Engaged Training vs. Attending Training.

In recent months I have been giving lots of thought to, and discussed in depth the area of performance Judo and “elite” training. The thoughts and discussions have revolved around “What is elite” and “What does elite training look like”.  My favorite part of this discussion and the subject for this post is around what elite training “feels” like and the difference between attending training and being engaged in your training.

RIMG1271To make it as a Judo athlete, you face many many challenges, these challenges you overcome in two ways. You overcome your challenges through training and through performance. So time spent preparing and your actual fights on the mat, on the day. Obviously, on the day there is little you can do if the preparation has not got you to the right place at the right time. So lets focus on training.

I am fortunate to have attended training sessions at all levels, from international training camps, through to local club sessions. Something you notice about the better players immediately is their level of engagement in their own training. The better players know what they need to be working on and get on with the job. They might start early, or finish up a session working on something specific.  They are also the ones during a training session who know what they are doing and sometimes are even doing something slightly different to the rest of the session, they are following their own plan.

Two examples, outside of Judo, who get referenced all the time are Rugby Union’s Johnny Wilkinson and Football’s David Beckham. The story you hear over and over with both characters is that they are often found out there practising their kicking on their own before or after training.

Now, this helps in three basic ways. Firstly, this increases the amount of training time you are doing. And extra 5-10 minutes after every session accumulates to quite a bit of additional training over a training macro cycle. Secondly, you are following a plan, your training is not controlled by an outside force (the club coach), you are building the tools you need to overcome your challenges.

Thirdly and in my opinion most importantly you are changing the “feel” of the training you do. You are doing “deliberate practice”, you are altering the way you engage in your training and also changing the attitude and culture of your/the training environment. This is key!

I have attended club sessions that felt like a elite training session, and (so called) elite training sessions that felt like a kids participation Judo session. If your aim is to be a Judo athlete, you need good training environments. And key to this is not necessarily the facilities, the coach or even the level of the players you have to train with. The “feel” of the training is so important, if everyone there is there to work and build, then it can be a terrific session for you even if you are training with yellow belts.

Alternatively, you could be on the mat with 50 black belts and still have a “bad” training session if the attitudes are not right for what you need to achieve. The classic example of both the good and the bad is middle aged dan grades. These guys can make or break your training, especially if you are a light weight, young and/or female. It is easy as a larger, older, heavier, experienced Dan grade to “spoil” a session, being negative, and preventing you from doing nice Judo. They might not have the fitness you do, so can drag the ace down to suit their desire for a “scrap”. By the same token, a experienced older black belt can raise the level and change the session for the better. An experienced dan grade can help hone your techniques and also help give just the right amount of resistance to take a throw from something you are learning to something you can do under pressure. Experience gives them that “feel” for what you need.

As a Judo athlete you will need to develop a “sense” for what a session/club/environment feels like and be able to assess if the training is right for you.

How to be Engaged in your Judo training.

Above we discussed why being engaged matters, it is the difference between productive progress towards your goals and going with the flow. You “may” happen to flow to the right place, but much like rowing a boat, the rowing is what gives you direction and gets you to the right place at the right time. The next question is how do we engaged with our training to maximise the effectiveness of what we do.

1. Plan!

The first and most important thing to do is plan your training in the greatest detail you can. The more detail the better the plan. Check the plan before every session, review it after every session. Amend you plan everyday to reflect the progress you make and set backs you encounter.

2. Liaise with the coaches.

This refers both to the planning and execution of your planned training. Make sure you coaches know you have  aplan, involve them in the development and management of your plan. You will also need to make sure that coaches know what you are working on, why and how they can help you train. This may or may not be possible within the confines of the sessions planned by the coach, so in which case you and your coaches need to decide if that session is right for you or should you train elsewhere?

3. Work the plan.

Make sure you follow your plan, it is a living document that you should know forwards, backwards and upside down. You need to follow it and make sure that it is exactly what you do. If changes need to be made, then make them. If a session does not go as you planned, then alter your next session(s) to match.

This plan is what will take you from where you are to where you want to be, so commit to the plan and hold it dear to you. Go everywhere with it and work it hard.

4. You are an elite athlete… act like it.

If you are, or want to be, an elite athlete then today you have to act like it.
You need to train like a elite professional athlete, talk like an elite player, fight like an elite player, think like and elite player… in short you have to be an elite player today, to be an elite player in the future. You can not train like a recreational player today and expect to make the elite level tomorrow. You need to start thinking and feeling like an elite player today.

Feeling like an elite player is important, you need to be so involved in your preparation that even if you are preparing for the local area tournament, people from outside of the sport would think you were off to the London 2012 Olympic Games on the weekend.

Engaged Training.

So by now you hopefully have grasped what I mean by “engaged training”. No longer do you pop along to Judo bag in hand wondering what the night will bring. You don’t do Uchi Mata because that is what the coach is showing. You don’t do long Randori when you are working on your speed. You don’t just attend and participate.

Now you go to training with your bag and in that bag is your training diary and plan. You get changed knowing what you are going to do in this session, what goals you have set for this one. You speak with the coach before the session about a small change in your training from last night. Your coach asks you how that relates to todays planned lesson, you know it fits ok because you know what the coming class will cover and it fits your needs. You bow on and you warm up (you know how you warm up don’t you?). When the coach starts the session you are ready to go, when they say go, you are already going. You train hard and sweat harder, you work with people you trust and rely on, they work you as hard as they can, they know what you need to work on. They are your team, you know it, they know it, everyone sees it. When the time for uchi komi, or nage komi arrives, you go immediately into training your throws, the ones you know you need to work on. The coach calls throws that you have planned on working on… why? Because the coach and you worked it out in advance. After training you and your team work through some things to hit some targets you have set yourself. Then you bow off and shower, smiling and chatting about how well the session went. You thank your partners and the coach, shower and get changed. Then you sit down with your diary and record your training and revise the plan to match the improvements you made today.

That is engaged training, that is what you want to be creating if you wish to make it to the next level in your Judo career.

Photo from Martin Robertson from a club I used to train at and on occasion coach at Edinburgh University Judo Club.

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