Tears and Trophies

IMG_0992 Team-MSOI attended their first Rocky’s Tournament on Sept. 11, 2011. I left my competitor’s hat at home that day, because I promised the kids that they would have my full attention for their first tournament. They’d have someone who knew the ropes, could get them in the right ring at the right time and could remind them discreetly from the sidelines when they forget to bow.

When I arrived at the Sugar Grove Community Center, Tori and her mom were walking out.

“We were thinking two hours is a little long to wait around,” she explained.

“Did you already pay?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Tori said, showing me the red “C” written on the back of her hand.

“Then come on in. Getting here early and practicing in a ring is half the fun.”

I walked confidently over to Teri’s and my favorite ring and sat down in one of the judge’s chairs. “Go,” I said pointing at the ring.

Slowly, the kids started filtering in and I ran them through their katas, individual and synchronized several times. I tried to make sure we took time to talk and just hang out in between.

Teri showed up, sporting her still new black belt. This tournament was her first chance to judge. I was excited for her and made her promise to tell me what they talked about in the black belt meeting. I suspected they just reviewed the rules and talked about the score ranges for kata, but I’ve been itching with curiosity for years.

The kids started off strong in Synchronized kata. For a while, I thought all of them were going to trophy. But the last pair to compete performed an outstanding kata, pulling first place, and knocking all Team-MSOI’s pairs down one place. So, one team received second place. The other group that was competing had been knocked down to fourth. There was a small group at this tournament, so the kids (all brand-new yellow belts) were competing against a variety of ranks during synchronized competition, so they did outstanding.

Most of the team members even remembered my instructions to shake the judges hands after their group was bowed out. Only one, who I suspect was too excited by her first trophy ran off before the handshaking. I caught up with her later, gave a gentle reminder and no one forgot after that.

Best of all, each Team-MSOI member was able to get themselves to the right rings at the right time with no help from me. It didn’t stop me from fretting, but it was one less thing to worry about at the next tournament.
Unfortunately, we got our first disappointment during individual kata. Tori, who had worked so hard during practice and at home didn’t trophy. She remembered to shake hands but, as she left the ring, her face was red and her eyes were glittering with tears.

Crap, I thought, I’m not prepared for this. I had helped the kids physically prepare for the tournament the best I could. I didn’t give much thought as to how I would handle the emotional let down.

This was something Tori’s mom had really worried about. She confided in me that Tori was used to succeeding…in academics. She hadn’t had much experience with sports and even less experience with failure. When I asked Tori to join the team, her mom was afraid Tori wasn’t emotionally prepared for the heartbreak of sports. I asked her to join the team because I believed she would do well in competitive sports. I still believe that.

“Those were good scores,” I told Tori. She tried to wave me off, but I was telling her the truth. The score range for kyu level was between 6 and 8 points. It’s been my experience at Rocky’s tournaments that, when the scores are in that range, a good yellow belt kata will score around 6.5 … maybe a 6.8. Tori and secured a 7.1 from each of her judges.

The simple truth is, there are some things you can’t really prepare a kid for. You keep reminding them they probably won’t trophy at their first tournament. You reiterate that getting a trophy isn’t the most important part of competing. But it hurts when you work hard at something and you don’t win.  It sucks big time.

Hell, it was about a year ago, I was in that very building, locked in a bathroom stall crying my eyes out because I lost a kata competition against Teri. I’m a grown-ass woman (allegedly) and if I can be reduced to tears over a local tournament, how can I expect an 11-year-old to handle it any better?

My immediate concern was ensuring that Tori wasn’t unduly embarrassed. Rather than send her back to sit with the team, I had her join me while I went to watch Jecca compete in indivdual kata. When Jeremy, her partner from synchronized kata, came to check on her. I shooed him away saying “she’ll be fine…just give her a few minutes.”

In retrospect, I think this was a mistake. I should have told Tori she got good scores and then sent her back to her team. They should have been the ones trying to comfort her and rebuild her confidence. Next time, I’ll trust the team to bolster each others’ spirit and keep out of their way while they do their thing.

The best part of the event was watching Team-MSOI member Nia blossom during her competition. Just like Tori, she obviously loved karate and had that …something that made me think she’d be a good competitor. Nia is a little on the shy side, however, and I didn’t expect to see her come out of her shell until her second or even third tournament. My favorite part of the day was watching her chase one of her kumite competitors out of the ring…repeatedly.

When I left the tournament, I felt like I won 11 trophies. Of course, as coach, it’s easy for me to have that feeling. Ideally, I’d want each of the Team-MSOI members to have that same feeling when they walk out of a tournament, regardless of how they feel their personal performance was. When we perform kata, it’s in front of the whole team and each team member has to say one thing they liked about the kata, and one thing they felt needed to be improved. What else can we do to bolster the feeling of teamwork within the group?

Now for the fun stuff:

Synchronized Kata: The sister team of Nia and Champaign won 2nd place in synchronized kata. Victoria and Jeremy participated but didn’t trophy but had a close 4th.

Individual Events:
Jessica, 14-15 Advanced Division, 1st for Kata, 1st for Kumite (Sparring)
Champaign, 12-13 Novice, 1st for kata, 2nd for Kumite
Jeremy, 10-11 Novice, 2nd for Kata, 3rd for Kumite
Victoria, 10-11 Novice, PBDT in Kata and Kumite
Miguel, 8-9 Novice, 2nd in Kata, PBDT in Kumite
Nia, 8-9 Novice, 1st in Kata, 2nd in Kumite