The Sustainable Development of judokas

Amanda McAlpine Silver at Veterans World Championships
4 November 2023
Krieber-Gagnon at Foot of Podium in Perth
11 November 2023

Thinking of long-term athlete development (LTDA) is thinking long term, thinking ahead, thinking of athlete health and thinking of strength. Thinking of quality, pertinence and globality. Thinking LTDA, is thinking today rather than thinking tomorrow.

Since their inception in 2009, each time the Cadet World Championships take shape, the same journalistic and ethical dilemma arises. Should we give the event the same level of media coverage as the senior event, and thereby endorse it? If we zoom out on the event, its noise, its bibs and straps “like the big boys,” we’re still talking about fifteen-year-olds, just out of secondary school. Are they emotionally equipped to handle this change of direction and this exposure? Were we, ourselves, at the same age? Performance involves shortcuts. “Maximizing efficiency,” as one friend put it, at an age where diversification and technical perfection are more desirable. It’s a crossroads for the ego, too. When it’s so public, so spectacular as to be tik-tokized, defeat can be a lasting blow, and victory a precocious flattery for an ego that needs to be kept in check.

“It takes a village to raise a child,” as the saying goes. A village, and time. Like Ravel’s Bolero, an athletes’ long-term development is a little piece of music that starts from afar, builds slowly in volume and is destined to fill the whole room in time. It’s about age groups, training frequencies and session content. A demanding approach, certainly, but one that respects the moral and physical integrity of the practitioner to such an extent as to make him want to continue for the rest of his life. What does it mean? A particularly enlightening definition was given on September 6, 2023 in Paris. The framework seems unexpected, but the path is coherent. On that Wednesday, former European champion and world medallist Patrick Roux was heard at the French National Assembly. The sixty-one-year-old seventh dan is the author of an acclaimed essay on violence in judo. His Revers de la médaille was published in spring 2023 by Dunod, with the collaboration of psychologist Karine Repérant – and more discreetly, but to be completely transparent, the author of these lines. For three decades, Patrick Roux was a respected coach of the French, British and Russian teams. He returned to Paris during Covid-19 and is now tasked with sharing and optimizing experiences within the Training Department of the Institut national du sport, de l’expertise et de la performance (INSEP). At this point in his speech, the technician is closing in on four hours of discussions as part of the Parliamentary Commission to combat violence in sport. And this is where it all comes together.

1/5 – Designing a step-by-step training program

It’s time for the closing remarks. Rather than despair at the end of this half-day of often disturbing confessions, Patrick Roux chooses to shift focus. By lifting his head from the handlebars, the educator is not choosing to look the other way – the very attitude for which he criticizes so many authority figures in the sporting world, particularly on the subject of violence, to which he has just testified at length.

If he looks elsewhere, it’s by no means to escape one reality. If he looks elsewhere, it’s to observe another. Nourished by a wide range of sensibilities and horizons, strengthened by the passing of time, his practice has given him an acute awareness of the limits of a system when it functions in certainties and in a vacuum. Dojo after dojo, this disciple of the late Émile Mazaudier has forged a conviction: there’s no shame in not wanting to be a prisoner to dogmatism. Each of his words is rife with observation and years of experience, a constantly repeated field-count-field of intuitions and cross-checks. Excerpts: “In the law on sport, there’s what’s called the Federal Performance Project. But what I don’t see in [this law] is the requirement for a tool like the Canadians created in the eighties and nineties, i.e. Long-Term Athlete Development. It’s a tool that outlines a step-by-step training path for young athletes, from the club level to the very highest level, and then for life should the athlete wish to continue. It’s not at all about formatting or saying that at every age you have to do it this way and that. It’s simply a set of recommendations. And these recommendations are often backed up by knowledge of physiology, psycho-pedagogy [etc.].”

He continued: “We know, for example, that putting too much pressure on a kid before puberty peaks is pointless, and will lead to burnout and a whole host of other problems […]. Then we need to require federations to ensure that, in the medium and long term, all trainers go through these training courses, so that down the line, when we need to change or renew a trainer in an organization, we have staff who have already been trained. Because otherwise, what happens? When young coaches arrive, they’re full of motivation, they want to do very well, and they copy and paste the techniques they learned when they were at a very high level. Because they’re under the impression that this is [what] needs to be done. And then we create [all by ourselves] a lot of problems… In this perspective, there’s a huge challenge, and that’s to work on our beliefs.”

