Once the transition from under 18 competition to Senior Competition was cushioned from the under 21’s. Even though this is still the case the difference between how you need to fight, the rule differences and benefits with success have never been greater. The changes for fighters at Senior level have great repercussions for the athletes success in the Senior Olympic sport.
This is no different in any other Olympic or Professional sport. If you do not adjust for these considerations then you will not transition from success at cadet, junior or even under 21 level to success at Senior level sport.
There are many examples of this and also many examples of losing talent and possible medal winning athletes at this stage.
We know that the age between 14 and 20 can bring many social, academic and career obstacles that prevent a smooth transition but as a coach and support team member we can help with this. But only with education.
In regards to the areas a coach must focus on we must consider how the ‘game’ changes within the technical, cognitive, physical and rule change environment. There is a lot a coach needs to focus on.
The physical change at senior level means that athletes are stronger, quicker and all well conditioned. As the sport transitions further into the Olympic programme all athletes have access to a certain level of support in their physical preparation in S&C, physiology, nutrition, prehab and equipment/supplements etc.
So you have to meet the minimum requirements (which are high) and then tweak and become creative in making the ‘inch gains’ for giving you an edge.
Because of the competitors experience at senior level (been doing it a long time) the athletes understanding of distance, timing, technique set-up, tatami control, footwork positions all improve. Also, their rounds of sparring and competitive competition bouts has allowed for some to have better gamesmanship and ‘tricks of the trade’. You only have to look at amateur boxing to professional boxing to see how athletes must make fundamental changes to their technique and competence levels to go further as a professional.
Contact level and completion of technique becomes much more important for a senior competitor. Both being able to sustain contact and also give contact in the rules of the game allows for you to have advantages over your competitor at senior level. The higher the technical level of the competition (Premier league) compared to National level, the more important these issue are.
Cognitive changes need to occur so the athlete is able to actually do the ‘things’ he/she used to do at a younger age group and then replicate it at Senior level. There are many athletes that could execute combinations, head kicks etc in the Junior ranks and below but struggle to do this at senior level. Reasons? There are many and all need to be done better – kick preparation, execution, distance, timing, finish and attitude.
Levels of focus and anxiety control must be controlled at the different elements of the competition. Preparation day, round day and finals day (1st,2nd and 3rd).
Men (3 minutes), Women (3 minutes). You have to be conditioned to a level where you can execute at will, the fine technical needs that sport karate asks from its athletes.
This is an important point as Karate, as a combat sport, is more about prime execution than even a full contact sport because the referees and judges are looking for the technique to show the aggression, competence and finish to score it. Not the person being concussed or knocked out. You won’t score a rushed technique or poor finish in a point combat sport like you would when compared to knocking the opponent out. A knockout or forced finish can be achieved sometimes with a poor quality strike.
You need your lungs and heart to be working as well in the first minute of the fight to the last minute of the fight. This also needs to be done over a long season (January to December) with a summer break from (mid/end of July through August).
Checklist for Senior success
• Fighting zones (you can’t stay in as long) at senior level.• Readiness to attack / hesitation at International Senior level is the difference between early round exits and final round wins.• Physicality of fight needs to be considered.• S&C must been more structured and planned but technical drills in the ‘dojo’ must relate to the intensity of senior fighting. It’s not the same game! This has never been more obvious than now.• Cognitive training must overlap again to the ‘Dojo’. Not just in isolation. A coaches understanding of this must been much higher in the senior level of the sport.• An overlapping of the different support disciplines allow for the karate coach to get the desired result on the tatami at competition time.• Planning. What does the Olympics change?? You can’t guess, blag or hope for the best! Information is plentiful but how to use the information is what differentiates the average, good, very good to the best of the best!• The only success you will have is with a team to support you. The analogy we all understand is building a house. We are not building your ‘run of the mill’ house on a housing development. This is the state of the art house with the latest technology, eco system, materials and it’s on a hill. You need master craftsmanship and team excellence to achieve the best results, which last!• Drilling, coaching style and reviewing needs to change and be a planned, well executed and reviewed system and then put in place.• ‘In’ Dojo and ‘Out’ Dojo strength and conditioning will be very close to the technical coaching elements of the club, association or National team.
Success as a coach in the future will be all about bringing cadets and juniors through to the senior rankings and being medal performing. Remember success at the younger age groups is no guarantee of senior success unless it has been well guided and planned!
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Vic Charles MBE 8th DanFormer England National Coach and England Performance ManagerMervyn Etienne 6th Dan MScCognitive Performance Coach and Lecturer Birkbeck, University of LondonPaul Simmons 6th Dan MSc, BSc (Hons) MAAFCertified S&C Coach NSCA & ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist, USADale Gamble 7th Dan, WKF Referee British & English Karate Federation Chief Referee