150430_MedalIf I include the two Karate tournaments I competed in as a teen, I’ve participated in a total of nine tournaments without a coach.  Saturday (4/30/16), my 10th tournament, I found out that having a great coach gives me a wonderful boost.

I’m not talking about a coach who screams about what you should’ve done two seconds ago, or who runs you down.  I’m not talking about a drill sergeant, although I must admit I had fun pushing myself just to spite Sempai Drill Sergeant and I actually do miss him.  I’m talking about someone who provides “… a familiar voice, just like in the dojo,”  to quote the Sensei who generously offered to coach me.

While sparring in previous tournaments I often haven’t been able to tell who’s cheering whom, assuming I even hear individual voices above the general noise.  I’ve been too busy fighting my opponent.  Unless it’s obvious (“YAY Sempai Mommy!”) I don’t pay much attention.  I know I kinda hurt one friend’s feelings when I honestly told her after one match I had no clue as to who was addressing whom.  So when Coach Sensei sought me out and offered to sit for me, I admit I was a little scared that I’d tune him out too.  On top of it all, I have Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), which means that if there’s a lot of ambient noise, quite often speech sounds like the adults in the Charlie Brown TV specials.

I needn’t have worried.  Proximity helps – Coaches are allowed to sit ringside.  Also, I’ve been in class under Coach Sensei many a time, so I’m used to listening for his voice.  Because he and I have a good student/teacher relationship, it never occurred to me to doubt his ability to coach or to dread what he might say.  This meant I was ready and receptive to hearing him.  Also, Coach Sensei knows how to “project,” a term used by singers and actors to describe the act of making one’s voice carry clearly over distance.  Every little bit helped to overcome my worries and my APD.

Within ten seconds of starting my first match, I learned having a good coach was a real boost for me.  Throughout both my fights, Coach Sensei talked me through everything.  He reminded me to fix my weaknesses.  Coach Sensei encouraged me to use my strengths.  He told me to watch for patterns in my opponents’ movements.  I almost never get enough time to look at the scores when points are called, so it was helpful when Coach Sensei gave me updates.  Best of all, I heard him cheer before the points were officially awarded to me.

My very last score in my second match was a three-point roundhouse kick to the head.  I only needed one point to win the match, but I went for three points partly out of a sense of mischief and mostly due to wanting to please Coach Sensei by finishing decisively.  I got it – a good clean technique that did no harm to my opponent, and I heard the crowd roaring approval along with Coach Sensei.

“YAME!”  The Shushin (head judge) yelled.  As is my habit I froze, still on guard, keeping my eye on my opponent and making sure she stopped fighting too.  I was on autopilot for awhile as I went back to my place and bowed to the Shushin when he awarded me ippon (three points) and declared me winner.

I was stunned – I had won both my fights.  Gold medal – my first at the Intermediate/Advanced level.  I’m on the low end of intermediate and both opponents outranked me.  This was my fourth tournament in the Intermediate/Advanced division.  In two tournaments I didn’t place at all, in the other I got third just for showing up and getting spanked.  Gold.  I went through all the post-competition stuff in a fog – I couldn’t believe it.  After all was said and done and my gear was once again packed neatly, I sought out Coach Sensei and thanked him profusely.

Coach Sensei had some feedback for me and yes, I have things to work on.  I hear you black belts chuckling out there – you know exactly why it’s important to give both positive feedback and some challenges to grow more in specific areas.  I wish there were more words to describe how wonderful it was to have an extra pair of eyes and a voice to give me direction and encouragement.  One of my Senseis has challenged me to learn more about coaching so I can do this for other people.

I’m sure there are loads of applications off the mats.  I mean life – you know, the stuff we do that doesn’t involve punching and kicking people.  Yeah – stuff like paying the bills and dealing with small children.  Sometimes it’s nice to have a friend or even a professional be an extra pair of eyes and an encouraging voice for your “real life.”  I’m not very talented at writing about this, but I am acquainted with someone who is.  She also happens to be a life coach, and I’m betting she’s a darn good one too.  So click on over to Andrea Harkins’ website and give her blog a read.  You’ll be glad you did.

Author: Joelle White

I began training in Karate in June of 2014 after a 27 year hiatus.

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