He adds: “In Anglo-Saxon countries, in emerging countries such as Australia and New Zealand, in all those countries that are now ripping us to shreds at the Olympic Games, there’s no longer the same vision. They see the robot athlete as something else. What we need are athletes who are adaptive and creative. The question for the modern coach, with the support of sports science, is: how do we create a favourable environment for the emergence of this type of athlete? And that’s where cognitive-behavioural theories come in. That’s the field we need to go into. I’m sorry, but in France we’re lagging behind many other countries. But we’re starting to see it: […] many countries (Japan, Canada… ) are already training athletes from a very young age, trying to address these aspects to create the most favourable environment, because learning, commitment, staying motivated for a very long time and active both mentally and intellectually instead of just physically, are probably best achieved in an environment where the athlete’s life balance is taken into account, where we ensure that he or she feels good, that he or she is in balance, rather than thinking that he or she needs to be given little taps every day to move forward… [It’s] a paradigm shift that, in my opinion, can be activated if we put in the work in the sports law, which requires federations to really work on this training pathway for young athletes.”

“It is not a sign of good health to be well adapted to a sick society” said India’s Jiddu Krishnamurti – quoted in 2018 by former INSEP member Franck Courtois in his “gesticulated conference” entitled Le sport n’est pas un jeu d’enfant. In an earlier work (L’Art du judo, ed. inPhobulle, 2014), the same Patrick Roux already sketched a similar metaphor. He drew a parallel between a judoka’s apprenticeship and that of a skier. In subtext, the benefits of an approach that appears counterintuitive but which, in reality, relies on the intelligence of opting for the long view. In skiing, when training young skiers in the poles, coaches teach them to take a detour to gain speed before arriving at the gate,” writes Roux. This detour is a paradox: to go as fast as possible, it would probably be ‘better’ to go as short, as quickly, as simply as possible,” he continues, in a story reminiscent of Jean de La Fontaine and his fable, “The Hare and the Tortoise.” On April 19, 2023, in a televised interview broadcast on SQOOL TV, the same man drove his point home in three chiselled assertions: “Children are not miniature adults. There have to be well-structured stages, and one stage shouldn’t interfere with the next.” If children only knew the number of sports intellectuals who work upstream to help them take the best paths in life…

2/5 – Canada, out in front

“You grow up the day you start beating your father at golf, and you grow up the day you let him win,” says a meme from an uncertain source that has gone viral on social networks. So, long-term athlete development. In Montreal, the subject has been on the agenda for almost two decades. The premise: what needs to be in place at each stage of development to give a child the best chance of making a lasting commitment to vital physical activity? And, for those who stand out from the crowd, the best chances of sporting success? On site, Andrzej Sadej, a former Polish international, is the man to talk to. The sixty-five-year-old, who won four European medals between 1981 and 1987, admits with a smile that he has been interested in this subject since “roughly [his] early days in judo.” When his career was over, the former -78 kg champion first worked in Germany before landing in Canada. Sadej worked as a trainer from 1991 to 1993, then head coach from 1993 to 1996, he was also Sports Director, a role he combined with that of Executive Director from 2003 to 2009. Since 2014, he has been the head coach of the Paralympic team. He also coordinates the National Coaching Certification Program and Long-Term Athlete Development. He’s long served as a key contact for understanding the reality of this nation which, before the pandemic, had three hundred and ninety clubs and twenty-two thousand licensees.

“What’s immediately striking about Canada is the size of the country, and therefore the variety of realities and situations,” says Andrzej Sadej. “Having grown up in Eastern Europe at the time of the Iron Curtain, I also observe that in a democracy, things are not imposed vertically. It’s essential to respect people’s sensibilities and free will. As far as judokas here are concerned, the great difficulty lies in managing to exist alongside professional sports. Social recognition is inversely proportional to the efforts made to reach the highest level. You need a great deal of intrinsic motivation to make your mark.”

In 1976, Canada emerged from “its” Summer Olympic Games in Montreal ranked twenty-seventh among the nations. Three hundred and eighty-five entries for six bronze medals, five silver and no gold – a sad first for a host nation. So, when Vancouver was awarded the 2010 Winter Olympics in the early 2000s, the government was determined not to go home empty-handed. In France, the scene was reminiscent of that of 1960, when President Charles de Gaulle and his Secretary of State for Sport Maurice Herzog gave French sport a much-needed administrative and cultural boost after the Rome Olympics, which ended in twenty-fifth place among the nations with three bronze medals, two silver and zero gold from a field of two hundred and thirty-seven competitors. This time around, sixty-six disciplines supported by the Canadian Ministry of Sport are invited to weigh in on the ideal model for the long-term development of their own practitioners, in a Western context where obesity and inactivity are gaining ground every year. A real change of direction for a country which, in the seventies and eighties, tried to draw inspiration from what was being done in the USSR and East Germany, then, at the turn of the millennium, took a keen interest in the Australian model.

