The easy answer to this question is yes, you should! I personally don’t get practicing a sport and not competing. This happens a lot in judo. It may happen, but I have never heard of someone going to soccer practice several times a week, learning all the skills of the sport, and never playing in a game. The only reason I can think of to explain why this happens in judo is because participants randori (spar) in pretty much every practice. Now that I am retired from competition, after 19 years of competing in judo and 5 years of wrestling before that, I do get all my matches in at the dojo, but for beginning students not to compete is beyond me. I have heard people say I just want to learn but am not into competition. My question is: how do you know if what you are learning works? In the dojo, you are training with the same people every day and they are learning the same thing you are learning from the same instructors.
I get that some people are recreational players and are not trying to make a team or win a National championship, but competition is a great opportunity to test your skills to see what works and what does not work. It doesn’t even have to be about wins and losses, compete for fun and to further your learning and understanding of the sport.
Obviously, higher level players who are trying to become national champ or make national teams know how important competition is, but I think they often get so wrapped up in the big tournaments, they forget about the importance of smaller tournaments. I think having elite athletes compete in smaller Ã¢â‚¬Å“localÃ¢â‚¬Â tournaments can be very useful and good not only for those athletes but also for the local judo community.
Elite players are not above local competition, and should include local tournaments as part of their training. A local tournament is a great place to work on things that might be working in practice but are not working at Nationals against other elite players. Trying things at the local level gives higher-level athletes the opportunity to try things in a tournament setting, which is different from practice situations, where there is not as much risk of getting caught and losing if your technique does not work. And, in a local tournament where there is nothing more than pride on the line, if you do lose, so what? I get that no one wants to lose, especially an elite player losing at a local tournament, but you have to approach it as a training opportunity and remember that while you pride may be hurt, in the grand scheme of things a loss at a local level doesn’t matter as long as you learn from the loss.
I’m not saying you should not care about losing. I hate losing! I use to say that I would rather get hit by a truck than lose a match. I have never been hit by a truck, but I was hit by a car 3 times while riding my bike, so I do have an idea what it feels like. My point is simply that if you lose a match at a local tournament it will not cost you making the World Team! Plus it will make a local player feel like a big deal!
One of the biggest mistakes I made later in my career was that I stopped competing in local tournaments. Sometimes it was due to injury, but if I’m going to be honest, it was because of my ego. My excuse is a little different from the scenario I mentioned above. It is, however, just as much a mistake and I feel not competing more hurt me in the later years of my career. There were other factors too, like getting older and injuries, etc, but not competing was also a big part of the problem.
In 1998, I won the World Championships, in 1999 I become the second visually impaired judo player to be nationally ranked among sighted athletes, and in 2000 I became the first American to win a gold medal at either the Olympic or Paralympic games in judo when I won the Paralympic Games in Sydney. All incredible experiences, and the culmination of a lot of hard work and some great training opportunities with excellent training partners and great coaching. Don’t misunderstand me, I am very proud of my accomplishments but despite my success, I have never thought of myself as a great judo player. After Sydney, I took a little time off to recover from some injuries and I started graduate school and had gotten married 3 months before the games, so I had a lot going on. The judo club I had moved to Denver to train with was my former Paralympic Coach’s club that he turned over to me, so I was teaching too.
The problem I had was not thinking I was too good for local tournaments; it was worrying that I would not live up to everyone’s expectations. I
was World and Paralympic Champion and when fought in local tournaments they would announce Ã¢â‚¬Å“Over on mat 2 we have Paralympic Champion, Scott Moore, fighting in the finals of the men’s 73kg divisionÃ¢â‚¬Â¦Ã¢â‚¬Â My biggest fear was they would announce that and everyone would turn to see me getting slammed. I worried that I was not as good as everyone now thought I was and that if I did not live up to their expectations, they would be disappointed. I had never admitted that to anyone until one day I was talking to one of my Paralympic teammates about some local tournaments and we both started hinting about it and it turned out we had both stopped competing in as many local tournaments for the same reason, ego!
Part of the problem is that I was getting older; I was 30 in Sydney and 34 in Athens. I won a bronze medal in Athens but I almost did not qualify at all because I struggled at the 2002 and 2003 World Championships. The problem as I said was I was getting older and I was not fighting as much, so I wasn’t as sharp. I was still training just as hard, and doing really well in practice but as I said earlier in this article practice is not the same as fighting in a tournament. I was still fighting at Nationals and some of the big tournaments but not nearly as many as I had always done in the past. When I was coming up, I fought in every tournament I could. I remember getting on the back of a motorcycle for a 4 hour drive to Houston in the winter for a little local tournament. Luckily a guy with a car pulled up just as we were leaving and asked if he could go, so we parked the bike and jumped in his car.
I retired after Athens and came back in 2006, but never really did as well as I had in the past. I did win a bronze medal in Athens and actually had some really good matches. There are many factors as to why I wasn’t doing as well. One of these, as I said was the fact that I was getting older and fighting much younger guys, but I believe a bigger issue is that I was not as sharp as I had been in the past. I was losing matches to guys I knew, even while I was fighting them that I was much better than, but I just wasn’t as sharp as I had been.
Of course I know that you can’t always fight in every tournament, especially the elite athletes. I can certainly understand not fighting in a local tournament the weekend before nationals or the world trials, or sitting out of a local tournament if you are banged up, but when there is a nothing right around the corner, why not? Back when I was still competing in everything, I was also training a few times a week at the Olympic Training Center with guys like Carols Mendez who was #2 in the country at 73kg and fought in the 2000 Olympic Games for Puerto Rico, and Ryan Reser who is a 2008 Olympian. Not only did I get to train with these guys, I also go to fight them in local tournaments in Colorado. Nothing like making it to the finals of a local tournament then fighting Carols or Ryan, both super cool guys; Ryan as well as being a fantastic judo player is a super nice guy, by the way, but he blasted me with a big o soto gari in the finals of the Colorado State Championships.
Ryan and I have spoken about this topic several times and he understands the importance of fighting in local tournament as a crucial part of an elite athlete’s training and even now he fights at a couple of local events in Colorado every year.
I believe competing is important for the development of all judo athletes from beginners to elite level athletes, although for different reasons. I also believe it is very important for kids. The thing I think is so great about competition in judo for kids is that there is always a winner and a loser. No judo match ends in a tie and you do not win if you do not try. I think kids learn valuable life lessons from competition that you do not get in an Ã¢â‚¬Å“everyone is a winnerÃ¢â‚¬Â society (that’s a whole other blog topic).
So I encourage you, at whatever level you are, fight in the local events. It’s good for you and it’s good for judo, especially in your local area.
Thanks for reading!
I’ll talk to you soonÃ¢â‚¬Â¦
- Scott Moore is a 5th degree black belt in judo and he head instructor of Denver Judo. He is also a 3-time Paralympic Judo medalist winning bronzed in Atlanta, 1996, Gold in Sydney, 2000, and bronze in Athens, 2004. Scott was the assistant coach for the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Judo team and the head coach of the London 2012 team.
Find Scott on Google+