Monday, July 27, 2015

Industrial Engineering Applied to Coaching

 Today, I was walking along the beach explaining to my lovely daughter, Ronda, about learning curves, a basic concept in industrial engineering.

 It's logical, really. The second time you build something, it is going to take you less time than the first. You've figured out that you need 12 widgets, so you get all 12 before you start, rather than making 12 trips to the widget cart. After turning your thingamajig over a few times and looking all over, you realize the 4 screws go on the bottom. The third thingamajig you build faster yet. Each one you make, you learn a little more how to make it better. Eventually, though, your improvements become so minor to be insignificant. The 11,001st thingamajig is probably not built appreciably faster than the 11,000th.

 How does this apply to coaching? Simply this -

 1. There is a finite amount any coach can teach you. 

When you reach that amount will vary greatly from one person to the next. When you start out, say the coach knows 4,500 knowledge units (KU, for short) and you, a recreational player, are learning at the rate of 15 per week. Your coach is busy, having to teach the same techniques to multiple people, maybe with other responsibilities, a full-time job, running the business side of a school, whatever. Plus, he or she is at the OTHER end of the learning curve, not learning as much from each new game or practice. If your coach is picking up 5 units a week, you are learning 10 more units than the coach. It will take you about 9 years to have learned everything from that coach. Wait, though. There are a few variables here. Let's say you are an elite athlete, training every day. In that case, you will learn 60 units a week, exceeding that coach by 50 a week and will have outgrown him or her in less than 2 years.

 2. An experienced player going to a new coach will almost always improve performance - for a while. 

 (In my experience, this applies to individual sports. I have no experience coaching team sports.) Go back to my point about the 4,500 knowledge units. Say you have learned 90% of what the first coach had to teach you. Let's assume, unlikely as that is, that you go on to another coach who has exactly the same quantity of knowledge. It is almost certain that the actual content of that knowledge won't be the same. Perhaps the first coach was better at standing technique and the second on ground work. Now, you are learning these new ground moves that you had not seen before and - remember the learning curve - you are improving at a rapid rate. Does that mean your old coach sucked? Nope. Does that mean the new coach is "better"? Well, if you define "better" as, "will help you improve faster", then yes.

 3. When several players all go to the same new coach, they will all improve for a while - until they don't. 

Because of points #1 and #2, you may see several players 'jump ship' to a new coach and all of them improve. All of a sudden, that new coach is the flavor of the month - until those players are not improving any more and start losing. Did that mean it was a mistake for them to change from the original coach? Nope. Clearly, it helped for a while. What is a mistake is that often athletes stay with the second coach far too long. Their rationale is that "I improved so much when I came to Bubba and so did my friends, Billy Bob and Eustace. He must be doing something right." What they fail to realize is that they would have shown that same level of improvement at Mary Lou's Just-As-Good Gym down the road.

 4. Coaches who "take" champions instead of "make" them often have a better reputation than they deserve. 

There are clubs in every sport I know who make it a point to swoop in when a player starts to show promise and recruit the athlete to their "higher" level club. Because they have done this over and over, with most of the athletes initially showing improvement, they get a reputation as a top club. They find athletes who are already successful and bring them into a new place where there is a bump in performance, for a while. Since they do this drill over and over, the fact that the crop of recruits from 2 or 3 years ago is not performing so well is overlooked. The athletes who are performing below expectations are blamed because, after all, it can't be the coach. Look how much better they became when they came here initially

.... The moral of the story - you will often get better faster if you get out more.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

BJJ is not Judo

Last week, I went to the new Gracie Barra club in Newport Beach to work out with Tom Reusling . It was a lot of fun. Plus, it is in a great location just a half-block off of the beach.

Although it was a good time, it was also a good opportunity for some reflection. This is NOT one of those posts on how "the martial art I do is the greatest and all of you peasants should bow before me".


BJJ does NOT stand for "Basically Just Judo" 

and I have to take issue with those who say that it does. I asked Tom a lot of questions about rules for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and those different rules make all of the difference.

It's not just allowing things like toe holds, knee bars or ankle locks. Those are actually minor differences.