The reference diagram comprises seven stages:

  1. Before the age of eight: Active Start;
  2. Between the ages of eight and ten: FUNdamentals;
  3. Between the ages of ten and twelve: Learn to Train;
  4. Between the ages of twelve and fourteen, then fourteen and sixteen: Train to Train;
  5. Between the ages of sixteen and eighteen: Train to Compete;
  6. Between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one, then the senior years: Train to Win;
  7. Beyond: Active for Life.

These seven stages must take into account ten factors, to which must be added two appendices included in the official guidelines, enabling women and men to carry out a self-assessment of the state of progress of their puberty. The ten factors :

  1. Physical Literacy
  2. Specialization
  3. Age
  4. Ability to train[PG1] 
  5. Developmental Age
  6. Excellence Takes Time
  7. Diversification
  8. Competition
  9. System Alignment
  10. Continuous Improvement

In judo, Andrzej Sadej surveyed some one hundred and twenty domestic coaches and many foreign colleagues of his generation. In 2005, the fruits of his observations and recommendations were validated by a review committee and compiled in a summary document entitled Taking it to the Mat. By identifying the “right places,” the “right programs” and the “right people,” Sport Canada’s objective is a noble one: “To build a healthy and fit nation for life.” More prosaically, the challenge is also to retain young practitioners. Despite an estimated “five or six thousand new registrations each year” in the 8-12 age bracket, “80% of beginners don’t go beyond the pre-specialization stage,” as Nicolas Brisson would remind us in February 2022 when the then Director of National Events Programs for Judo Canada, a former French international, hosted a webinar to present the broad outlines of what is already V3 of the 2005 guidelines.

The guidelines are well known, but it’s still better to (re)state it: offer quality structures and supervision, safe lessons where inclusion is a non-negotiable, and confidence and motivation are constantly encouraged… Measure progress more than performance, pay attention to growth and nutrition, learn to communicate with the media… Among the adjustment variables, the age breakdown. Given as a guide, it provides teachers with a clear benchmark for the degree of investment required of children at a given age. A floor with minimum requirements, but also, and above all, a ceiling which must not be surpassed too soon.

“We mustn’t overlook the complexity of judo’s progression,” says Andrzej Sadej. “In rowing and women’s cycling, some have reached the very highest Olympic level with only a few months’ practice. In judo, this is impossible because so many parameters interact. Moreover, ninety percent of our teachers are volunteers and, if we look at our neighbours in the United States, it appears that almost all Olympic medallists have a family already immersed in judo. Being a judoka also means being part of a culture. That’s why the implementation of these federal recommendations also depends on the goodwill of clubs, provinces and local associations. With this framework in place, we can then move on to the notions of ceilings, margins for progress, obstacles and motivation, whether intrinsic or extrinsic.”

Among the various options on offer in the seventh and final stage of the benchmark – Judo for Life – it is symptomatic to recall that, in the early days of the international masters’ circuit, many Canadian judokas distinguished themselves. When the IJF took control of the circuit, reorganized it and opened it up to more varied competition, the number of Canadian entries dropped proportionately. When the overall level rises, the challenge is to succeed in raising your own… provided you’ve learned how. Competition isn’t everything, and that’s another interesting development,” smiles Andrzej Sadej. “It’s a world away from my childhood in Poland where, from a very early age, only the result mattered and the pupil was prepared to become a champion… but not necessarily to become an adult.”

3/5 – Deceptive results in Japan

For several years now, the motherland of the sport has had to contend with a major paradox. As its stranglehold on the international circuit becomes more and more relentless – nine titles out of fourteen individual categories at the 2021 Olympic Games, nine more at the World Junior Championships in October 2023 – the Land of the Rising Sun has seen the number of its members decline at breakneck speed, dropping from two hundred and six thousand to one hundred and twenty-two thousand over the last decade alone. As soon as the last Olympic Games in Tokyo were over, a committee was set up around Kosei Inoue, the heart and soul of two Olympiads marked like never before by the total renewal of Japan’s international aura. Dr. Takinori Ishii, vice-chairman of the committee, worked for a year on the issue of long-term athlete development, alongside his counterpart Katsuhiro Koyama of Yamanashi Gakuin University. The two men delivered their findings in early summer 2023.

