FightLikeAChampion: How did you get your athletes ready for competition?
Willie Cahill: With
the Olympic trials in November, all of these guys are trying to qualify and
it’s all of these countries in the Pan American union. We placed eight guys in that tournament. So right after the tournament they were
asking, “so what’s their training regimen?” I told them, “Well for the rest of November
and December, don’t do any Judo.” They
looked at me and said, “You’ve got to be kidding?” I replied, “No, I don’t want you guys to do
Judo. I want you guys to STAY in
shape. Play basketball, ride a
stationary bike, jump rope, just keep physically fit, but not to the peak.” When January came, I told them the same thing:
slow down. You’ve got to be able to
train and get to the point of not worried about anything. So what we did with these guys was that I
went to a strategy to bring them down to a level to relax them, but physically
they’re still in good shape. When February
came, I told them to just put the gi’s on.
I tell you that I got so much hassle from the Olympic committee. They were saying, “What’re you doing? Are you
telling them not to train?” I told them,
“I didn’t say not to train. I told them
don’t do any Judo.” You can’t do Judo all year around. No sport can or else
you’ll burn out. Then February came and
they started working out. We went to the
ground work first. Then in March, they
started doing some throws and in April they started doing Judo. In April, May, June, July, and August they
went all out in Judo. In September, we
won the World’s. I did a graph, and I
wanted them to hit their peak here (he raises his finger pointing to the air at
Mike Pechina: I just tried to do everything I could because
once I got my physical and conditioning game on, I felt my mental game followed. I just trained everyday. I would start training three to four months
out. I’ve visited the Olympic Training
FightLikeAChampion: With all of the athletes you’ve coached, what’re the few consistent things you’ve seen that allowed people to be successful both on the mats and in life?
Willie Cahill: Confidence and focus. I’ve got over 1,000 national champions, but beyond that I’ve got four guys that graduated from Annapolis, three graduated from West Point, two from Air Force Academy, I’ve got five doctors, a bank president, and Jackie Speier who is a congresswoman. Our club is a lot different. I’ve had a lot of Judo coaches come here and they didn’t like the way I coached. I’m too relaxed. They felt that I won’t get respect from the students. I said, “I don’t demand respect. I have to earn that respect and they have to earn it from me too.” I’ve got a friend of mine who teaches karate. He’s got a class where they all stand at attention. Even when he’s teaching class, they’re all standing still. No one is relaxed. Everyone is standing still. Nobody’s having fun. He gave them a test. The test took two and a half hours. He invited me to be a judge. He said to me, “What do you think?” I asked, “Why do you make them do 50 push-ups and sit-ups?” He replied, “They have to be disciplined so they do this and that.” I said to him, “I think it’s a waste of time (laughing). I don’t care if the guy can do the exercises. I care about if they can do the throws right.” I think the whole thing is that they’ve got to enjoy what they’re doing.
FightLikeAChampion: Is relaxation a big thing to offset the nervousness before a competition?
Yeah. During the fighting part in
class, they’re relaxed and don’t get so stressed out. You know, talking about success…if I have to
describe people I’ve seen….I had a kid named David Perkins who had won the
United States Championships three times.
Then he went to high school and started wrestling. In the last two years, he didn’t do any judo.
Then he went to college and I didn’t see
him. I saw him eight years later at a
health club. And here comes David
walking in. I told him, “Man, you’re in
good shape!” He told me he tries to stay
in shape. I asked him why he didn’t
compete in tournaments and said to him that you never know; you may make the
Olympic team. So he came down (to
Mike Pechina: It’s hard to offset the nervousness. I was always somewhat nervous. It never fully went away. The more I prepared, the less nervous I was. It definitely helped my mental. All you can do from there is to step out there and perform.
FightLikeAChampion: What are the most common mistakes you see with athletes during the competition?
Willie Cahill: The one thing I see is when someone loses his / her concentration or focus. Some people get behind and that’s it. They break. I know it. I can see it. They just can’t get themselves to catch up. As long as they’re ahead, they’re ok. For some people it’s really hard.
Mike Pechina: The thing that I see in the modern day is that we get so stuck on certain techniques, as far as the Judo side. They don’t add their own out-of-the-box style to the techniques. And if they’re stopped on the mat, they mentally break. I don’t see them toughing it out and staying in the fight mentally. I think some athletes have a hard time thinking out-of-the-box. They stick with the same standard techniques and thought process so much that they beat themselves. Then when there’s that road block in the way, there’s not that ability to adapt to the situation.
FightLikeAChampion: How do you get them around that obstacle?
Willie Cahill: You’ve
got to get them to focus in and do their stuff over and over and over
again. You know one reason I got pretty
good at coaching is that I used to read John Wooden’s books (UCLA men’s basketball
coach who won 10 national championships in 12 years). You know you read his book and it’s common
sense. I used to read his books all the
time. I used to tell guys about
different philosophies that he had. And
they’d say that it’s not going to work for everybody. And I’d say, “This guy won a lot of national
championships! He did it. How’d he do it?” They’d tell me he had good
players. I would say, “Yeah, he may have
had good players, but you still have to motivate them.” You know one year someone interviewed me and
the coach at
Mike Pechina: I feel the same way about raising kids from the grassroots and developing them as people. There are enough coaches that coach the physically gifted or high level. There’s not enough that are willing to coach anyone and everyone from any background. I like to start programs for the working class kids and adults that incorporate “Subtle Judo” so that it’s accessible to anyone. I want everyone to enjoy the benefits of the sport.
FightLikeAChampion: What’s the most important thing to remember when you’re coaching your fighters?
Willy Cahill: Train hard, but right. This is where you think you can beat him: in the workouts. But then you get to the point where you have to enjoy what you’ve been training for.
FightLikeAChampion: How important are these small tournaments for athletes to fine tune themselves?
Willy Cahill: It’s important for them. Use the monthly local tournaments as a training ground trying out new moves. Attempt techniques you wouldn’t normally use. Keep practicing until you’re confident enough to make them work. Once it works in these competitions, you can move it up a notch to a tougher event until you feel confident to use it at the Nationals. Also, you’re still going to get nervous. You still have to go out there and fight somebody. It’s the same level that you’ll be scared when you fight at a small tournament as when you fight at a big tournament.
Mike Pechina: Small tournaments are definitely important. You’ve also got to spend time overseas. If you’re expecting to be a top athlete, it’s a must.
FightLikeAChampion: Do you have any favorite products?
Willy Cahill: The one thing for me with supplements is that I make sure they pass the drug test. That’s number one. We’ve got a company that we endorse. It’s called Usana. For the last four years, they’ve been giving the Paralympic team the supplements. I also like Agel. I had surgery on my leg because I had a blood clot and I started taking this thing called Flex (by Agel). It’s easy to take and I tell you this really helped my legs.
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