Last week I was away in Cornwall for a seven night break with my girlfriend at a beautiful spot just outside St Austell. The Air BnB that we stayed at was high up on the cliff overlooking the entire cove, a lovely spot to get some space. As an adult this was my first real, restful holiday. I felt so refreshed and excited to get back to everything in the last couple of days that we were there which made me think about why I hadn’t done something like this before. Why didn’t I do this when I was a full time athlete? I feel so good! Now, hindsight is all well and good and, it’s easy for me to say “I should have just done this and I should have just done that,” which I won’t, and don’t, but it did then make me think about all of the things that I would perhaps talk to a 19 year old version of myself about. The younger me that had just decided to relocate to the other end of the country to become a full time Judo player.
Also having them written down will help me if (‘when’ probably more applicable!) I need reminding of them.
Full time Judo, for those unaware, consisted of, when I first committed to it, moving to one of the three centres in the country that offered it; Camberley Judo Club, the Scottish Institute of Sport or Bath University. Typical weekly structures would be three training sessions a day; Judo technical, strength and conditioning and, Judo Sparring, Monday to Friday.
Again, this is me talking to myself. If I use the terms ‘you, we’ or ‘us’ it is because I have no other words to use that I could better discuss these ideas with myself. I do not like feeling like I’m being preached to or, reading or listening to someone that is ‘telling me’ what I should or shouldn’t do or think. I apologise if the following sounds in anyway like I’m doing that, that is not at all my intention. I’m in no position to lecture on anything. These are just my own thoughts on what I would tell myself, with the benefit of hindsight, at different stages of my career to aid in combating some of the anxiety, projections, decision making or, to confirm that what I was doing was ok; things that a lot of full time athletes experience.
Unless You’re ‘All In’ Don’t Bother
I was speaking to my friend, world class competitor, Ben Fletcher the other week about all the people that we had seen come and go in Judo in the time that we’d been doing it. I moved to Camberley Judo Club to train full time in 2009, Ben is at Bath Uni and has over a decade of experience in training full time. We also said that neither of us knew one single person that was at all half-hearted about full time training, that cut it, consistently, at an international level. Not one. Plenty have come in, some even for a handful of years but, weren’t ‘all in’; turning up everyday, working as hard and as well as they could, listening to instruction, eating well, willing to live on little money for a period of time, finding the funds to get out to tournaments and training camps. As Ben said, and I concur, doing all of the previously mentioned will give an individual the opportunity to be competitive on the international stage, nothing more. No shortcuts to Olympic medals. It takes years of consistent graft. It’s great being able to do the thing that you love doing but it is, at the same time, extremely hard and demanding. If you’re not ‘all in’ and willing to stay the course then save time, save yours and your family’s money, do something else and keep Judo as a hobby. There is no shame in that, nor is it a judgement. Just, in Judo if you don’t give it everything that you have, you’re one hundred percent guaranteed not to get where you want or think you should get too.
Get A Good Coach
Think of the results that you want to get and see which coaches and centres are proven to be able get you those results.
Don’t get a career coach, someone there primarily for a wage or that wants to move on to a ‘higher’ position; as soon as more money comes along or a better job offer they’ll be gone. Think of the last ten years, that has been repeatedly proven. Get a coach that has been there and done it, made the walk themselves, made the sacrifices themselves. If they haven’t then they are guessing or just, at best, relying on second hand information. They know what you are feeling and thinking, they have had them too. The fantastic thing about Judo is the people it connects you too, if the main reason to connect is for a wage then when that wage is gone so shall they be. Relationships forged in passion and a common goal last. This is going to take years, those relationships have to last if you want to make it. Trust is vital.
Trust those that are always in the trenches. It is 99.9% of face to face, hands on work that will help you improve. Fancy powerpoint presentations accomplish almost nothing.
Hear all but listen primarily to those who can actually give you what you need. Get someone that is committed and decent, that you like how they are on and off the mat, you’re going to spend a lot of time with them.
