Drake Judo Club has been keeping busy over the period of the COVID-19 Pandemic, successfully managing to acquire new and lapsed judoka of all ages, ensuring people can stay on the mat where possible and also keeping people connected through unity in tough times.

Join us as we talk to Drake Judo Club Chairman and Coach, Ross Taylor. In this feature, Ross kindly shares with us his and Drake Judo Club’s history, more about Drake Judo, their aims and how they have remained flexible in times of uncertainty to ensure judoka can get on the mat, remain healthy, fit and have fun practicing “The Gentle Way”.

What is your role at Drake Judo Club?

My role at Drake Judo Club is Chairman and I’m also one of the Junior coaches, I’m responsible for overseeing the running of the club and its satellites daily, the latter has me coaching a junior class and then lastly, providing cover for our other coaches

When was Drake Judo Club founded?

Drake Judo Club was founded in 2016 by me and fellow Dan grade coach Charles Knape

How important is it to you to promote the sport of Judo to your local community?

Judo is a Sport/Martial Art that enjoyed a period of when it was first launched in the UK of being unique and having no real rivals in the Martial Arts sphere, over the last 30 years this has changed exponentially with all types of so called ‘Martial Arts’ being advertised, Therefore judo clubs on the whole are at a disadvantage however this merely means a club has to be more practical, it’s should also be any judo clubs priority, The overall aim of Drake Judo Club is to encourage more people into our sport

What has been your favourite moment since opening Drake Judo Club? 

It’s difficult to choose just one, our first trip to the nationals, our first grading, our first national champion, recently seeing Max Gregory take a medal on the European Senior circuit all feature highly but if I had to pick one, it would be when we put together two teams from our club to have a team competition against Cornwall County, that was a very special moment for me personally

What was the biggest factor to success in increasing your membership following COVID?

We decided to look at Covid as an opportunity rather than hinderance, yes we did lose players as I’m sure all clubs did, but we took the opportunity to launch new satellite classes, we also offer free judo to under 8’s (SHO grades) whilst this does give us a large hit in income, it is an investment in our future

How has it been for you managing Drake Judo club over the past few years?

All-consuming ha-ha! – The role of Chairman can be very hands on or very hands off, luckily my involvement in judo in the local area before I founded Drake saw my involvement with two clubs where the chairman were very hands on, and I took examples from both!

What can people expect when joining Drake Judo Club? 

It might sound cliché, but we try to create a warm family type atmosphere, whilst I was taking my level two coaching Dermot Heslop told me the most important thing in coaching was learning the players name, if you turn up to a class and you are greeted by the coach by name, that’s a big deal, juniors won’t come to a class if a) it isn’t enjoyable and b) they feel uncomfortable or exposed

In terms of development as a player we have a pathway from 5 years old to champion, I am obviously going to sound biased, but I also believe we have one of the best coaching teams anywhere right now with Gary Gregory and Lewis Keeble teaching our juniors

Give your opinion on what is the most important thing clubs can do to get young and new judoka on the mat and lapsed members back on the mat?

Never be afraid to reach out to lapsed players, there is this rather outdated stigma that if a player stops attending then the coach or club takes the rather bullish approach that the player is no longer interested, whilst that may be true in some case in other the reasons are more complex, poverty, transport, bad experience with other players, all things that can be looked at and rectified, to get new players in we have done a number of things from demos to word of mouth, but following Covid we took the big decision to offer free training to anyone under 8, this has seen our numbers swell at that age

What has been your biggest challenge while managing Drake Judo Club?

The biggest challenge has always been belief and ownership in the decisions you make, there isn’t really a blueprint, sometimes the decisions you make will be bad, but you need to learn from them and move on, don’t let your ego get in the way of holding your hands up and saying you were wrong

Our growth has been extremely fast, from 2016 where we had two small classes, we are now the biggest club in the Western Area, this has proved to be a constant challenge, however I cannot stress this enough any chair or head coach or manager cannot do it alone! Getting volunteers to support you is the key, also volunteers very rarely volunteer! You need to approach members, parents etc and ask for help, don’t be afraid to do so

What do you love the most about Judo?

Wow big question, I think for most coaches or anyone in a club the most rewarding thing is seeing development, in juniors especially and not only from a skills in actual judo point of view but having parents compliment the club on helping a child become more confident or the child’s engagement or there behaviour away from the dojo has improved, that for me is the thing I love the most about ‘the gentle way’