Why They Should Run in Tandem

By Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development

In most sports, national level athlete and coaching development programs evolve over a number of decades with each Head Coach bringing new perspective and techniques to the programs. In addition, the sports development programs run by countries that have become successful on the international stage, often evidenced by medal count at the Olympics, are studied and imitated by their competitors. But anyone experienced in international judo or other Olympic sports will realize that US judo coaching does not resemble any of these well established and successful paradigms.

National judo coaching development for judo in the United States does not follow any sports or coaching development model seen in Europe or Canada. In the US we have three different judo certifying agencies that, even though they have reciprocity agreements and recognize each other’s certifications, have failed to standardize the requirements for a national coach certification. Furthermore, even though many judo instructors have been awarded a certificate that reads “certified national coach” far fewer are actually qualified, national level, sports development coaches.

To become a national coach in most other countries that have well structured national coaching development programs, such as Canada’s NCCP or the French and EJU’s multi-level programs, requires at least a year of preparation, training, and testing, backed by years of experience teaching and coaching at the club level. However, in the US, a judo coach candidate can pick up a national certification by sitting through a few hours of lectures that may or may not have much to do with athlete development, with no on the mat testing or skills evaluation. There is not even a formalized, published, NGB approved national judo coaching curriculum or manual.

In other US Olympic sports, the requirements to become a national coach are rigorous and well documented. Using USA Archery as an example, since it is another relatively small, specialized sport like judo, an aspiring coach must pass through several levels of documented training and instruction. Levels 1 & 2 are designed to educate and certify an archery instructor to run community and school based group programs such as Olympic Archery in Schools (OAS).  Moving onto Level 3, which takes considerably more time and demonstrated ability, certifies the instructor to coach individual athletes for competition. Coaching individual athletes in biomechanics and the more technical aspects of their sport is the first step towards becoming a high performance coach. This is also where a coach candidate is exposed to the USAA approved National Training System (NTS) that was developed by the USA Archery Head Coach and improved on the previous Biomechanically Efficient Shooting Technique (BEST) .

Level 4 in archery is equivalent to becoming a national coach in other sports. After meeting the time requirements as a Level 3 coach, the candidate for Level 4 must spend a week at the Olympic Training Center, training under other national coaches, and being tested and certified by the US Head Coach personally. This is how it should be in any sport, in that no one should become a national coach without the Head Coach’s approval. This is also a national quality assurance mechanism critical to maintaining standards for future coaches and athletes.

So this begs the questions: when was the last time US judo coaches were invited or required to train for a week, or even a few days, at the Olympic Training Center, and who is the resident Head Coach for judo?

Apart from training under the direct supervision of the national Head Coach, one of the best reasons for training at the Olympic Training Center is to have the opportunity to train in tandem with the national level elite athletes. To be a high performance coach, a coach must be exposed to the training of elite athletes in a high performance training environment. Unfortunately, in judo, individuals believe they are international athletes and coaches simply because they attended an international tournament. There is a difference between competing internationally and being of an international caliber. Similarly, we have parents of 12 and 14 years olds declaring that their children are elite athletes because they attended a junior Olympics, even though the child may have done no serious preparation and lost in the first round. If these parents want their cadets and juniors to become elite athletes, they would be better off investing in sending their kids to training camps in Europe, rather than wasting money on the mere prestige of being able to say that they competed at the junior Olympics or some other international event.


For a national sports development program to be successful, it must be built around a quadrennial long term athlete development (LTAD) program that also has 8-year and 12-year plans and projections. The athlete development training program must be centralized two or three times each year for national team building, athlete assessments, and for the coach candidates to be included in this process. Annual national squad training, prior to national team selections, is the optimum time for national coaching development and merit-based coach selections.

From a practical standpoint, it is physically feasible to do judo only twice a day, for a few hours total on the mat at national training camps, so the remaining hours are dedicated to competitive profiling, tactical analysis, sports psychology, team building, coaching development, and attending lectures presented by Olympic coaches from other sports. Many aspects of sports coaching and athlete development are not sport-specific so input from other coaches can be invaluable.

This begs two final questions: would the US benefit from more centralized elite athlete development and team building; and, why is national coaching development not run in tandem with elite athlete development – both under the supervision of a National Head Coach?


About Mark V

Dedicated shooter, seeker, traveler, teacher, trainer, educator
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