“The stated aim of this committee is to find a solution to the severe decline in Japanese judo,” confirms Dr. Ishii. Olympic medals are one thing. Remembering that judo is deeper than competition is another. A wish not unlike the words once uttered by tenth dan Ichiro Abe (1922-2022): “With the Games, there was no longer any question of anything other than sport, of performance. Firstly, not everyone can be a champion, and secondly, judo is bigger than that. Judo is the education of a man.”

At this stage of the process, sources of inspiration are few and far between. Those that do exist are particularly elaborate, following the example of Australia’s FTEM (Foundations Talent Elite and Mastering) program or what is being done in the United States, Great Britain and, of course, Canada. In Japan,” continues Dr. Ishii, “to my knowledge, only athletics has worked on a long-term development program for its athletes. The age groups we have selected are purely indicative, for example. There are six of them, starting with the period between birth and the age of five, a period that should be dedicated to awakening and the simple pleasure of moving around on a tatami mat. What’s important is that teachers are aware of these factors. The document details the steps leading to physical, psychological, social and cognitive skills, and quotes extensively this martial paragraph from the book Judo, un sport et un art de vivre by Michel Brousse and David Matsumoto: “Judo teaches those who study it notions of ethics, how to live and the meaning of existence. Through judo, they learn to control their emotions, their desires and their excitement. They learn the values of patience, respect, honesty and discipline. Those who learn judo develop a remarkable work ethic and an important sense of etiquette. They learn to overcome their fears and show courage under pressure. Through competition and rigorous daily practice, they learn justice and fairness. Through their experiences, they learn politeness, humility and many other values that will help them succeed in society.” It’s hard not to be proud to be a judoka after reading that!

For Justin Fumiya Imagawa, head of international events at the All Japan Judo Federation (AJJF), there are a number of parameters to bear in mind when it comes to what will eventually be called the “Grand Design”: “We are an island in demographic decline, with a very low immigration rate. The majority of our citizens speak only Japanese. Reading and documenting in foreign languages is rare, which affects our overall open-mindedness. The other point to watch out for is the overall decline in school sports. Students prefer to concentrate on academic subjects. In twenty years, our high school championships have fallen from seventy thousand participants nationwide to ten thousand. So it’s vital that our teachers are able to provide consistent, coherent teaching.” Having long been admired the world over for its ability to constantly imagine a better “how” to do judo, Japan is now putting the emphasis back on the “why.” A quest for meaning that goes hand in hand with the idea, so dear to Kosei Inoue, of projecting oneself not over the next few months, but “over the next hundred years.”

4/5 – French judo is considering it

France, the world’s second-ranked country in terms of Olympic and individual medals, has a proven track record in teaching – see the recent feature in the bimonthly L’Esprit du judo devoted to French teachers scattered around the globe. However, it has to be said that, for the time being, the project remains little more than wishful thinking. This is confirmed by Frédéric Demontfaucon, Director of Teaching at the French Judo and Associated Disciplines Federation (FFJDA) since August 2021. Even at the height of his career, the man who gently explains the dynamics of sutemi to children, drawing a parallel with “the backward movements of the windsurfer with his sail,” has never lost sight of Jigoro Kano’s original intentions. Now at the helm, he’s fully grasped the stakes and government rhetoric surrounding healthy sports. However, in the first quarter of the 21st century, as the approach inherited from the Bataillon de Joinville and military culture (“to be strong in order to be useful”) seems to be gaining a second wind, he has about a thousand other urgent federal issues to deal with.

“It makes me think about my own career path,” admits the former -90 kg. I started at six and entered INSEP at nineteen, without having gone through the federal structures in between. My teacher told me I wouldn’t reach my peak until I was twenty-seven or twenty-eight, which corresponds to the years when I actually became an Olympic medallist and then world champion. It’s as if all the injuries and setbacks I’d experienced before were part of this process.” Very much in tune with the idea of practising for life, “Demontf'” sees the adjustment variable as the practitioner’s ability to “modulate the intensity” of his training. For him, the approach is holistic, even multisport, and the fundamentals are to be found as much in family support as in school or sport. That’s why he puts forward ideas for a progressive approach to early judo and “group building”, and remains circumspect when faced with teaching that revolves “too much” around Tori alone. “For me, high level is ten years and competition is just one branch of the tree. Valuing Uke and the art of the good fall reinforces the understanding of the importance of the partner’s role. I’ve experienced this time and again, as my specialty is yoko-tomoe nage. If my partner lands badly, it’s a hindrance to progress, both his and mine. Judo is a whole.”

