by Elie A. Morrell, Shichidan

The level of coaching judo skills is more fundamental with the preadolescent as opposed to a more technical approach used to teach the older players. Also, the emotional and psychological requirements differ at the different age levels. However, there are problem areas common to judo students at any of the coaching levels.

The maximum age limit for preadolescents occurs approximately at the age of puberty. That is fourteen years of age for boys and twelve years of age for girls.

Preadolescence is an important period in a child’s life. At this age level, the personality of the child is beginning to take shape. An overall development of attitudes toward many things begins to take place. At this stage in life the preadolescent begins to show how he feels about authority, responsibility, and prescribed rules.

When teaching the preadolescent, the coach should concentrate on the growth of the athlete rather than the aspect of winning. It is far more important for the preadolescent to learn how to cope with losing than it is to focus on winning. The coach should strive to develop a positive attitude in the student toward the judo skills.

The anxiety faced during preadolescence is apt to be more pronounced than at any other time during the judo career. Anxiety could be the result of lack of interest in judo, overzealous parents, or a lack of self esteem. A good coach could make this situation more bearable through understanding and empathy. He must attempt to make certain that the judo sessions result in a positive experience. The coach is obligated to try to make the student’s involvement in judo a valuable part of his growing up.

Since the coach is likely to be the first authority figure external to the home, he needs to build confidence in the preadolescent. Encouragement must always be given by the coach. In time the preadolescent should be able to build his own confidence level through participation and an increase in knowledge in judo.

Preadolescents will commit many errors in the early phases of their judo training. The coach should bear in mind that the complexities of judo are not understood by the preadolescent. Therefore the coach should make certain that the preadolescent is protected from being embarrassed to the point of causing stress. If stress becomes apparent to the coach, he should attempt to bolster confidence with moral support.

The coach should be aware of any student who appears frightened. Usually this trait will show up when the student is first thrown to the mat. If fright appears in a student, the coach should immediately step in to aid the student with moral support. Generally, at this point in judo, most students fare well when initially being thrown. The key is to be certain that the preadolescent has been thoroughly trained to do Ukemi properly.

There are many reasons for high attrition in judo by adolescents. Perhaps the most significant of these reasons is the difficulty in overcoming the fear of being thrown. At the preadolescent level the coach is apt to be confronted with behavior patterns of severe immaturity. When the preadolescent exhibits this type of behavior, it is often due to failure. Failure can take many forms. It may be due to inability to do judo techniques properly, a poor performance during randori, or losing in a shiai. The coach must recognize this behavior and immediately support the child. In the youngest preadolescents, these types of emotions are greatly magnified.

The preadolescent will be greatly influenced in either a positive or negative manner by parental behavior. A coach must be aware if the parents are pressuring the child in a negative way. The coach will need to relieve this pressure if possible.

There are ways for the coach to study parental behavior patterns to determine their attitudes. For example, he should note whether a parent is ever present during a judo session, whether the parent ever makes contact with the coach, and whether the parent is supportive if the child loses in a judo match. Lastly, he could note whether the parent feels that the child always does things correctly or incorrectly.

In dealing with parents, the coach should attempt to establish a good rapport. If the parents are overprotective, he should attempt to ease any of their anxieties.

It is wise for the coach to have an initial meeting with the parents prior to the child starting in judo. In this meeting the coach should, above all, indicate that he has the personal safety of the child as his top priority. By providing the parents with the assurance that he places the child’s welfare and well-being above everything else, he should gain their support and confidence.

Before the child steps on the mat for the first time, the coach should chat with the child to gain his confidence. He should explain that the child will not be pressured to do anything but his best.

Summarizing, the basic principles that the coach should adopt for coaching the preadolescent are as follows:

1. Use positive reinforcement by providing feedback to correct mistakes.

2. Make a class session a positive experience.

3. Show concern for the child while placing performance in a secondary role.

4. Support the child in situations he cannot cope with.

5. Praise the child for skills done correctly.

6. Always be patient with the child.