Nick Delpopolo Interview
Thank you all who took the time and sent questions to Nick Delpopolo! We were thrilled to see so many great questions. Here is the interview:
1. If our NGB offered funding that was closer to most European and Asian countries, what would be the most immediate impact for our current athletes?
If our NGB offered funding like most European/Asian countries do, the immediate impact would be more incentive for athletes to compete and more opportunities to travel and train world wide. Long term impacts would most likely be more depth at each weight category, better/consistent results, and less people shortening their careers due to lack of funds which seems to be a common problem among athletes in general. The problem here is most of the countries we are comparing ourselves with have government funding and real fan base unlike the United States.
2. When you are 110 years old and telling stories to the little Judoka what is the first one you tell them?
When I grow old the first story I will tell almost any young judoka is more of a life lesson and philosophy of Judo rather than a story. Something to the nature of never giving up, fall down 7 times and get up 8, and always making sure you have given your very best. I think Judo teaches this life lesson to a tee and it is one of the reasons I have loved it for the past 20 years of my life.
3. When did you know or realize that you were in a different level, and what factors training wise, can you attribute to getting you there?
I first realized I was at a different level somewhere in 2010. I won many international medals and beat opponents whom I wasn't sure if I could beat. I trained extremely hard, tried many different training methods, suffered many losses, injuries, and mono along the way but kept pushing because I knew I would eventually get my payoff.
4. What do you eat on a day before a competition, and on a day of competition?
The day before competition I try to eat a good mxiture of carbohydrates and protein depending on what is available to me. The day of competition I like to eat something light for breakfast, preferably without grease, and try to find tha happy medium between empty and stuffed. If I eat too much I tend to be sluggish but if I eat to little, I find there is a lack of energy. This can be difficult and requires some trial and error but athletes need to realize everyone is different and some things are going to work for some that won't necessarily work for others.
5. What advice would you give to a brown belt aspiring to make the Olympic team?
The advice I would give to a brown belt trying to make the Olympic Team is have many short terms goals leading to the long term goal of making an Olympic Team. For instance, a short term goal could be improving one's gripping, adding a new technique to one's arsenal, or medaling at a local/regional tournament. Then, set higher goals such as a Sr. national medal, getting on USJUDO's point roster, or beating a nemesis that has given you trouble in prior matchups. I find this method of goal setting is helpful rather than striving for one ultimate goal because it keeps the journey fresh and always challenging.
6. What's your favorite non-judo related memory from an international trip?
My favorite non related judo trip took place back in 2009 when I viststed the orphanage where I was adopted in Niksic, Montenegro (former Yugoslavia). The trip was so valuable to me because it helped me understand exactly where I came from, my heritage, culture, and language as well as be very thankful for how fortunate I am to be adopted. Plus, it has been one of the few times since childhood where I got to spend time with my family alone and away from the mat.
7. I know that you have done online classes, how did you manage your time between school and training?
Managing school and Judo is difficult task, but only because I want to do my best in both areas. It can be consuming, frustrating at times, and quite tiring but the payoff of meeting a goal such as an A or a big international medal makes it all worthwhile. When both goals are meant, I get a satisfactory feeling where I want to continue to give my best so success keeps happening. But to tell you the truth, I have to either stay or up or wake up extremely early to finish assignments due even though I may not want to.
8. What made you begin doing seminars at non-Judo martial arts academies and what differences, if any, do you find teaching at them vs. Judo schools?
Meeting new people, expanding my brand so to speak, improving my own Judo, and income made me start teaching Judo seminars in the first place. What made me start doing seminars at non Judo academies was to see what the other side of the fence looked like. I really enjoy teaching at BJJ academies because I learn new things as I teach them new techniques. I find it is more challenging teaching wrestlers, grapplers, or BJJ practitioners for a variety of reasons such as different rules, no gi, different counters, different scoring, etc. This allows me to find new alternatives and answers for each and every practitioner which in result helps my judo knowledge and game.
9. I want help to practice judo!
A good way to improve your judo quickly is to focus on one or two particular things such as a throw, choke, a gripping scheme, a counter, etc. Once you find what you want to improve, you must practice this until it is as close to as perfect as possible, then add movement, resistance, and possible counters to whatever you are practicing to make sure it is competition ready.
