Kids in MMA Part 2

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Tech Sergeant
Nov 5, 2005
However it has become hammered into most of us that things need to be structured, that everyone should do things in an organized way. Children standing in formation doing callisthenics and executing skills on command may look organized, but it is ineffective. They would have more fun and get a better work out running around chaotically trying to achieve a goal that no one over the age of 12 can really understand because the goal keeps changing. Within a loosely organized structure focusing on specific skills in a game environment we can capture the best of both. The participants are having fun, giving it their best, developing specific skills, learning to follow rules, play fair and sportsmanship.

As they develop those skills they can be coached on how to execute better if necessary, but much of it is learnt through self-discovery. This self-discovery is aided through hints and advice from coaches who have made the same self-discoveries in the past. Children are free to experiment and make mistakes, and they learn from making those mistakes.

Adults need to look at the game from a child's perspective. The important aspects are simple. Have fun, make progress and not get injured. If those things are being accomplished then they are spending their time in a productive manner. Robotic like discipline and actually winning, as oppose to trying to win, are not important.

Winning can become more important as they progress, as they mature and reach adulthood some may choose to move up to more competitive levels where winning is important. But this needs to be their choice, and it shouldn't be too early. In an article entitled "What has gone wrong with Athletics Today" (1998) Robert Butcher states "One prominent psychologist spoke of her research, which shows that competitive athletes consistently show lower scores on scales of moral development" while describing the International Summit on Ethics in Sport" the main point of the article was that sports went wrong when we forgot that they are still just a game.

There is a lot of truth to this claim. Sports have become a commercial entertainment business. They are about profit and winning or at least the sports that the media exposes us to are. Professional sports are a business and they are entertainment. Fans will pay to see hockey players fight, so it is allowed and teams have "enforcers" who are not there because of there hockey skills but because of there ability to fight.

Basing youth sports and adult recreational sports off of this model is a mistake. Now we need to try and undo this mistake for the good of the children who got caught in the middle of something they had no control over.

One result is a new breed of sports, skateboarding, snowboarding, BMX, etc. These new sports are all about the athletes. The athletes get together and train on their own. A skateboarder will spend countless hours learning fundamental skills without quitting and without an adult telling them what to do. He becomes dedicated, he will get together with his friends and train and they help each other. He will have fun and develop his own skills his way. There are no adults on the side yelling at him when he makes a mistake, no one telling him what skills are important to him.

This new breed of athlete is at the far end of the scale. They are the ones that became so fed up with being told what to do and how to do it, of having their games stolen from them that they left them completely and went to one that there where no adults involved in.

This happens all the time, remember three quarters of children will leave organized sport by the age of 12. Many will move to other activities such as music, art, and "extreme" sports. These activities give them the opportunity to create and to experiment and the freedom is not be compromised by "adult created structure".

Children can be coached by adults in the skills but if their creativity is taken away by their coach they will likely reject that coach quickly. Sport should be no different. It should be coached and aided based on the children's needs and interests. It should help them develop creativity and adaptability. These skills will be more useful to them in life. They will learn to take responsibility for themselves and they will gain confidence knowing that they accomplished their goal, not the coach's goals that he threw at them.

So the job of the coach in developmental sports should be to help children reach their goals within the limits of that sport. It also must involve helping them realise what goals can be accomplished and how they can be accomplished. So if a child's goal is to play a forward position, it should be the coach's goal to help them with that goal. Not to force them to play goal because that is where the coach thinks they should be. Initially they must be shown all the positions and all the skills, otherwise they won't be able to make that choice. Even after they know all the possibilities it can better them to keep them playing all positions at different times, perhaps with a specialty. This will give them more variety and slow burn out.

So how does all of this work in the martial arts?

Well first of all, practices should be fun. Training should be done through skill specific games and children should be mostly coached, not taught. Classes should be organized, but that organization should be loose. Drills should be aimed at developing a specific skill, but this does not mean standing in line doing repetitions. It means working towards a specific goal and having fun doing it.

One basic skill in the martial arts is to be able to control the wrists of an opponent and not have your wrist controlled. To get free requires a small circular movement that exploits the weaknesses of the hand and it's ability to grab. This skill can be learned and developed through the use of a simple game. The objective is simply to control both your partner's wrists and avoid having them control yours. This will look chaotic and unorganized if compared to students standing in line taking turns practicing the movement required to get free. But they will have more fun doing it, and they will learn it better because they are working against full resistance. They are also learning the opposite skill, controlling the wrists and have to deal with a more and more skilled opponent as they progress.

Some things to notice about this game, there is no winner, there is no score and there is very little structure. But it is competitive and it is fun and it does develop a specific skill. Not sure? Find a partner and try it, it requires no training and is safe.

Now once this skill and others are learnt they can be combined to create more complex games requiring greater adaptability and strategy, but the skills remain exactly the same, they are just combined with other skills. Instead of just the wrist you may also control the elbows, the shoulders, the body and the head while trying to avoid being controlled.

Later other skills are added, takedowns, ground control, breaking away, closing into that clinch, striking, closing on someone who is striking, controlling someone who is trying to strike you. Through the use of progressively complex developmental games and coaching within those games skills are developed to a much higher level then any amount of standing in formation practicing repetitions can achieve. More importantly it is a lot more fun, so more effort is put into it and there is a greater chance of sticking to it.

What about discipline and respect?

Well there are two types of discipline: Self-discipline and the discipline that is hammered into you. Using this model self-discipline is learned through fair play and competition among friends. They are constantly working towards a specific goal in a specific way. They will impose their own discipline among themselves.

The same idea holds for respect. Some people are respectful, and some only act respectful. Forcing kids to adhere to titles and imposing artificial signs of respect such as excessive bowing and rituals does not teach them respect. It only teaches them how to act to avoid disciplinary action.

On the other hand children who want to learn and want to try hard learn a different sort of respect. They learn to respect others through their activities. Respect is required for peer acceptance. If they don't respect the rules of the game and their training partners they would quickly find that no one wants to be their partner. There respect is not forced and it is not artificial.

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