As I travel I am trying to capture some of my insights in terms of ways that USA Judo could grow the sport based on what I see in other countries...here is my long overdue insights based on my venture to Africa.
While in Morocco I was welcomed to train with the cadet and junior national teams. Each summer the country gathers the top cadets (think top 3-4 per weight class) for a two week training session where they all stay and train together. Here they are paired with the top coaches in the country to provide feedback and strong partners for one another. They do the same thing with the junior team. They also have a few practices where they allow both groups to work together so that the cadets have something to aspire to. Coming out of these camps, the Moroccans headed to the Junior African Championships where the cadets and juniors left with a huge percentage of the medals.
As USA judo tries to grow there are not often opportunities for the best up and coming junior athletes to train together and to get insights from international level coaches on what they need to work on to succeed at the next level. Some clubs do a great job of holding fantastic camps which provide these experiences. It would be wonderful in the future to see USA judo investing in the future talent and pay for them to train together for an extended period of time.
If I were really to dream, these camps would happen more than 1 time a year and the coaches from the High Performance Committee would then be better in touch with the areas of growth that the up-and-comers need to focus on. This could supply encouragement for these age groups to not quit the sport as they would find pride in this attention and support system. Perhaps at the end of these camps the kids could head to some of the international junior tournaments as a team, so that they begin to see the gap in their games that need focused on if they want to excel as adults.
The other huge thing that was prevalent in Morocco were dojos in community centers. You could be in a very poor area, jogging on an unfinished track made of sand instead of tar- but there was a community center building next to it with mats where judo was practiced multiple days a week. Many parks and communities in the US have sport complexes for the neighborhood kids but how many offer mats with karate/bjj/wrestling/judo programs and classes? If we were able to grow awareness of the sport in the poorer areas, give kids the opportunity to practice and stay of the street, this could down the road lead to an increase in membership of the sport. I know this involves hurdles- such as affording mats and finding enough coaches...but imagine if you were able to pull a few coaches of a variety of mat- based sports in the area all willing to commit one night a week to the community center- this may enable to city to invest in a mat area. The mats in Morocco centers are used for other sports as well but the facilities existence growth the awareness and visibility to the sport, which I thought was pretty magical. Frequently when training kids that were playing soccer or basketball would come into the center to see what was going on and ask questions about what judo was. To me that was huge.
Just one person's thoughts but figured I would share in case it sparked a bigger idea with others!
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