How to Successfully Run a Multi-level Judo Class

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One of the biggest problems that we face as coaches and instructors is to teach classes of mixed abilities.

Often our classes are restricted by time constraints. There is limited availability of halls or Dojos as well as the booking times only being on an hourly basis. So we often have larger classes of mixed ability students and a limited amount of time to present our lessons. It may also be that due to numbers, in that we need to maximize our numbers within that hour to pay for the hall, instructors, utilities, etc. To stretch the membership across classes to accommodate different levels is just not feasible.

However, this often results with instructors rushing through our class and missing crucial parts of the lesson that are essential to the balance and positive progression of the class. Now I’m going to get catty here, but by progression I mean a true quest for technical excellence and the receiving of belt grades based on technical ability, not only knowledge of the technique. We need to know it, do it and know it and do it correctly. And this is wherein one of the problems lies. We don’t have time to do it correctly AND keep it fun, AND keep within the cultural timeframe parents have set of an hour and no more.

There are a wide variety of other problems too, like levels of ability, massive differentials in height and weight, and sometimes there are age differences in Junior classes of up to 10 years and senior classes of 40 years plus. These all combined make planning and coaching so much more difficult.

Where then do we start in order to prepare for such a wide span of physical abilities where beginners, intermediates and sometimes even National & International medalists are all in the same lesson, on the same mat, at the same time?

The most important place to start is with the preparation and planning.

To start with, the lessons need to be progressive and productive in content and each lesson needs to have a goal and objective. These need to be structured over a period of weeks resulting in an overall directive and goal. An easy one would be the 6-week school term allotment.

We have all been guilty of ‘off the cuff’ coaching. Often deciding the content of the class whilst parking the car or getting changed for the class. One pearl of wisdom I’ve heard over the years that has turned into a firm favourite is: ‘Lack of preparation is preparation to Fail’

Preparation and planning are the keys to success. These for me are the essential elements needed in order to be able to deliver in a constructive and productive way.

Where do we start when preparing a class of mixed ability?

We first need to have an overall objective for our class and we need to know to what level we are presenting. If we deliver a class that is too complex in content, the participants can quickly lose interest. On the other hand there needs to be sufficient content in the class to hold the interest of everyone involved as well as progressive content.

Putting an actual plan onto paper can sometimes seem daunting but if you are systematic with your approach, it really is not that difficult.

What we need to do is to initiate some basic principles when putting together a class structure and this means incorporating certain cycles of preparation.

Macro-Cycles

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A macro cycle consists of all 52 weeks of an annual plan including all four stages of periodization. Planning for all 52 weeks however usually refer to competition athletes who have a competition goal.

The main aim here is to give a birds eye view of an annual plan.

Looking at your competition calendar and plotting your competition objectives or your grading goals, is your first job. Then work backwards from these objectives and start to plan your Meso-Cycle and your Micro-Cycles

Meso-Cycles

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These are specific blocks of training designed to achieve a specific goal. These are normally over a four-week period although they can be longer and are often over 6 or 8 weeks. School terms for example might determine this block of time.

These periods of time however should be more specific concentrating on skills preparation, technical acquisition & analysis, endurance training or sports specific weight training.

These blocks would vary a lot depending on your students’ levels as well as their over all objectives.

Micro-Cycles

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Your Micro-Cycles are your individual lessons broken down into progressive steps and incorporating all of the technical and tactical elements as well as a substantial warm up at the beginning and a good cool downs at the end. It can be a series of individual lessons or just one individual lesson. They can range from one day a week up to 7 days. Each lesson should be cohesive in nature and have an overall objective or theme. It also needs to be progressive.

This is your chance to be creative and progressive with your planning.

So how can we deliver all of these things in a mixed ability class? The first thing is that we need to be organized.

Having a clear plan for each class is one thing, but if you have a mixed ability lesson with different technical levels and physical capabilities, then you need good support coaches & instructors to help you deliver certain aspects of the lesson plan. You will need to split your class up into your different groups and you need to asses each group and their needs.

If you have total beginners within a class then it is better to have a separate programme for these starting Martial Artists, starting with the absolute fundamental basics of Judo and introducing the principles of our sport in an easy to understand way. It may be that you need to rope off an area with in the mat area/Dojo for this, but do it and assign a high level instructor to the group. Too many times I see blue and brown belts being asked to teach the basics. These individuals are very unlikely to have the proper skill base and teaching training needed to engage the beginning student in a safe and suitable progressive manner.

Did I say progressive again?

Yes, yes I did.

To have good progression of learning (there it is again!) you need to have the correct starting point and the correct pathway which will pay dividends later on in terms of student retention. In other words, the student will have a buy in factor, “learn this and then you can do that”. They will want to learn more. We have all used the ancient guru “one day, Grasshopper….” analogy of divulging ancient secrets to the student from the mother country, but only when the time is right. Well, if it’s not broke why fix it…Grasshopper?

Many, many times I have seen the least experienced coaches assigned to these classes when really it requires a skilled presentation of the basics. This is where the whole process of learning starts, so make sure that the beginner programme is well delivered.

Whether it is the beginners, intermediates, or advanced class you assign to your instructors, you must give them specific direction as to the technical input you want them to have, and how this will fit into the overall lesson plan.

Your big plan needs to have a directive and your day-to-day lessons need to be precise and objective orientated.

So really the problem of having mixed ability classes is not really a problem at all. It is easily corrected by simply up-skilling your instructors to be able to deliver to the level of ability you want them to focus on. The buy in and the key (and maybe the true problem) here is to develop within your assistants that desire to progress themselves by up skilling, and to learn through teaching. We believe, at Neil Adams Effective Fighting, that the definition of a good instructor is one that can communicate a skill to a student so as that student is successful and they, themselves, can reiterate that teaching to someone else in the future.

I believe the future of our Art & Sport depends on it.

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