"Be sure to maintain your weight." is a phrase often spoken by instructors and coaches in many sports where weight categories are used to pair competitors. As the world becomes more complex, our sports have more and more rules. Judo is no exception. Where Judo competition used to be an open weight category, a refinement to light, medium and heavy weights was made. Today, many tournaments have further divided these categories into 10-12 pound ranges for various reasons. Some of these are:
- To give more players a chance to win;
- To make competition "fairer'' since players will be competing against others of similar weight, height and age; and
- Because that's the way its been done in the past.
Having a multitude of weight categories can adversely affect, physically and mentally, young Judokas. The ages between seven and seventeen are the formative growth years for young Judokas. During this span their bodies undergo tremendous growth and change. Most notable are the puberty years where weight and height gain is the greatest.
Unless an abnormality exists an attempt for the Judoka to control his/her weight during these years is a dangerous practice which can lead to health problems later in life. If weight control is necessary it should be done under medical supervision, otherwise the young Judoka could become nutritionally deprived. This is the long term effect of improper weight control.
The short term effects occur at weigh-in just before a shiai. Judokas who feel they may be overweight are easily identified for they are the ones who strip down to their underwear before stepping on the scales, don't eat or drink anything prior to weigh-in, or are exercising vigorously to sweat off a few pounds. When any of these happen a red light should flash and bells ring. Losing weight, even one to three pounds, in a matter of hours or less creates dehydration, and mineral, vitamin and amino acid depletion. Such depletion cannot be made up by a single meal or even a night's sleep. Generally the Judoka is weaker and will not play at his/her best. In addition it puts unnecessary mental stress on the player.
So why does the Judoka try to lose those few pounds? It may be that his coach or parents told him/her to lose it. Or it may be that the Judoka will find him/herself competing in a category against people not played before. In some cases if the Judoka is used to winning in his/her weight category they may fear losing the match. The same is also true of parents and coaches who may not be able to brag about Johnny or Julie losing a match.
Another and probably a more serious factor affecting weight control is the requirement to maintain weight within a specified category for state, regional and national competitions. Often there may be several months between these competitions and for the growing Judoka this could be very stressful and unhealthy. The Judoka could become obsessed with weight control to the point that anorexia or bulimia sets in.
Using 10-12 pound weight categories and requiring Judokas to maintain their weight within assigned categories, we, as Judo leaders, are not recognizing that these youngsters are growing. Perhaps the solution is to use the light, medium and heavy categories for local shiais. State, regional and national shiais could use the 10-12 pound categories providing the Judoka is not required to compete in the same weight class if he/she gains weight.
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