I say that simply because there have always been people who will try to cheat in judo when the referee is not looking (just like there are those people in every other sport). I've had years of experience of protecting every single part of my body from anything anyone would try to throw at it.

The differences between BJJ and judo are in the rules and those rules are crucially different. For example,
  •  In BJJ you are not penalized for going straight to the mat,
  • Judo matches allow you, on the average, less than 30 seconds of matwork before the referee stands you up

You might think that for someone like me, who focused overwhelmingly on matwork that this would be an advantage.  That's really not the case. The difference between BJJ and judo means that there are fewer transitions from matwork to standing. You can go straight to the mat and once you get to the mat, you can stay there. If you take advantage of those transitions, like I do, a sport that has significantly fewer of them would require a substantial adjustment.

A second difference between the two sports is in the speed of matwork. If you only have 10 or 15 seconds to lock in a submission or secure a pin, you are going to do things differently. For one thing, you take more chances, especially if you are behind in a match. You don't have time to wait for an opening. You have to make the openings.  Defensive players are more successful in judo matwork than in jiu-jitsu because they only have to stop progress for 15 seconds or so before the referee stands them up.

None of this means that a person could not go successfully from judo to BJJ, or vice versa, but rather to say that those "minor" rule variations can make a major difference.

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Another cool thing to do is our Camp Don't Get Dumber Over the Summer site, with options for kids and teens. That's free, too.

See how nice we are?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Why you should never say someone is "just like my own daughter"

First of all, congratulations to Ronda on winning two ESPY awards, for best female athlete and best fighter. 

Today, for the 6,000th time, I heard someone say that Ronda "is like my own daughter". This happened to occur in the context of me discussing someone's fee.

I was just fed up, so I responded, 

Really? She is like my own daughter, too, and I remember hundreds of times of getting up at 7 am to drive somewhere to take her to a tournament and staying there all day long. For years, I took her to practice 7 days a week, driving an hour and a half or two in L.A. traffic to get there, practiced with her, or waited for her and then drove back. I made sure she did her homework, that she was close to whatever weight she competed in, paid her tuition for private schools, for judo camps, for airfare to tournaments in Europe, for car insurance, car repairs, parking tickets. I went to her parent-teacher conferences, took her shopping for school clothes and argued with her about curfew on school nights.

I don't remember you being there.

Tonight, my youngest daughter told me that she actually needs to be driven to meet her soccer team tomorrow morning, not Friday. So, I will be getting up at 7 a.m. and driving 90 miles round trip to drop her off.  Maybe one of these people who claim to "be just like family" will show up at the door to take her instead?

Not holding my breath, though.

I have four daughters, and I may be biased, but I really do think they are all wonderful human beings.

Curiously, it's only the one that is making a lot of money and on TV a lot that people claim to "be just like my own daughter". Coincidentally, all of those people are making money off of her.

Let's try this instead,

"I will try to do  a good job for the money she pays me."

That is a perfectly fine thing to say, you know, and it doesn't leave me wondering what kind of scam you are trying to pull.

Since I do NOT make any money off of my daughter (and also because I think it is a very worthwhile thing to do), I make computer games that make you smarter.

You can check them out here.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Want to run your judo / jiu-jitsu school like a business?

Do you want to run your martial arts school like a business and make your living doing it, instead of going to your school AFTER you do whatever it is that you do for a living? Well, don't ask me! I run a company that makes video games.

They'll make you smarter! Buy them here!

What's that, you say? You actually want to run a martial arts school ? Did you at least buy the games? Okay, well, fine then .... here is what you should do ... learn from someone who was actually able to quit his day job and run the martial arts school he dreamed about. If you live in Arizona, or are just looking for an excuse to go to Phoenix for a couple of days ... check this out.

On Saturday, August 22nd Arizona Freestyle Judo will have two, 4 hour blocks of instruction with James Wall for Adults:
  1. 4 hour Coach/Instructor Education Seminar - How to coach/instruct younger students ages 6 to 14 (participants will receive a certificate recognizing their professionalism in continuing education) - $50.00.
  2. 4 hour Technical Judo Seminar for all experience levels - Gi required - $50.00.
On Saturday, August 22nd we will also have a 2 hour block of instruction for kids ages 6 to 14, followed by a team-building party at a nearby water park - $50.00.

