New Year, New Coaching Mindset

New Year, New Coaching Mindset

Happy New Year to all. I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season. 

I am starting my first post in 2024 discussing the many benefits and paths that judo offers kids and adults alike. Most judoka and coaches have an “all or nothing” mentality but there are SO many things practitioners can pursue from judo such as, but not limited to:

    1. You can enjoy the workouts concentrating on learning a skill without competing. 
    2. You can choose to explore and learn kata which offers you many different aspects of judo. 
    3. You can be a local competitor for fun. 
    4. You can be a semi-serious competitor that wants to compete across the country. 
    5. You can be a serious competitor with goals of competing on the world stage with aspirations to earn a spot on a World Championships Team and/or an Olympic Team. 
    6. You can be a high level competitor with goals of winning the World Championships and/or the Olympic Games. 
    7. You can choose to be a teacher/coach and be a part of a dojo.
    8. You can own and operate your own dojo.

    These avenues are interchangeable but not only help identify the type of training and learning environment each student needs. If you have students who are aspiring to compete across the country on the National level they need training partners so those who enjoy working out and learning but don’t compete are essential to the competitors success. However, we may not want to put beginners or people who compete for fun in the same room as those pursuing their goals of winning an Olympic medal unless we are sure they are ready! 

    All of these different types of judokas require different skill sets and they are what makes a judo dojo great. 

    My letters are going to focus on overall judoka development. These tips will give you the tools as a teacher/coach to develop your students and athletes (they are two different groups) alike and put them on their respective path to learning good judo while accomplishing their specific goals. With this knowledge they can choose the direction they want to go. I will be writing as if you have read my past letters so if I make a reference to a previous letter that you don’t understand you can find all of my letters on the American Judo website.


    As we begin working with our students in their early development years, which is between one and three years of judo, we must pay close attention to your students and their progress during your classes. I don’t look at my phone, I don’t workout with a student, I don’t talk to a parent or friend - I am completely focused on my students. 

    As I have said in past letters, judo takes time to learn and the positions we are teaching students are foreign to them, unnatural and just plain difficult to do. When doing uchikomi, nagekomi and/or randori we want to reinforce posture, gripping the gi properly, position of grip, body position and foot position. For example, make sure tori’s toes are pointed down when reaping a leg and the foot is turned up when doing ashi-waza so the bottom of the foot makes the impact. I know this sounds like a lot. However, if you simply do it, and you watch your students closely and make adjustments during the practice without disturbing the overall flow and momentum of practice. When you see several students making the same mistake, take time during or after the practice to address the entire class. 

    When students are struggling to learn a concept or a specific technique and they are struggling, typically they will revert to what is comfortable for them. It is crucial when coaching if you do not continue to correct them they will never truly be able to execute the technique or concept all while reinforcing bad judo habits. After a period of time when your students have been evaluated regularly, corrected regularly, and adjusted regularly they will adapt and begin to feel comfortable with the basic fundamentals. 


    When you are teaching your class, you are focused, you are watching your students, seeing their mistakes, and making adjustments every time you are on the mats you will begin to see judo in a different light. The mistakes that are made will become easier to identify. You will notice other competitors whose coaches are not as focused as you and see their mistakes very clearly. Don’t get me wrong, they are still passionate and invested in their students' success and do a great job at motivating their students but when it comes to overall technique and judo specific development, some things are inherently missed. However, you will be able to make quick adjustments when they are competing because you do it at every practice. Whether you choose to stay a development coach for those just starting out or move on to intermediate or advanced coaching, this process is necessary to have the vision needed to be a good or even great coach.

    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 January 21st @ 12:00pm est 

    Technique Development will be the topic of the call but as always, I will be open to questions and other topics as well. We will be adding video examples on how to develop a technique and what the end product should look like. 

    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) and 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! 

    See you on the tatami!

    Steve Cohen

    US Olympian & US Olympic Coach

    Head Coach, American Judo System

    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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