Coaching Beginners (Part 2)

Coaching Beginners (Part 2)

From the moment your students enter your dojo there are most likely rules that must be followed and enforced. Rules are actual things we follow within the dojo, such as bowing on and off the mat, using Sensei when speaking to other coaches among many other things. Students should line up at the time sensei calls for it and there should be one straight line unless you have limited space or too many students.  There are also some rules that you may or may not be sharing and enforcing such as gi’s are brought to practice in a bag or rolled up, they are not dragging their gi or belt on the floor, shoes should be neatly put away and sandals should be worn when walking anywhere off the mat - these help enforce discipline and respect for the dojo space. 

After your class bows in, you can choose a leader to run the warmups and drills. I frequently choose a student based on their recent efforts in practice or competitions. I always promote effort over success. Keep an eye on the little things such as watching your students during the warm-ups and drills making sure they do all the exercises correctly. Use your judgment on what their abilities are and when doing drills make sure they finish the required amount all while doing drills across the mat space. Make sure the starting and finishing line is adhered to.  

A few dojo rules that are often overlooked are that during classes you are in charge and students! Parents are not in charge! Students do not leave the mat to go to the restroom or grab water without the sensei’s permission. Also, parents are there to watch, not coach. The dojo, especially during class, should have no outside noise - the only noise should be coming from the dojo by the sensei and students.


  • Creates an atmosphere of focus and hard work.
  • You will have the attention of all of your students when teaching.
  • Your students will develop faster.
  • You will be able to run a quality program
  • These aspects of discipline, respect, and ultimately independence is what parents are looking for their children to get out of martial arts. For adults, it is the atmosphere of the martial art itself which adults enjoy - a focus and disciplined training environment.

Most importantly, your students will learn life lessons that will last them a lifetime.


Judo is a partner sport. Today in the United States, this can be a problem as the number of judo participants is not as large as it once was and very small compared to the rest of the world. We want to teach all of our students to be good ukes but when we have beginner students this can take time and for some, a lot of time. Whether it is partner drills or all aspects of newaza and tachi waza, we want to be deliberate in choosing partners for our students!

Regardless of the size of your dojo or student base, you have to watch closely for mismatched pairing of your students. We don’t want our students getting injured and we don’t want them getting so discouraged they want to quit. If you have evenly matched partners, it’s okay to have them go more than once in a single practice. When your students are different ages and sizes you will have to be creative to find the drills that will best work with the students you have (especially personalities when it comes to children). When you are leading practices and training sessions, you cannot just “punch a clock.” You have to be invested in your students’ success.

Remember every student is different and will develop differently, some will advance faster than others. This is normal so never get discouraged and always use positive reinforcement to encourage your students. I always end my classes on a high note. No matter how hard the class is, your students should leave the class on a positive note.

My next coaches call will be on Sunday, February 18th at 12:00pm EST!

It is my hope as Head Coach at the American Judo System that we can bring coaches together from all levels, dojos and the country and give you access to the knowledge we have. Our team is full of coaches who are eager to grow the sport from the Basic Level to the Elite Level. We are also unique in the fact that Jimmy Pedro and I, have experience in coaching all the areas aforementioned (Day One to Olympic Podium). We are excited to share our experience and systems with you. I also hope that you will share your knowledge and experience with us because if we are going to grow Judo we must work together!

Thank you for your time and I look forward to working with you!

Happy Holidays!

Steve Cohen
US Olympian & US Olympic Coach
Head Coach, American Judo System

P.S. Please email me at with any questions, comments, or topics you may want me to cover.

About Steve Cohen
Steve Cohen has been doing judo for over 60 years. Starting judo at the age of 5, Steve had a long successful competitive career ending in 1988 at the Seoul, Korea Olympics. Steve along with his brother, Irwin ran a successful judo program in Illinois producing the first Olympic Silver Medalist and first Junior World Champion for the United States. They also had many athletes on Pan American Games Teams, World Teams, and Olympic Teams. Throughout the years they ran local, regional, and national tournaments. Every Summer, they held a camp where the best youth and junior judo athletes in the country would come to learn and develop, and the best senior judo athletes would attend, teach, and train. Many of those young athletes that attended went on to great success as competitors. Steve became the National Coach for the United States in the 1990’s becoming the Head Junior National Coach for 4 years and following that became the Head Senior National Coach which included being named the Head Coach for the 2000 US Olympic Team. Steve is still active in coaching and developing athletes out of Illinois and works with athletes all over the country.

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