Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Matside Manner Matters

I thought about posting an Olympic Wrap-up, but I quickly realized that a google or twitter search turned up dozens of reviews written by writers more experienced and nuanced than I. From an American perspective, it was a great year - punctuated by Kayla Harrison winning Gold, and Marti Malloy's bronze. Thrown in Travis Stevens' Pool win and 5th place finish, and arguably, this was the best US Olympic Judo Finish ever.

But I want to talk about someone else - Jimmy Pedro Jr. While there is no doubt that Kayla, Marti, and Travis' success are the result of their hard work, focus and dedication, I think each would credit Jimmy's coaching as an aid in their success. as I watched those early morning matches on the computer (thanks to NBC's awesome coverage), You couldn't help but hear Jimmy's vocal guidance from the side of the mat. Jimmy, looking sharp in a suit (as opposed to the shlumpy warm-ups worn by some of the other coaches) cupped his hands at matside, and shouted the right encouragement to his players. Sure, every coach has their sayings and mannerisms, their methods for motivation. Listening to Jimmy's words made me realize how much in tune he was with his team.

In Kayla's semi-final, I remember him saying to her - 'Finish it now Harrison, finish it now'. He wasn't telling her to go to O-Goshi, or to stall the clock out, he was telling her - 'this match is yours, finish strong, and finish it now'. That was all the motivation Kayla needed - tapping out Mayra Aguiar of Brazil for Ippon with 15 seconds left.

In stark contrast, I am reminded of a scene at a competition I attended a few years ago. During a match, one of the coaches grabbed the competitor's teammate, and was showing the competitor how to grip, and telling him what techniques to use - as if the competitor's looking at the sidelines was not enough of a distraction to their opponents' advantage. I thought to myself - if you feel the need to teach technique at matside during a match, clearly you didn't do your job right with your student.

The truly good coach knows exactly what his player needs to hear during a match, what kicks in their x-factor, and how to bring out the best in them. And that coach is embodied by Jimmy Pedro Jr. - I hope USA Judo keeps him around for Rio.

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