In other sports, on the other hand, the change is already underway, although it often stops at the ramp-up to the top level. The aftermath remains a no-man’s-land that it’s clearly up to the athlete to explore alone, in the manner of this phrase from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince: “You’re not going to predict the future, you’re going to allow it.”

Thus, for the 6-19 age group, the almighty French Football Federation and its two million two hundred and twenty thousand licensees are offering a Federal Educational Program based on six themes (soccer culture, environment, civic commitment, fair play, health, rules of the game and refereeing). The stated aim? To broaden up young players’ knowledge and awaken them to wider issues.

In September 2023, the French Tennis Federation (one million, one hundred thousand members) made its aggiornamento. At issue was the recurring difficulty French professional players faced in making their mark on the international circuit and reaching the famous second week of Grand Slam tournaments. A “pathway to the top level” for 5-15 year-olds, followed by a “high level” group for 16-21 year-olds for those deemed suitable. Gilles Moretton, President of the FFT, describes this organization in detail in the September 18, 2023 edition of Ouest-France: “From the earliest age, we need to instill a sense of responsibility in youngsters and their parents, so that everyone can take charge of their own project. The ambition to become number one is a personal ambition, it can’t be the ambition of the Federation. But that’s something we have to work on from an early age.

The trend therefore primarily concerns professional and/or team sports – or “so-called” team sports, given that even “individual” sports often require the emulation of partners. What’s special about this trend is that it focuses more on the competition side of things, with lots of data, pie charts and expert graphs. It goes so far as to delve into concepts such as scanning (counting the number of peripheral glances before a ball is caught and therefore a decision made), bio-branding (adapting training for youngsters to their physiological evolution) or polymaths (those experts who have been able to step back from their specialist field and take an interest in other factors of performance to increase their relevance).

In the face of competition, the funnel that leads to performance requires coaches to make the distinction between “having potential” and “being potential” at a very early stage. At a seminar on detection within federations held in May 2023 at the INSEP in Vincennes, Sébastien Ratel, a professor and researcher in the physiology of muscular exercise in children at the University of Clermont-Ferrand, described the transition from one to the other as “the ability to translate a promising capacity into skills, results and performance.” To achieve this, a number of essential boxes need to be ticked: develop motor and perceptual-cognitive skills, avoid hasty specialization, adapt the workload to biological age and gender, plan the competition calendar correctly, etc. We’re light years ahead of the game here. We’re light years away from the hedonistic Gallic motto of neurologist Boris Cyrulnik in his essay with the manifesto title J’aime le sport de petit niveau: “Rugby is an hour and a half of matches, three hours in a restaurant and a week of bragging rights.”

5/5 – Elsewhere, progress takes shape

The writer Charles Juliet once said, “There is no event in life more shattering than the birth of oneself. This holistic approach sometimes takes unexpected forms, sometimes empirical, sometimes highly regulated. For example, when we were reporting from Cuba just after the London Olympics, we were surprised to see 57 kg Yurisleidis Lupetey, who had been a champion in her category for a decade but had just officially retired, appear on the tatami at the Cerro Pelado training centre. Asked “what are you doing in your judogi, trotting along the edge of the mat, two months after saying your goodbyes,” the 2001 world champion and 2004 Olympic medallist referred to a government directive known as desentranamiento. According to this directive, she explained to us at the time, “an athlete at the end of his or her career is obliged to maintain training attendance for up to one additional season, while gradually reducing the intensity of the sessions.” The aim? To enable the body to gradually unlearn the frenzied pace of top-level competition, and thus facilitate a smooth return to “normal” life. These are not insignificant considerations in view of the specificities of a discipline like judo, notably linked to the management of weight loss – how can we forget the death of Korean hopeful Chung Se-hun in March 1996, in the final qualifying stretch for the Atlanta Olympics? Asked to lose the last of his eight extra kilos in a sauna to compete in the -65 kg class, his heart couldn’t take it. He was twenty-two years old. “Chung Se-hun won’t be going to America,” wrote Pascal Ceaux in the French daily Le Monde at the time. “He’s not going anywhere. He won’t scare anyone. He’s dead.”