10. It's 5 days before a shiai. How do you spend the next few days on tatami?
If it is 5 days before shiai, there is no need to try and add something new or try to improve upon something because there just isn't enough time. Instead, I focus on sharpening what I'm already good at and game plan for possible opponents and styles depending on where I am competing. I practice as if I'm competing so it simulates competition and most importantly I keep things positive no matter what so I can be as confident as possible heading into the shiai.
11. What would you change or what do you think would be the best changes for the sport? rules, customs, anything…?
In my honest opinion I like the new rules because it forces the players to lock up and see who is better immediately. I may have a bias because it helps my game somewhat but the percentage of matches won by ippon and scores has increased greatly. I realize many are not in favor of the new rules and I hear them but they also have to realize what the IJF is going for which I believe is a more exciting fan friendly sport. I also realize there is a lot of penalizing but the judoka will adjust and in time there won't nearly be as much penalizing and more scoring.
12. What other sports do you like to play?
This answer may sound cliche but I like all sports of any kind. Give me a hoop and I will play basketball, a pigskin and it's football. I really enjoy sports closely related to Judo such as wrestling and BJJ but enjoy sports such as golf, bowling, pool, anything. Although, I can’t be accused of being good at many of these activities I still enjoy the challenge and the competitive spirit of any sport.
13. Psychologically, where do you like to be prior to a contest?
Psychologically, I find that I can't get too hyped up nor can I be falling asleep. I'm not the type of guy who will punch himself in the face to get amped nor can I get away and listen to music to say I'm ready. Somewhere in between is good for me because it can allow me to slow things down or speed things up if need be depending on the situation.
14. Have your pre-tournament routines changed since the London Olympics?
My pre-tournament routines have changed in that I'm dieting, getting on a better sleep schedule, and on a different lifting and running plan. You must change all the time in order to improve. I will always look for different answers and continue to evolve in order to have the slightest chance at getting better.
15. In this world with so many professional athletes that are rude, cocky, and disrespectful, what do you do to keep yourself so humble and appreciative?
I don't know if I'm humble or appreciative, I'm just me and I think that is what keeps me grounded. I'm not sure if this has something to do with the way I was raised or if bad experiences with idols, celebrities, and such have driven me this way. However, everyone has bad days and we so often look at stars and their bad moments instead of the good they do like charity work, a decent gesture, etc. I can't say I know what the real public eye is like but I'm sure it can be consuming and irritating at times which leads to moments of rage. Understandable I suppose.
16. You have recently competed at 81kg internationally, is your mindset different or do you do anything differently when you are fighting at a heavier weight?
When I fight 81 kilograms I find that I don't get so focused on the end result and I primarily focus on what it will take to play well. This may be because there is less pressure since I am smaller, there is no first round match with Mr. Scale, or if it is because it has no bearing on my World Rank at 73 kilograms. I really enjoy fighting 81 because of these reasons but cannot make a habit of it at this time since I still am 73.
17. Have you ever suffered any serious injury?
The worst injury I have ever suffered (knocks on wood) is when I was wrestling in high school at age 16. I totally blew my knee out (ACL, LCL, meniscus), had to get 3 surgeries in 3 weeks and go through hard rehab for 6 months. I was pretty down initially because I was favored to do well in the state tournament that year but it allowed me to switch my focus to judo permanently and I can say it was a blessing in disguise.
18. Who is one opponent that you have been super eager to fight?
I would really like to fight the current World Champion at 73 kilograms being Shohei Ono of Japan. He has one of the best Uchimata's on the planet and is a right handed player with classical stand up technique. I think if anything, the match would be exciting and be a good measuring stick of where I am in comparison to him.
19. Would you rather be an Olympic Gold medalist in Judo or a 10th degree Dan in Judo?
Although both feats are incredible, I would choose Olympic Gold Medalist only because it has something I have had my sights set on since I was 5 years old. It has been the vision I fall asleep with every night, go into every training with for the past 20 years. However, 10th Dan ain't bad either.
20. What advice could you give to the youth?
The advice I would give to the youth is whatever you do, DO NOT QUIT. It could leave with with regret which to me is the hardest demon to live with. Quitting can also become contagious. If you quit at one thing, it will be easier to quit at another. Instead, find alternatives to make the situation better.
21. What really goes through your mind when you step on the mat?
What goes through my head before stepping on the mat are thoughts of fighting well and what it will take to fight well in order for me to succeed. I make sure that I'm not overly aggressive but at the same time not yawning. I also need to be have a good warm up leading into any fight, preferably sweating before Hajime.