Loretta Cusack-Doyle: What judo can teach us about life

Loretta Cusack-Doyle has been actively involved in judo for over 40 years. Crowned world champion in 1982, the eighth-dan judoka today spends her time coaching and commentating around the world.

(CNN)When I started judo aged 10, I was hyperactive, dyslexic and found achieving at school very difficult.

I was exasperated with trying to learn, and I felt I was not only a menace to my family but also unable to channel my energies.
Too small to compete at first, I was made to sit on the sidelines for something like six months watching -- totally frustrated that I wasn't able to get out there.
Judo gave me that release, and it gave me that confidence to say I was good at something. Some 44 years later, that feeling has stuck with me.
    After decades on the mat, Cusack- Doyle is now a commentator for the European Judo Union.

    'An education in life'

    Three years in, I started competing for Great Britain. I found that both at school and competing, judo was giving me more and more confidence. It was also giving me an education in life.
    These life skills of interacting with other boys and girls of my age, learning about other countries, traveling the world. It just gave me something different, even down to learning a new language, which was Japanese.
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    You learn Japanese because your sport is Japanese, and all these words -- from Hajime to Ippon -- were giving me something more and something extra to what my friends at school had.
    Those memories stayed with me.
    The reason I started teaching judo, and the reason I continue to teach, is for the values it gave me -- confidence, discipline and respect -- not only for myself, but the people around me as well.
    It gave me those life tools to be able to encourage others, and myself, to go on and achieve more in life.

    A positive mindset

    You hear a lot of people in sport saying, "I did a bit of that, I tried and I didn't think I was very good so I stopped."
    For me, I learned the tools to say, "Well, if you're not good enough, just keep trying."
    As long as you put the work in, you'll achieve something. Instead of saying, "Oh, I don't know" or "maybe," you turn around and start saying, "Yes, of course, I will" or "I will be better" or "I am good."
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    Those positive values, instilled at an early age, helped me in adulthood as well.
    Now I pass them on in my teaching. It's so rewarding because I see some children that come in to my classes and they won't even give you eye contact.
    They look away, they're very shy, they're withdrawn. They're often just three of four years old, still hanging behind their mother or father as they walk through that door. They're terrified.
    But I just say to their parents,"It's OK, let them sit there and watch."
    Before you know it, they're creeping on the mat. Before you know it, they're talking to you. And the next thing, they're actually showing you. And then next thing, they're actually telling you.
    Very quickly they're an expert and they say, "I know what I'm doing."
    Then you've got the other extreme of a child that walks through that door with behavior problems, perhaps hyperactive like myself all those years ago.
    It's channeling that possible aggression or harnessing those behaviors into something that makes them very positive.
    Sometimes they come to it having struggled on the sports field. Soon they become very very confident children, they become achievers.
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    Humility

    Whatever size, whatever age, whatever ability or whatever disability you've got, you can do judo.
    And those sorts of steps of building a child up to be creative and confident within themselves, for me, are so valuable and so rewarding.
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    I teach in an underprivileged area. For me, the reason I set up in schools was to keep children there. As soon as they left school, they were out on the street, they were up to no good. Some of them went home to an environment that either didn't have family waiting for them, or their parents were afflicted by drugs and drink.
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    It was a poor environment. By keeping them in school and giving them something very productive that would build their self-esteem -- it was so much better than just saying, "Off you go, see you tomorrow."
    It made such a difference to anti-bullying campaigns in schools. As a judoka, the moral code means you support that. You protect others, even if they aren't in judo. You look after everybody else.
    At the end of the day you find a lot of judoka that are very humble.
    They're very humble people because of the discipline that has been instilled right from an early age.