Also in Cuba, the late women’s team coach Ronaldo Veitía (1947-2022) used to set aside Friday evenings to teach children at his small local club. The aim? To keep in touch with the grassroots and make the Olympic dream a reality for these kids. The same thing happened in Slovenia. At the Judo Klub Sankaku in Celje, coach Marjan Fabjan asks his athletes, whether internationals or just training partners, to referee and run the table in their socks at weekends during small local interclubs, “so that my athletes don’t lose touch with reality, and so that the kids get inspired by their contact.” Deliberately slowing down the pace to cultivate emulation and a new attentiveness to others: the pedagogy never stops.

Confronted with very different social and cultural realities, South African judo is also attempting to adopt an LTAD approach, as recalled in 2022 in a very dense contribution by Petrus Louis Nolte and Charl J. Roux, two academics from Edinburgh and Johannesburg, published in issue no. 2 of The Arts and Sciences of Judo, the International Federation’s interdisciplinary journal. In Australia, the reference framework cited by the Japanese Judo Federation (see above) is called FTEM for Foundations, Talent, Elite and Mastery. Each stage of an athlete’s career fits into one of these four boxes. It is interesting to note that no age bracket is indicated this time. And since 2016, Switzerland has also had a program based on the same acronym, but this time aimed at the elite.

In Great Britain, a program called Long-Term Player Development has also existed “for some fifteen years,” explains Nigel Donohue, Performance Director at British Judo. It was developed by Dr. Lisa Allan, the current Director General of the International Federation. The program comprises six age groups from six upwards, with a clear distinction between female and male from the age of nine. This model, too, highlights all that is at stake in adolescence, and the importance of having coaching staff trained in the nuance and complexity of the human factor.

In fact, there’s a lot to be said for the way in which the discipline is embodied by the person passing it on. In this respect, it’s worth reading the very rich third part of Patrick Roux’s Revers de nos médailles (préc.), and in particular the pages he devotes to Ezio Gamba. From 2013 to 2021, the Italian was his manager with the Russian national judo team. It would be an understatement to say that the Frenchman grew from his years of contact with him. “Respect for people,” “calm,” “cool head,” “serenity,” “coherence”, “planning,” “programming,” all “in order to build something solid from healthy relationships.”

“He constantly ensures that everyone finds their place, plays their role and respects that of others, but also [he] constantly protects his working environment by installing a kind of umbrella between the team and governance or the political/media sphere.” The same Ezio Gamba who, in recent years, has explicitly asked his coaches not to bet everything on the international results of their cadets and juniors – age categories where the results of Russian judokas were regularly intimidating. If the aim is to perform at Olympic level, the athlete must take the time to cultivate technique before results. This means delaying the age of peak performance by a few years, since he may not experience a second peak in his career. In short, it’s a form of long-term athlete development.

Does this mean that everything has to fit into a “teacher decides, athlete executes” pattern? The reality is more nuanced. That’s what Claude Fauquet, former French swimming DTN and former deputy director of INSEP, advocates for. In the May 2023 issue of the French magazine After Foot, “the coach of coaches” (so nicknamed because of his often enlightening reflections on the methods and challenges of training and performance) offers this cross-cutting analysis: “In sport, in education, in politics, there would be the authority who decides and the others who execute. There are those who know and those who don’t, who implement what those who know tell them to do. Authority can only be understood vertically.

However, when players are immersed in an environment where they are only the executors, they end up being only executors. To the point of “executing” their coaches: “You tell me what to do, and when what I do doesn’t work, you’re responsible. So we’ll make sure you’re not there anymore. It’s the players who create the conditions for design change. How do we create the conditions for them to become actors and responsible for their game? This is where coaches are essential. They are the bearers of a culture of play designed to support athletes in their ability to solve their own problems. Like theatre or poetry, sport is a human form of creativity. It’s a real job to create the conditions in which responsibilities are played out and expressed, in a world where we tend to do the opposite.

Unless… Unless it all turns out to be a lot simpler. In previously unpublished notes from an interview for an article published in May 2021 on this blog (The Transpacific Judo of Yoshihiro Uchida and Hiroshi Nakamura), Hiroshi Nakamura, the most Japanese of Canadian judokas, confirmed observations already disseminated in other media, namely the ingredients needed to win a medal: “You need a love of judo, family support, knowing how far the first teacher taught the basics and defining how far the athlete wants to go. To this must be added hard work, talent and, in two or three percent of cases, luck or divine intervention.” To convert the whole to long-term development, all that’s ultimately needed is the steadfastness of the gardener, the reliability of the tools and trust in the cycle of the seasons. In short, all you need to do is let time take its course.  – Anthony Diao.


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