Tournaments and Competitions - Should your Child Participate?

This post originally appeared on the Black Belt Pops blog and is used here with permission of the author.

As your child trains in martial arts, it is inevitable that the opportunity to participate in tournament’s and competitions will arise. When these events are announced, it is inevitable that parents raise the question, “should my child participate?” It puzzles me a little bit as many of these children are already participating in something (soccer, basketball, etc). That being said, I would like to take some of the objections and concerns put forth by parents and put them “under the microscope”, if you will.

Before I go on I want to state that I am a father of two grown boys and a grandfather to a beautiful young six year old who practices TaeKwon-Do. I have been a soccer coach, a cub master a scout master and a church youth group leader. In short, I’ve seen it all. Nothing I say here is an indictment or condemnation on anyone. Parenting is tough and full of decisions; many of which we have no clue of what to do…we just have to roll the dice. I get it, I’ve been there. I offer these observations at face value, the result of 20+ years (on and off) in martial arts and 35 years of “life in the trenches with kids”. So here we go:

Does my child have enough martial arts skills to compete?

I can understand this concern if the student has been training for a few weeks, but if they have been through one belt advancement, probably sooner, they know enough to compete. Tournament activities are carefully organized by age and belt levels. The result is students are competing against others in their age and experience level.

Also, the events are age appropriate. For example younger students, say the tiny 3-4 year old age group may be participating in a basic skills test, say an obstacle course event. Something that would be very familiar to them,as that is a staple of training in that age group.

The same is true as the age groups advance. The events will tailored to their age and skill levels. So, is your child ready for a tournament….absolutely!

Should I wait until my child has a better chance of winning?

We put so much emphasis on winning in our society that honestly I’m surprised we accomplish anything. I have participated in almost every competitive sport within reason; Soccer, basketball, wrestling, baseball, swimming, football, handball and martial arts. Did I win all the time? No, of course not. Was I enriched by the experience? Without question, YES!

I would go on to say that I learned much more from my losses (not failures) than I ever did from my wins. Did I ever feel like a failure, no. Was I disappointed sometimes, sure I was, who wouldn’t be? But I learned something each time; how to get up and do better next time.

An unsuccessful attempt is not a failure, just an unsuccessful attempt. The only true failure is the failure to try at all. That is a life lesson which I believe is so important. Throughout our lives we will have up’s and down’s, we will succeed at somethings and fall short in others. When we do fall short we need to know how to get back up and try again. That is an important life skill that should be learned early. It is only through the valleys that we can appreciate how great the mountain tops are. Fear of trying is the biggest obstacle to a fulfilled live I can think of. So, give the kids a chance to shine, in the end you will be glad you did.

My observations over the years have shown me that the kid’s love to participate in these tournaments and competitions.It is an opportunity to see new things, meet new people and show off their stuff. They are not half as concerned with winning and losing as adults are, they just want to get in there and try it. So, do not let that aspect of it get in the way. Win or lose, it’s a win, as something of value is learned in either case.

Maybe my child will get hurt! (they don’t say it, just think it)!

Here is what I think about that:

1. Tournaments are very well organized and supervised.

2. Strict codes of conduct are clearly stated and enforced.

3. In sparring, contact is limited.

4. In reality, they will not be doing anything in the tournament setting that they do not do in class.

5. An injury is possible but the same risk is run in soccer, basketball etc.. Don’t let the term “martial art” play with you. In the tournament setting, it’s just another sport.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!

I encourage you to let your child participate a tournament at some level, whenever they can. It’s a great experience for them and they will learn from it and you both will benefit from it.

Tournament’s are comprised of several events. They do not have to compete in all of them. If you are uncomfortable right now with them sparring, let them compete in the patterns competition. These are not “all or nothing events”. Discuss with your child the options and decide where they want to start. I promise, it will be a day to remember…for both of you.

Until next time, TaeKwon


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