Sunday, December 18, 2016

The pros and cons of centralized training

Recently, we heard news of British players, Gemma Gibbons and Ashley McKenzie losing their funding from British Judo.

Gibbons has revealed that the reason for this is that she did not want to relocate to a centralize training centre under the "World Class Performance Programme (WCPP)" located in Walsall.

"I was offered a place on the WCPP with funding but chose to decline due to the condition put to all players that they have to relocate to Walsall to receive this funding," Gibbons said on Twitter. "Of course, I want to be on the WCPP and I feel British Judo's strategy of a centralised system is the way forward, but as a married woman studying at a Scottish university who believes I am in the best place for me to train right now, it is a move I am unable to make. I therefore declined my place on the programme and the funding that accompanies it."

Presumably McKenzie also lost his funding for the same reason as he had previously stated that he prefers to train at the Camberley Judo Club. 

"... what I am trying to say to you reader, it's not that Walsall (centre of excellence) is not good for others....Because it might be, but I am in the BEST place, Camberley Judo Club, for me and my judo, no money or anything else will move me from here as I feel Camberley is the place that I can achieve my full potential."

There is something similar going on in the Netherlands. In the past, top judokas were allowed to train at their own clubs but since September, it became a requirement for players to train at the Olympic Training Centre in Papendal. Those who choose not to relocate and train there run the risk of not being chosen for international competitions. That could be a problem for the Netherlands because two of their top players, Kim Polling and Noel Van T' End are training abroad.

It's obvious they won't get funding but will they be allowed to compete? At least in the case of Great Britain, both Gibbons and McKenzie will be allowed to compete as long as they self-fund. That option might not be the case in some countries like the Netherlands.

This whole issue of allowing players to train where they like as opposed to centralized training is something many countries grapple with, and there are pros and cons to both sides.

The pros for centralized training are obvious. You can pool resources in terms of coaching, support staff, players, equipment etc in one place. It makes economic sense and perhaps most importantly, it allows the top players to train together in one place. That last point is crucial because unlike in Japan or France, most players in most countries have difficulty finding good sparring partners for randori. 

If you look at judo heroes of the past, many of them lived and trained in Japan for long periods of time in order to have enough randori. Today, many countries have improved in judo and perhaps it's no longer necessary to move to Japan to get good randori. But finding enough sparring partners is still normally a challenge for most players in most countries.

There are downsides to centralized training of course. Many players feel more comfortable training under their own personal coaches. And especially if the formula has worked well in the past, they want to maintain that working relationship.

For slightly older players, there are usually more issues involved with relocation. Young ones who are single and carefree could more easily relocate. Older ones might be in relationships or might even be married. Some might even have children already. They might be studying or holding some jobs. Having to relocate will really up-end their lives.

So, it's a tough call. But if a country wants to require its judokas to all live and train at one central location it must have a program that gives them enough funding so that they don't have to worry about a job. In other words, judo is their job. It shouldn't be just enough for them to scrape by but to live reasonably. And if some players are currently pursuing an education in their hometown, the governing body should ensure that these players get a place in a good educational institution near the centralized training centre. Otherwise, it is not fair to ask them to move.

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