2009 Program News

10/13/09: Spotlight- Ian Weithers

Barbados: Judo

IWIan Weithers knows what drives him as coach, and he knows how to accomplish the goals he set for his athletes and the sport of judo in his home country of Barbados. He also knows how to get the most out of any situation.

A veteran of international coaching clinics, he came to ICECP with a plan for making the most out of it. During an icebreaker early in the program, he was asked what nickname the group could refer to him by.

The fifth degree judo black belt responded simply: “You can call me ‘Sweetness.’”

“Coming to a course like this, it’s important to break the ice early to maximize the benefits. People have always told me how sweet I am and I wanted to make people laugh and start off right,” Weithers said.

Weithers uses that charisma, a passion for the sport of judo and a special way with people to pursue success for his athletes. He competed in the sport for only a short time but soon after found that his true calling was to coach it.

“I stopped competing fairly early, after the junior level. I had some success but financial issues and other sport issues kept me from pursuing it further,” Weithers said. “I went to London for my studies and when I returned I tried to get back into it competitively, but there was too long a gap.”

Because of his love for the sport, he continued training at Marine Gardens Judo club and competed locally. Even without full-time dedication to the sport, he was still one of the club’s top athletes.

As fate would have it, he ended up being in the right place at the right time. Marine Gardens’ head coach and owner decided to step down from running the club and he recognized Weithers as a piece of its next generation of coaches, along with Weithers’ brother and another club athlete.

“He had a vision for the three of us in developing judo nationally and he saw me going into coaching,” Weithers said.

‘Sweetness’ accepted the challenge and took the reins of Marine Gardens JC in 1994.

Today, he is still there as the chief instructor of the top-ranked judo club in Barbados. He maintained the club’s ranking on top for 14 out of 15 years.

As he saw success with Marine Gardens, he continued his development by attending local coaching clinics with visiting coaches from the UK and Canada.

“It was not until the early 2000’s, under our current federation president, that I had the opportunity to participate in clinics and courses internationally,” Weithers recounted. “In 2001, I went to Hungary to take part in an Olympic Solidarity program for coaching.”

Since then, Weithers has been to Pan-American sport organization coaching courses in Cuba, Ecuador and the US. He also spread out from Marine Gardens to the national coaching scene.

He is currently the head coach of the junior and senior national teams in Barbados. He coached teams that competed in the junior US Open, the junior Olympics, the Pan-Am games and the Caribbean Championships.

In each regional international competition since 2004 that he brought a team to, he has not failed to coach at least one Barbadian judoka to a medal. He is also the only head coach from Barbados to have an athlete qualify for the Olympics.

Not bad for someone with limited international competition experience and a short competitive judo resume.

"I feel more comfortable as a coach,” Sweetness admitted. “I find the best coaches are the ones who didn’t achieve as much as they wanted when they competed.”

Weithers remembers a conversation with Roy Inmann, a judo coach from the UK, that summarizes the feeling.

“[Roy said he was] a good athlete but he could not achieve his full potential as a competitor. That drove him to ensure that his athletes stood on the top of the podium.”

Weithers sees himself the same way. He knows what drives him to coach.

“I always felt I was capable as an athlete but I didn’t have the support system to make it to the next level. As a coach, I can help my athletes achieve that greatness.”

The greatness he seeks for his judokas include winning Pan-Am and European championships and winning a contest at the Olympics. He sets incremental goals that progress his athletes to the podium

“We had an athlete reach the Olympics and score on an opponent for the first time. My next goal is to win a match there, then eventually a medal.”

He also has goals for growing judo in Barbados. The sport has a sound structure nationally, but it is a minor sport with about 200 athletes, only a tenth of which compete internationally.

“Judo in Barbados is well structured. The foundation is there; all we need is more athletes and more support for coaching and administration. But the potential for development is there,” Sweetness said.

As the vice president of the national judo federation, Weithers explained the executive committee’s development plan. They are using a bottom-to-top approach, getting judo inserted as an elective in PE curriculums in schools.

“We’ll have youth taking classes in judo in school, then they will filter up to the clubs and we will go from there.”

Weithers will also use his ICECP project to help make Barbadian judo teams more competitive. His project involves talent identification of elite judo athletes.

“Because judo is a small sport in Barbados, the selection process is not great. Limited participation forces us to use athletes we wouldn’t normally select,” Weithers admitted.

His project will put more science into the selection process by creating selection criteria, properly analyzing potential athletes, selecting them for the sport and developing them. The grassroots development campaign of the national federation combined with Weithers’ talent identification plan will create a better future class of judokas in Barbados.

Sweetness can also rely on his fellow ICECP judo coaches for help. Dubbed the ‘Sweet Squad,’ Nabil Elalem (Libya), Igor Paskoski (Macedonia) and Tatenda Guta (Zimbabwe) already have plans for lending each other a helping hand.

Weithers and Elalem are conducting a certification for Paskoski in Colorado Springs so he can move up to his third degree black belt. They will send the certification to their national federations, who will submit it to the international governing body to have Paskoski formally recognized.

Other future plans for the Sweet Squad include periodically meeting to bring their athletes together, conduct training, exchange new information and technique and attend competitions.

So with the combination of a high-level coaching education program, an informative apprenticeship experience and a new alliance of international judo coaches, you can say that Ian Weithers’ time with ICECP has been sweet.