Part of the ritual of revealing the move to Hong Kong to friends and family was being asked the inevitable question “…but what about Judo?”. I found the question irritating both in frequency and insistence, repeatedly replying what became a rehearsed routine.
“Yea I’m going to carry on, I’ve found a few clubs so I’ll be able to train there.”
I couldn’t quite pin down the source of my irritation at the time. Couldn’t people see how serious I was about judo? Can’t they see how hard I work? Why would they think I would stop? Did they think I was just going to give up on my dream? Were they doubting that I would be successful?
Travel broadens the mind but it also broadens the geographical and temporal distance between your past experiences and the now. This distance allows you to reflect and gain perspective, to digest and dissect. I see now that I was offended by this question because it forced me to confront the risk I was taking in moving so far away from a setting in which I was making good progress.
The formula for success is one which is not concrete. We can identify factors which occur regularly in elite performers and using this information we create frameworks, pathways and rules in order to replicate these. There are ideal body compositions and fat percentages. Desirable personality traits and mental abilities. We know the perfect age to start a sport and we recognise that there is a period of developmental skill building which must occur before an athlete can specialise.
This information is useful, if not vital in creating a rich developmental pathway from grassroots sport to elite performance. In every sport, we need athletes on every rung of this ladder in order to ensure the biggest cohort of potential performers from which the elite will emerge. Failing to take note of these markers which contribute to success signifies extreme ignorance to the process of creating an elite athlete.
That’s where I come in.
According to the British Judo developmental pathway, as a 22 year old, if I am to achieve success, I need to be securing results on the world stage already. I should have 15 years of judo experience under my belt and have achieved medals across several levels of competition. I should be approaching the peak of my competitive career and I should only have a short amount of time left to compete before I retire, given that the majority of female judo players exit the sport earlier than their male counterparts.
The research of British Judo is extremely valid, displaying these trademarks would be an extremely promising sign of future success and a good indicator that I am on the right path. What must be remembered is that these criteria are developed by identifying the most common characteristics in successful elite performers and combining them to create a holistic athlete profile. These characteristics are seen frequently at the top level of competition, exhibited in many athletes, but elite performers don’t necessarily display all of these characteristics, further, there exists a class of elite athletes that don’t display any of them at all.
Creating a performance pathway to maximise the chance of success for young athletes is valuable, but this is not the same as creating a pathway for an individual.
My pathway has been convoluted. I came to martial arts on a whim at 13, achieved success in Ju Jitsu and moved on to Judo as a way to continue training at University. It was at University where I slowly fell for Judo, both physically and metaphorically. My background as a gymnast and martial artist meant I had the tools I needed to learn the skills, though coming late to the sport meant I was years behind in terms of technical ability.
Since then I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by individuals who are generous with their encouragement and belief. My coaches have recognised the quick progress that I have made in a short time, and encouraged me to compete and train at a level which challenges me. Small tastes of success at a high level early in my career showed me that I have the potential to be great; after 3 years or training, if I can perform among the athletes who have been training for a lifetime, perhaps I can match them and even outperform them given the correct training and adequate time.
At times I fear I come across as arrogant – who am I to think that I can be better than others? This way of thinking is damaging and limiting. It is better to ask “Why not me? Why can’t I be the one to emerge as elite?” I am not doubting the talents of others but instead placing confidence in my dedication and willingness to work hard. If you don’t genuinely think there is a chance you can make it then you really don’t have a chance. Self belief is a skill in itself and self doubt one of the biggest challenges.
As a late entrant to the sport I am classed as a statistical outlier. An anomaly. Generally, athletes that are successful have started the sport at a young age, however, an even greater number of athletes started the sport young and were never successful. Starting young is not a guarantee of success, nor is it a prerequisite and it is my belief that these anomalies can achieve great things if they are given the chance, or even better, create the chance for themselves.
I am working at creating this chance for myself everyday. I took a risk coming to Hong Kong and will never know if it paid off because I won’t know how the alternative would have panned out.
I’m now training with the National team of Hong Kong with my Korean coach who I can’t understand – and I couldn’t be happier.
I feel liberated by having some distance between myself and my competitors. I have the luxury of training selfishly, concentrating only on my development without immediate pressure to perform. There’s no urgency to produce results that show others that my efforts are worthwhile. I have a strong band of supporters championing my goals and to them I am grateful.
I owe everything to those who believed in me first when all I had was ambition and potential.