Training overseas gives you some exposure in terms of what differs from training at home. The fact that you can walk into the smallest of towns and learn that the neighborhood dojo houses 400 students can be quite an eye-opener. As I continue my journey around the world I plan to capture some of the basics that seem to aid with success (and lack of success) at dojos. Here were my insights from France:
Classes are for EVERYONE
The hour to 1.5hour sessions are broken down a variety of ways. By Age (3-4 yr old, 5-6,7-8,9-11,12+), By Belt (White, Yellow, Orange-Green, Blue-Brown, Teen Black, Adult White-Brown, Adult Brown-Black), y Grade in School, and by a mix of Belt/Age. This allowed for class sizes to remain relatively small (about 15 ppl per class) so the teacher could give attention to everyone. It also allowed for students to have multiple classes as options to attend all week and finally enabled them to be exposed to a variety of partners depending on the class they attended. It was lovely to see and worked very well.
Last but not least, there were classes held a few nights a week for cross training that were advertised to the neighborhood for fitness. These classes were great not only for the judo students and parents but were a great way to bring non-judoka into the club. These classes not only supplied greater revenue to the club, enabled membership to grow beyond the 400 judoka, but also enabled exposure to "judo" to non-judoka. A few of these fitness class members felt such community/bond with the club that they attended judo tournaments to cheer for the judo players, despite having never done judo themselves! This is a great way to grow your club and the sport.
FRANCE Judo Supports every Dojo
The national judo federation supplies every club with "gear" to keep people incentivized to stick with the programs. This included certificates for when there are promotions, JUDO stickers for members cars, ifo about upcoming events, little trinkets (like bags, pens, ect) to include as a child is promoted to various belts. They also supply an in depth description of what is required for each promotion that all of the clubs seem to follow closely- ensuring blue belts are truly of the same knowledge/caliber across the country. Finally they sent the dojos lots of poster swag which leads me to my next points...
The Dojos were MOTIVATIONAL & ASPIRATION
The walls of every dojo had images of the top French athletes and giant cutouts of Teddy Riner. There is no way kids couldn't feel inspired by these super athletes on the wall. Hell- I, an adult american, was inspired by these superstars all over the walls. It felt like being in a Nike commercial - except one all about judo. The images of these elite athletes holding medals from Olympics and Grand Prix were so inspiring. It made me wonder why USA judo doesn't offer these images of our elite athletes for kids to look up to everyday while training or in their dojos changing rooms. It ensured the kids looked up to these judokas as heros, these events as ones to work towards competing in, and supplied education about the best of the best to the parents as well.
The Dojos were EDUCATIONAL
The walls were also adorned with images of what moves you need to know for each belt, how to each healthy, what the names of key techniques are, and there were giant banners explaining the tenants of judo. I have seen some of these in the USA at various dojos that I have visited but these are clearly utilized by coaches in France heavily (likely because France Judo supplied them to all clubs). I was at a club during promotion week and the kids used the walls as reminders and study guides as they prepared for their tests. The fact that they weren't hung and ignored but were pointed to and discussed led me to believe that these can be used as successful tools if they are incorporated that way by the clubs.
There were obviously lots of other differences but these were the biggest take-aways that I had from France. It is my hope that as my travels continue and my exposure grows that some may find some insights from these international powerhouses which may aid in the growth of their clubs.
Believer that everyone is special.