Give Yourself Time
I was guilty of wanting success straight away and would be very hard on myself after losing. I didn’t develop well enough technically in my more formative years, half down to my own one hundred miles an hour pace and, that I didn’t have an international senior level coach until I’d been doing Judo for fifteen years already. Still, I tried to rush that process for my first few years of being full time, instead of letting myself naturally develop and putting a little less pressure on myself. Again, just being full time doesn’t guarantee any results but, at the same time, if an individual consistently does the right things then they can obtain high level results. Look at some of those hard working athletes like John Buchanan and Euan Burton, both World Championship medallists but had a massive amount of work under their belts by the time that they were of the level to get global medals. Those were the two men that I would look too that got to the highest level step by step, that, perhaps, didn’t particularly set the world alight as juniors or young seniors however, persisted and through their effort became a couple of the best players in the world.
I have been guilty of practising tai-o-toshi, uchi-mata, harai-goshi, morote-seoi-nage. All those throws are in the same direction, at the same time as training those attacks I’d have no option (ability to perform) a rear technique, the direction an opponent would defend one of those forwards techniques too. I think building a system around a maximum of a handful of main techniques, but having a good, wide base and answers to any reaction the opponent may make is best for competitive Judo.
Just Do What You Need To Do To Win
Again I love Judo and have been attracted to some of the more beautiful, attractive techniques or attitudes, throw or be thrown for example. I’ve wanted big impressive repertoires. As a younger athlete, at times, I wrongly ignored coaches advice on tactics or areas of development. This is high level competitive sport, it is about winning, nothing else. If that requires grovelling for a contest or surviving then so be it. Whatever required to win.
Those Things Will Always Be There For You
In my mid-twenties I noticed a (self-constructed) pull when the majority of my non-Judo friends began getting houses, married and having kids. I was living in the Judo Club at the time, was single and pretty skint. I would look at the amount of graft that I was putting in and would, somewhat enviously, look at those peoples ‘relaxed’ and ‘happy’ lives and, for the first occasion in my life, would at times question what I was doing. It took a couple of years of speaking to my friends and realising that some of them felt like they’d not pursued what they really wanted to do with their lives. Some of them felt their lives were boring. I also had a year or so of earning a bit better money in 2017, I bought some nice clothes, ate in some fancy restaurants, went to some up market bars. I didn’t really enjoy any of that for too long, finding it in the end to all be quite empty. Consumerism and society can tell us that we need these things to feel good or be successful and, that we should do certain things at certain times in our life. All that stuff will still be there whenever you do or do not want it.
Viktor Frankl in his brilliant Mans Search For Meaning said “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”
There Doesn’t Have To Be A Definitive End- It’s Okay To Fade Away
For some, planning a time to wrap up a career works well. I however spent years projecting, planning, and panicking in my head about when I would, or should, call it a day; after such and such Olympics, when I’m a certain age etc. I always felt that there would be a set date that I would have to plan and that that would consist of going from training full time to the next day being in a shirt and tie and off to work in an office. Things ALWAYS change. For a fair few years I concluded that I would finish after the 2016 Rio Olympic cycle, Rio came and went and I still had more to give and was still enjoying my Judo. Last September, after deciding to not compete at -73kg anymore I thought that I was finished, I wasn’t particularly in a good spot. A few months later, after not dieting and knowing that I won’t have to make those taxing cuts again, the idea of continuing at -81kg looked good. I am enjoying Judo as much as I ever have. And regards to funding and support, history repeatedly shows that the way the national governing body operates its high performance section ALWAYS changes. You never know what is around the corner.
I have met so, so many people that feel that they walked away from the sport too early, at 16, 18, 25, whatever. Aside from one or two virtually all of them regret it. You are forever retired. I know what it feels like when you think I should just jack this in because it’s not enjoyable anymore. If you don’t enjoy it anymore at least evaluate the way you are doing it. Could you do things differently? Try that before giving up completely. Could it perhaps actually be outside or personal issues that need dealing with? A year or two more of competing, even if it turns out to not be at the level you think you should be at, is better than a lifetime wondering “what if?” Remember there is a huge difference between quitting and finishing. ‘Quitting’ is giving up because things get tough, ‘finishing’ is completing, it is saying that this has run it’s course and I’m happy with everything that I have and haven’t done, I happily have no more to give to this. I can live contented with this decision.
Polar explorer Erling Kagge said “It is easier to take ourselves out of our dreams than to take our dreams out of us.” Which ever one you choose you will have to live with for the rest of your life. For me, the only one that can have me living comfortably is the latter. That alone is worth all the blood, all the sweat and all of the tears.