As a parent of a child in Judo, There will come a time when it is suggested that your child enter competitions. This is a wonderful opportunity for your child and may be the start of a long sporting career for them. However, it is important to put the competition element of Judo into context and consider it also in relation to your childs unique character, their needs and their desires.
Competition has been a part of Judo since almost the founding Judo. Kano (founder of Judo) was the first to introduce competitions (ref… podcast with yves) and was an active member of the International Olympic Committee, promoting the ideals of sport around the world as well as in his native Japan.
That is not to say that Professor Kano did or did not want Judo to be a sport.
Since the 1964 Olympic games, where Judo was introduced as an Olympic sport, the sporting element of Judo has grown in popularity and importance. The way we practise Judo today is considerably different to the past, both because of the rules of the sport and also because of the knowledge we have gained from the sporting world.
Judo is one of those few sports where it is played on every continent and medals at high level are won by a wide variety of countries. Judo is done from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe and if your child enters into the sport of Judo they may find themselves competing all over the world with people of virtually all nationalities. They may well become an elite level athlete and have the opportunity to represent their country on the worlds biggest stage… the Olympic Games.
They may also decide that they don’t want to be an elite athlete and endure the sacrifices and hardships required at that level. Judo is fortunate that there is competition at all levels, from children’s novice events, through to masters events for those upwards of 30 years of age.
As the parent of a child in Judo, you have a strong influence on what competitions mean to your child and also as to whether your child will be competing at all.
Some clubs and some parents choose not to allow children to compete; this I think is a great mistake. Competition when done appropriately is a great learning opportunity for your child. Competing is, to be honest, scary. Your child may have fears of getting hurt, of embarrassing themselves, of losing. However, facing these fears can be a huge benefit to your childs development.
What needs to be kept in mind is that competitions should be a challenge that your child is able to overcome. Be that winning the event or winning one fight out of many. Your child should not be thrown into the deep end, or made to fight in events beyond their capabilities. Nor should they be competing in events well below their ability as this is not giving them any benefit and is potentially ruining the experience for others.
Competing as a child should be about your childs development, not about winning at all costs. Winning does matter, but only within the confines of the development of your child. As they grow and mature they may become athletes, but until they are in their late teens Judo competitions should be about their development as individuals.
As a parent, you need to be careful not to place unhealthy expectations and pressures on your child. Similarly clubs and club coaches should not be placing undue pressure on your child. You and the club need to ensure that your child is entered in competitions where appropriate.
We do not want to see children competing for the glory of the club, or competing with parents threatening to punish them if they lose. Equally, inappropriate rewards for winning can be just as damaging when offered at the wrong time or for the wrong reasons.
Your child will ideally, enjoy the experience of competing (and you can help with this by expecting it to be fun). You and your child should attend competitions expecting to win some and lose some. Your child should be expected to do their best and no matter the result of the competition, if they have done their best you and the coach should be happy and express that to your child.
In the long term, we want to see your child lose fights and learn from the experience. Then we want to see them come back and do better as a result. We want to see them grow in ability, confidence and character. We want to see them learn through competition that they are the masters of their own destiny, that their hard work equals good performances… a valuable lesson for any person.
We also want to see a child struggle and overcome; be that a physical challenge or a mental one. You should be equally proud of your child if they win with a big throw or if they lose with grace; especially if previously they have lost in the past and not been able to handle it emotionally. A proud moment for any parent in Judo is when your child loses and is able to maintain their composure for the first time.
What we do not want to see, is children competing with undue pressure put on them to win. We do not want children competing because they “have to” or because the club or club coach wants more medals. We also don’t want to see children competing because Mum or Dad wants an athlete in the family or for any other reason than that competing is good for the development of their child.
It is a subject worth discussing with your child’s coach.