Q: When we first spoke about the lockdown in March, one of the topics we touched on was how long this was going to last. I thought until July. You said your worst-case scenario was September. At the time, I thought you had vastly over-estimated it. Turns out, that’s an under-estimation. Looking at the situation now, how long before you think things will go back to normal?
A: Yes, I remember having such a conversation with many coaches and most thought it would last a month or two. I was thinking the lockdown would last longer than just a few months but hoping it would be over by September. When we were planning things, we assumed that it would likely be a year before judo would go back to normal. That is why we invested so heavily in the online side of things. Luckily, we did that because right now we are back in lock-down again. I’m hoping that by the new year, we will be able to do some form of judo again.
Q: You’re very active online yet you recently opened a new physical dojo. What made you decide to do this in the midst of a pandemic?
A: Some people thought we were crazy to do so but we knew that getting back into community halls was going to be difficult. Each hall would have different procedures in place and some would not open when we needed them to. Without these halls, how could we deliver our online classes? During the first lock-down, which was in Spring and Summer, we were able to teach online from our back garden. But now it’s November and I, for one, don’t fancy teaching judo from my garden during an English winter.
Q: What were your thoughts when you first learned that another round of lock-downs was about to be imposed?
A: I was gutted. I feel the pandemic has not been handled well by the politicians in this country and now we, the people, have to carry the burden of lock-downs. In England, we have not been able to do any contact judo since March. Luckily, we have the online thing going but to be honest, I am looking forward to being able to throw people again!
Q: What’s your club membership like before and now?
A: Before Covid-19, we had 275 club members across five different venues. We also had about 700 children in our school's programs across 30 to 40 schools. The lock-down has really affected the schools’ program and by March 2021 we would have lost a whole year of revenue from the schools’ side of the business. As for our club, we have lost about 100 members for a one reason or another but, at the same time, we have gained a few new members, so our membership currently stands at around 200. We have always been a judo club first and a schools’ provider second. The schools’ side is basically our outreach program but we are not overly reliant on it. Otherwise, our business would have shuttered by now and I would be looking for new employment.
Q: What would you tell a coach who has never done online judo before?
A: Firstly, know that it can be done. When the first lock-down was announced, my wife said to me: “Tomorrow you start teaching online". I had my reservations, as I had only taught judo face-to-face before this. But I’m living proof it can be done. Secondly, make it as easy as possible for your members to take part. Use platforms they are familiar with. Try not to use fancy equipment. Keep it simple because, chances are, they won’t have such equipment at home. Thirdly, remember that people like social interaction. So, don’t just teach. Interact with them, make them feel a part of the community. It is important to keep them engaged whilst teaching. Lastly, upgrade your equipment as you go along, in order to deliver the content more efficiently. We bought ethernet cables to improve Internet connection, microphones to improve sound quality, HD cameras to improve the image, and so on. All this will be useful in the future, even post-Covid-19.
Q: What advice would you give coaches who are reluctant to offer online judo?
A: Just get on with it. It is too easy to find excuses on why you should not do it but there are so many more reasons why you should. From what I have seen with my club, my members appreciate the effort. In the beginning, they put up with my awful Internet connection, the neighbours’ dog barking and my terrible sessions. Over time we improved the Internet and I got better at teaching online. Unfortunately, I could not stop the dog from barking! The most important thing is to keep your members engaged and update them on what’s going on. If other clubs in your area not bothered to do this, good luck to them! But you should do it. Your members will appreciate it and they will continue to support you because of it.
Q: What do you think of those who say it’s better for clubs to just shut down for now and reopen only when regular judo is allowed?
A: I always say that socially-distanced judo is better than no judo at all. And if socially-distanced judo is not possible, online judo is better than nothing at all. For those who think it’s better to just shut down until full-contact judo is permitted, my question is will your club be able to reopen six months or a year down the road? Maybe the coach has taken up a new job by then. Maybe the members have all moved on to new hobbies or sports. Now, I do believe there is a limit to judokas’ patience on no contact judo. Nobody wants to do this forever. But what are their options right now? Apart from moving to a country where full contact judo is allowed, what can they do? At the end of the day, I think judokas still value their coach’s input and interaction, so as a coach, I think it’s important for you to give them that.
Q: Are your online offerings available to anyone who is interested?
A: Yes, we are offering online classes to all age groups whilst we are in another lock-down here in the England. You’ll get four classes a week which you can take part in from the comfort of your own home. A perk of online is if you miss a live class, it gets e-mailed directly to you so you can take part at your convenience. This costs £35 for one month. Those who are interested can contact me for further details: firstname.lastname@example.org