Kids in MMA Part 1

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Tech Sergeant
Nov 5, 2005
75% of kids will leave organized sport by the age of 12. For many it is not even their choice.

Some will get cut, and some will choose to leave, often not because they don't enjoy playing anymore, but because they don't enjoy the way in which they are forced to play. Youth sports have been taken over by adults who are out to satisfy their interests, not those that actually play the game, those that they are there to help, the kids.

Youth organized sports have fallen far from their original intent, to let kids play. Youth sports have become the game of adults, whether it is parents screaming from the stands or coaches screaming from the sidelines. Players get benched, they feel pressure to win, and they don't feel free to experiment for fear of screwing up and getting yelled at by coaches and parents.

Youth Hockey is a example of what can happen, parents fighting, refs quitting due to abuse, kids fearing for themselves if they can't perform. It has become a way for adults to live out a fantasy of being in charge of a team, of winning at their sport through their children. Their model is based of professional sports, where winning is the primary goal and bending the rules to do so is standard. After all their ability to win is directly related to the ability to keep their job.

But this isn't why kids play. Kids play to have fun. Who wins is far less important then having fun doing so. Studies have shown that the vast majority of kids would rather play on a losing team then spend time on the bench on a winning team. Games that kids play when left to their own devices reflect this. Rarely is there a clear winner, score keeping is often forgotten about and the rules will change to pick up the action if necessary.

Young athletes are not just miniature professional athletes, they are kids, and it seems that many adults involved in youth sports have forgot this. Trying to get kids to play at adult professional standards is not the way to keep them playing. With kids the goal is skill development, physical activity, creativity, social contact, and most importantly fun.

Children rarely participate to win, in 1999 Sports Illustrated asked children why they participate in sports, the results where:

72% - It's fun
22% - For exercise
18% - To be with friends
12% - For Fitness
9% - For the competition
7% - To stay out of trouble
6% - To be popular

From this survey it seems that competition is viewed very low in the priority list. What is important is having fun, exercising and being with friends.

The reason many quit is simple; they no longer have fun. This is often due to over organization and pressure placed on them by the adults who run the programs.

Sports have several intrinsic values that are a part of the sport. They are internal, within the sport itself. Sports by their very nature are physical, they are competitive, they are fun, and they develop a sense of teamwork and sportsmanship. External aspects can also be attached, these are the statistics tracking, trophies, belt colour and the league play structure.

External aspects can add to the experience, but they can also take away from it. If one person gets a trophy how many don't? If one team wins, how many loose? If that desire to win the trophy and to win the championships gets too strong problems will arise. Playing will turn into working. Players will fear making mistakes and getting benched or even cut.

They will learn to break rules to win if they can. They will see coaches screaming and parents yelling at them and their friends when all they want to do is play. Imagine your boss at work standing over your shoulder yelling instructions at you and criticizing every mistake you made. Now if you have a hobby picture the same thing, someone coaching you as you cooked, telling you the recipe as you cook and yelling at you if you deviate, threatening to pull you out of the game every time you get stuck in a sand trap, or giving you a hard time every time you miss a shot at pool.

The hobby would quickly stop being fun. It would become someone else's game, played through you. Kids sports are their game, the adults have a role, but it is not to take the game away from them. A chef could train you, a pool expert could coach you and you would get better and learn from this. But their role would be to offer advice and constructive criticism, to help you get better and develop your skills. Not to try and use your skills to win the game with them in charge. They would likely encourage creativity and let you make mistakes, and you would have fun and learn while doing it.

This is the way youth sports should be as well. The coaches role is to help the children develop skills and to provide the conditions for them to do so. Competition is a great learning tool, so long as it is used as a learning tool. If winning becomes the focus and then coaches take over thinking because they know best, children become pawns in a game. They feel bad when they lose and the other team becomes not only the opponents, but the enemy as well. Sportsmanship is lost and the fun disappears.

Within the martial arts world this is no different. I have seen clearly biased judges, instructors and parents who looked like they where ready to start a fist fight with referees over a bad call, competitors faking injuries so that the other person loses a point or gets disqualified and intentionally hurting a person to physically and psychologically disable them. All of which was done at their coaches/parents approval and often on their advice. Competitors who knew that they didn't score react as if they did, hoping the judges couldn't clearly see that they didn't and award the point. Star athletes break out in tears after being beaten by someone else.

It is not that competition is inherently "bad," it has just become "bad" based on an overemphasis on winning. Every hockey season we see news stories of abused officials, out of control parents, and abusive coaches. Something has gone wrong with our youth sports programs. Children are being treated as professionals, and sometimes held to a much higher standard then those that do this for a living with coaches that are paid to win and lose their jobs if they don't.

Now winning is part of the game, or rather trying to win is. In any game there is a goal and ways to accomplish that goal. Without that goal there is no game. The players of the game compete to accomplish that goal, that is their function. But actually achieving that goal is far less important then trying to accomplish that goal. And when the game is over, it is over. If everyone had fun then the game was a success, regardless of who won.

Watch a group of children play, it won't follow the rules, the rules will even change as the game goes to keep the action going and the game fun. Easily dominating the opposition is no fun, nor is being easily dominated. Kids will often change things to make if more fair if this is happening They will develop social skills, a sense of fair play and develop the skills needed for that particular sport, all while having fun doing it.

Adults can add to their experience by showing them how to improve their skills by providing the conditions and equipment for them to develop those skills. Adults provide safety restrictions and can deal with a child should they become too rough. But in the end the game must still belong to the kids, even if administered by adults.

If we take a sport that requires catching and we work on that specific skill there are several approaches we could take. We could stand the children up on two opposite lines and have them throw on command, or we could teach them the basic skill and then turn it into a game. Given the choice of throwing a ball back and forth or playing "Monkey in the middle" or "500" most kids will choose the game. Not only that, but they will put more effort into it and the skills will develop faster. As they play they can be coached on catching, intercepting or any other aspect of that skill. Want to teach them to catch ground balls add a rule that they can only throw ground balls and work off that.

Any skill that can be taught and coached can be turned into a game. As a game it will be more fun and get more effort put into it. As a result the skills will not only still be learnt, but they will be learnt faster in a more dynamic environment. This will mean that while this simple training game is being played elements of strategy and adaptability are also being trained. These elements are essential to actually playing the game.

So when someone tells you they are there to teach, not to play games, realise what they are saying demonstrates a poor knowledge of how to teach. Skills can be taught to a higher level and much faster through the use of games focusing on those skills. The children will have more fun doing it and will be more likely to stick with it, and give it more effort.

Watch for Part 2 and Part 3

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