There will be a discount for those who register and pay early. For example, those adults who register and pay for both blocks of instruction early - $80.00 and a free T-shirt as a gift. Kids who register and pay early - $40.00 or a free T-shirt.
Coaches/Instructors who bring a large number (6 - 10 or more) of players (esp. kids and Jrs) to the conference will get a complimentary room. And will be able to attend Jame's "Business Success Seminar for Professional Martial Artist" free.
Interested? Contact Scott Decker at

Friday, July 10, 2015

Podcast Topics A-Z

Deciding to create a podcast, I thought I'd start out with a list of topics. Yesterday, I ran across a challenge to writers to write for 26 days in a row, posts with topics from A to Z. I thought I'd do that as well as the numbers 1-10.  In addition, Maria would have to do a different topic with the same letter. I included one of hers she had mentioned here for her.

  1. Armbars and knowing your strengths
  2. Book writing
  3. Compartmentalize- how I get so much done
  4. Don't Mistake Colleagues for Friends
  5. Every day we get better / Employees that don't do shit
  6. Friends aren't all created equal
  7. Games that make you smarter
  8. How not to get your sorry ass fired
  9. Industrial engineering applied to life
  10. Judo can be bad for your future
  11. Keep on learning
  12. Lego theory of judo and business - make sure it all fits together
  13. More worth than they are trouble - my feeling on children
  14. No one cares how you feel
  15. Obsession pros and cons 
  16. Perfect isn't your married name
  17. Quit thinking it's okay to be ignorant about math (or, let them code games about cake)
  18. Rules for when to shut the hell up
  19. Seriously, chill.
  20. Tech fields are so biased but I'm going to succeed any way
  21. Unicorn questions
  22. Vantage point on My Fight/ Your Fight (and other shit Ronda says that I don't agree with)
  23. When you're the expert, you're on your own
  24. X-ray scanners in North Dakota and other opportunities
  25. You are you. That is truer than true.
  26. Zebra dreams
So ... that is a start on our topics. I'll get on to the 1-10 tomorrow. I'm still taking requests as Maria has not bought the microphone yet.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Stone Soup Coaches

When my kids were little, one of their favorite stories was "Stone Soup". It goes like this:

A poor and hungry traveler arrives in a town known for its stinginess. All of the people claim to have no food to share. He says that's okay because he has a magic stone that can make soup. He asks for a pot of water and drops in the stone. After a while, he says that it would be much better if it had carrots. Someone brings him a carrot. He adds, it would be better with some beef. Someone brings him beef. In the end, there is a terrific soup with all of these ingredients added by the townspeople while they are marveling at the miracle of soup from a stone.

It struck me that many coaches are like the stone. Athletes believe that whatever coach they are training with at the moment is the magic ingredient that is bringing them success, when the victories are really due to the work ethic, physical ability and skills the athlete brings and has nothing at all to do with the coach. Think about it.

You'll see a club with a lot of successful athletes and think it is the coach, but often when you look a little more closely, you'll find that those athletes all came from different clubs where they had been equally successful. If you come back in a year or two, many of those athletes will be at different clubs again, where they will still be successful. The common element isn't the coach, but the athlete.

I am not saying that there are no good coaches, but that there are far fewer and their impact is far less than generally believed.

Sometimes, when I see people moving to train at a certain club or a certain gym, I'm tempted to warn them, but I don't. There are a few reasons. First of all, they didn't ask me. Secondly, my own children don't heed my advice half the time, so what makes me think other people's children would. Most of the reason, though, is that people who are moving for the coach or gym who is the "magic bullet" are probably doomed to failure anyway.

As John Saylor says,

"The problem with moving to fix your problems, is that you take yourself with you. And sometimes, that's the worst guy you could bring."

For other athletes, that's the best guy. I have a nickname for those athletes. I call them "Soup".

Feel smarter after reading this blog? You'd be even smarter if you played our games.

Games that make you smarter - for kids and people who can remember having been a kid.