Coaching Wisdom from Dr. Rhadi Ferguson

At the 2021 ATJA National Judo tournament, I was privileged to meet Dr. Rhadi Ferguson, a man of many accolades and much experience. He was a 2004 Judo Olympian, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, ADCC competitor, and D1 wrestler.

As impressive as his martial arts knowledge and ability may be, I was more impressed with something he said to a competitor who had just lost a match. It was what my friend “Big Mike” Davis calls a “Rhadi-ism,” and for good reason.

In the match, the judoka was pinned down but made no effort to escape.

I’ve seen this occurrence on many occasions. Whether it was in Wrestling or Judo, where pinning is a way to win a match, the competitor who was being pinned took an easy route and gave up. He didn’t attempt to escape or turn out of the pin.

On this occasion, the particular young man walked off the mat, head low and with defeat in his eyes. Ferguson stopped him and asked, “Did you even try?”.

As the athlete went to respond, Ferguson cut him off, saying, “Don’t answer that question to me.” I’ve written before about how our toughest competition is ourselves. In this case, the young man had no one to answer to but himself.

The next thing Ferguson said was, “You will never get anywhere in life without effort. You’ve gotta try… and I love you.”

That told me two things: First, even if we fail in our effort, we can walk with our head held high that we did the best we could. If we never tried, we chose the coward’s way out. It is always easier to give up, lay down, and perish in our misery than to struggle against adversity. If you want anything from life, “You’ve gotta try!”

The second and perhaps most important thing Ferguson did was leave the student with love. We can be hard on our kids and students, but they need to know that it comes from a place of love and not just criticism. When we discipline, are we doing it out of condemnation and contempt, or from a position of wanting what is best for our students or children?  

Lead with love, but also give them the tools they need to succeed in life and on the mat.

(Photo courtesy of Dr. Rhadi Ferguson. From left, Big Mike Davis, Dr. Ferguson, and Mark Fletcher).

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