I shall have here and for me I can see the finish line approaching.

Of course between here and there is a few HUGE hurdles in the form of 17,500 words of work to produce between now and May 11th. Including completing my research project looking at the attack rates at the Beijing Olympic games.

I am sat here in my student accommodation (ground floor, thank goodness!) after my first day and I have a chance to reflect...

The day started with the normal welcome to the block, get the timetable etc meeting in the Dojo. Aftr which we had a keynote lecture/practical with Roy Inman on drills. It seems to work well to start with a big practical Judo session, everyone always seems to enjoy it, I did.

The session itself was focussed around delivering Judo drills, and reminding us to understand the principles at work and being able to develop drills that develop players skills. The later part of the session was focussed on drills for “Golden Score” Judo, specifically, winning off the initial grip.

The quote of the day was Roy's description of what we were doing. He said we were developing drills to “punish the grip pattern”. In other words, drilling throws that were countering the opponent's gripping pattern. Meaning that you need to understand what the opponents grip pattern is trying to give them, then devising a way to negate this and take advantage of it most effectively/efficiently.

There are those that deny grip fighting is part of Judo, or at least that it “should” be part of Judo. Describing it like a cancer on the art that is Judo and the anti-thesis of the principles of Judo. I think that a session like Roy's invalidates that position. It is/was all about the principle of using the opponent's strengths against them. We were trying to find the path of least resistance, the most effective use of our energy. Everything that Judo is supposed to be about.

The kumi kata nay-sayers could do with attending a session like this one as really did show the principles of Judo apply and can be applied to grip fighting.

Later in the day we had a big sit down with Mike Callan about our Bsc research project.
Our course has since last year moved from the department of life long learning to the department of education, so “things have changed”. Specifically our research project assignment outline and marking criteria has changed a heck of a lot!

It is irritating to have the goal posts moved like this, you can imagine the situation, we first started this assignment last April and lots of work has been done. Now with a very short period of time remaining, much has changed. One wonders why we were not allowed to complete the assignment we were set, seeing as we had already started it?

Personally I am not that bothered by it all as I, to be completely honest here, had not really got into the actual writing of the body of work properly, so making structural changes of the type required of us is less of a burden than it is for some of my colleagues who had put more word down on paper in a coherent form using the old format/requirements.

This evening I attended the Randori session, which as always was very busy. I being in the poor physical shape I am suffered somewhat. As I struggled I was reminded of another conversation I had during the day discussing why you need to get fit for Judo and not use Judo as a method of getting fit. Long story, short; Judo is incredibly hard work and it kills ya if you are not fit. Especially in an environment where the players are both it AND skilled. The randori was topped off by my being knocked out momentarily/partially! :-) One moment I am being dragged about the mat by someone's son, the next I am on my knees with no recollection of how I got there. I do remember a rather large forearm getting bigger and bigger in my eyes however. ;-)

After excusing myself a little early from the Randori, I spent some time “recuperating” with a cold liquid refreshment and some good conversation. This carried on from the earlier conversation I had at my meal before Randori in fact.

As I have mentioned many times in this blog in the past; one of the (if not THE) most important elements of the course is the opportunity to spend time with the incredible people who attend. Today alone I have discussed elite Olympic level Judo, talent ID and selection, the history of British Judo from pre-1908, strength & conditioning, sociological factors affecting membership and performance. And all of this is outside of the formal learning, this is conversation over coffees, teas, beers, etc.
It is an amazing situation to be able to discuss with well informed Judo people the various subjects we discuss in between lectures or over a drink or meal. Absolutely mind shattering really!

Tomorrow, I shall be attending lectures on Olympic Partnerships, Managing the performance athlete and finding sponsors. As well as spending some time working on my assignments and research. Not to forget the priceless time spent “shooting the breeze” with other Judoka.


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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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Training for coach player communication in competition. 

mr. grumpy-pants

There was recently a long (and at times heated) discussion on the BJA forum and also on about the Judo coaching matside changes and how this affects the nature of the game that is Judo.

I personally am opposed to the idea of coaches being removed from matside and also the idea that coaches are of no use to players other than for moral support.

My view is that matside coaching is valuable and that the value depends on the quality of information transfer between coach and player.

One or two well chosen words can have an effect on a match, we have all seen it. This ability of a coach to affect a player depends IMHO on the following factors:

Expertise and Experience of the coach.
The coach has to know what they are talking about, they also need to know and understand how to communicate in a competition situation. They need to learn how to apply themselves in communication to a player in competition.

Proper training
The player and the coach must develop a shared vocabulary and practice using it. They must understand one another and the coach in particular needs to know what the player needs to hear.

As a coach, no matter what level you work at, you need to consider developing your communication skills and the use of your voice to assist your player in competition.

Your role matside is multi-faceted. You are there to encourage AND inform your player.

Informing your player.
As well as encouraging and supporting your player, you must pass important information to your player also.

As coach, you must keep yourself detached from the emotions of the fight and watch objectively. You must be able to see the situations in the fight from an external perspective.

This is where you bring value to the match, your player is in the heat of the match, they can't see from your perspective. Your job is to give insight and to give it clearly.

In the future, more teams will hire video (and other) analysts and they will convey their perspectives to the coach; who will convey it to the player. The French we know have been trying this in some degree as the matside coaches at the 2008 World Championship apparently wore earpieces.

This is the future to Judo coaching matside, despite what the IJF seems to think I feel. We the Judo coaches will eventually learn from our colleagues in Rugby, American Football, Soccer, etc and learn that our role at competition is not to provide emotional support. Nor is it to command players what to do.

It is our role to give information to players so that they can use that information to change their performance to win the fight.

Communicating does not, as is suggested by some, create players who can not think for themselves. Communication expands the inputs that players have at their disposal. It makes the game of Judo more sophisticated for the players and for you as coaches.

Your homework is to learn how to understand a match whilst underway and to convey useful information to your player during the fight. This will be different for each match, for each player and each coach; and for every combination of match, players and coach.

And you thought coaching was easy huh?!

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