Judo Lessons from Estonia
Similar to the lessons of Luxembourg, Estonia also dealt with the issue of a small country - therefore it needed solutions to its limited numbers of interested competitors. They also embraced the idea of not being a club snob. There were days where every and any judoka from all of Estonia was invited to open mat, so that the country could improve cohesively. Working together was seen as an advantage to elevating everyone's abilities. At these practices the mats were filled with a slew of sensei's and Olympians, all taking part in aiding people in need.
Practices tend to be very focused and focused on a specific thing. A throw was shown. Then live drills were taught that directly correlated with the thrown taught that day. This ensured that students were practicing the throws taught in live situations. Once Randori occurred, these skills were then easily implemented when those scenarios appeared.
Start Them Young & Keep it FUN! Estonia had huge kids programs. This was partly attributed to relationships built with area KINDERGARTENs. After having some showcases and play events at the schools, kids wanted to try judo. The kids classes were all game, agility, motion, and play focused. No judo moves were actually taught until the kids were in first grade and the students are only offered two classes a week until they are 13. This pressure-free, fun-focused program ensures that the kids are not burnt out once they are teens. Once they are teens, these kids WANT to work hard. They stay late, lift multiple days a week, and all push each other. I was in awe of this seem-less transition. The 12 and 13 year-olds seem to idolize the older kids and really look forward to being allowed to train more seriously. It was a very different take to what many clubs in the US do, but seemed to work well and kept numbers steady in the teen age range, when numbers seem to plummet in the USA.
So what I learned in Estonia- welcome everyone, keep it focused, and keep it fun!
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