Joined: 31 Mar 2006
Location: Hays, KS
Styles: Taekwondo, Combat Hapkido, Aikido, GRACIE
|Posted: Tue Oct 18, 2016 11:10 am Post subject: Tips For a Martial Arts Parent
|As I enter another year as a parent of two boys who compete in wrestling, I thought I'd use the opportunity, of observing them practice and compete, to try to shed some light on what it means to be the parent of a martial artist, and what kind of things parent(s) should focus on when it comes to their children's training and competing.
During the time that I've been watching my boys practice and compete, I've also tried to listen to myself, the things I say, the things I do and the actions I take, and try to put myself in my kids' wrestling shoes and think about how it is they see and react to what dad is saying to them. In regards to this, I kind of have two perspectives from which I'm writing:
With these angles in mind, I offer up a few tips for the martial artist parents.
- As a parent who understands that the kids shouldn't be allowed to make all of their own decisions in regards to training
- As a teacher/coach that needs to walk the fine line of pushing his kids to excel, without pushing them over the limit and into burnout
When I say "be interested," what I mean is don't just sign your kid up for karate or taekwondo or wrestling, and then just consider it as "just an activity my kid does." If you don't know anything about the style your kids are doing, learn what you can about it. Try to learn something about its history, its technical aspects, the rules of competitions and things like that (there is so much more I'm not mentioning here).
If you are currently a martial arts practitioner, or have been in the past, and have a little exposure in this arena, then you've got a bit of a leg up, and might have some understanding of what your kid is learning and trying to accomplish. You might even have some level of experience as an instructor/coach, and that is even better. If you can engage your kids in a conversation about what they are practicing, and you know enough to get into the Xs and Os of the physical aspects of it, then it's easier to be involved in their training. I'm a firm believer that a conversation about practice shouldn't be relegated to a one question, one response discussion:
Dad: "How was practice, buddy?"
Daughter: "It was okay."
Dad: "Good deal."
I really think it's important to dig a little deeper than this. A good way to bridge the gap of knowledge here, if you aren't a martial artist yourself, is to take time to watch some practices, and better yet, after a practice you've watched, engage your kid in some questions about what she was doing in practice that night. Ask them to show you how to do that double-leg takedown. Ask them to show you how to do that side kick. Ask them how they were able to score two points, then three for rolling them over, but then got a caution for locking their hands. Asking questions like this shows that not only do you view their time in practice as more than just another activity you drop them off at for an hour or so, but also shows them how much you care about what they are doing in practice and in competition.
Starting simple conversations like this, early on in the kid's practices, can lead to more in-depth conversations later in their careers, when you might be able to mention something to the effect of running a chicken-wing and single wrist as a pinning combination, when their opponent is sucking their arm back, to defend the half-nelson. As opposed to the brief conversation mentioned above, you can have more detailed and focused conversations:
Mom: "What did you work on in practice tonight?"
Son: "We worked on takedowns tonight."
Mom: "Cool. Did you do single-leg, double-leg or something different?"
Son: "We mostly focused on cleaning up our double-leg takedowns."
Mom: "Did you remember to get that post-leg out there so you could drive?"
Son: "Yeah, we worked on that and on making sure our quick-step and drive-step are getting deep enough to really start a push on the other guy and keeping good posture when we take them down."
Being interested means making an effort on your part to understand the venture they have undertaken. If you show interest in their activity, then they will notice how much you care, and it reflects in their attitude towards what they are accomplishing.
This dovetails off of being interested and is also another facet that will come a bit easier to those parents with martial arts experience of their own to draw from. However, don't allow a lack of experience to prevent you from learning enough to be a bit hands-on with your child practitioner. A parent can pick up a few things here and there just by watching a coach/instructor closely enough to get an idea of what their kid is trying to do.
For example, an instructor in a taekwondo class might be really emphasizing the importance of getting the knee of the kicking leg up in a high, tight chamber for a side kick. If you can key on that point-of-emphasis, you can take that home with you as the parent, help your kid remember that aspect of the technique and cue them when practicing at home. You can have them practice their form and remind them to get that knee up when they come to the side kicks in the form. You can have them do repetitions of the technique on a bag or in the air and cue them to focus on their knee position. The kids will see not only that you notice what is going on in the classes or practices, but will also see that you have an interest in their success and that you want to help them along. It can be a great bonding experience with your child.
Obtaining some basic equipment can help you as a parent, when you want to be hands-on with your child's practice at home. A kicking shield or a target pad or focus mitt to hold for a few reps are great to have at home, and you can find some simple equipment like this that isn't too costly. If you have questions about how to safely use the equipment, speak with your child's instructor about how to use the equipment. The instructor might also have some drilling suggestions to offer you.
Even if you don't have equipment to use, or a broad knowledge of the technical aspects of the activity your kid is practicing, then just being a training dummy for them can be a big help. I've been a dummy for takedowns, a dummy for running switches and stand-ups off the bottom and the victim of countless half-nelson's and Iowa twists for pins. Just holding your kid's hand for them to balance and practice kicking is a great way to be hands-on with your child in his training endeavors.
Be Supportive and Encouraging
Challenges come along with any physical endeavor, whether your child competes within herself or against county, state, national or international competition. There will be wins and losses, joy and grief, peaks and valleys. As the parent of a child practitioner of the martial arts, it's important to be the support system for your child. You should be honest and realistic with your kids, as well. If you've learned to be interested in your child's endeavor, and have become hands-on with it, then being supportive and encouraging will be more meaningful, as well.
If your child has a rough day on the mat or in class, you don't have to sugarcoat it as a parent. It's important to engage them about it, and try to figure out how to get better and improve and how you can do it together. A great tool I've found that helps with this step is video documentation. If you record matches, forms practice or technique work, you can break it down and discover things that are working really well for your kid and that he should continue to work on for further success. You can also find things that need to be worked on, where a little breakdown in technique perhaps put them in a compromising position. With my older son, I've used video footage to show him where he did a really good job of running a switch and getting off the bottom, and I've also shown him times where he tends to try to work from his knees and puts himself in bad positions. Doing this helps us to figure out what things we can focus on to get better. It also lets him see it from a different perspective, so he can hopefully feel what he's doing when he's out there on the mat. Feedback based support like this is great. It also provides great memories to look back on and reminisce about when your kid has grown up. But, I digress.
It's also important to be supportive and encouraging in regards to practice sessions. If they really bust their butt in a practice one day, make sure to let them know you noticed, and encourage that behavior for future practices. Encourage them not only to work hard, but also to try different things. In sparring, if your kid has a bread-and-butter combination that really works for them, encourage them to try something different, so they can grow their repertoire.
Make sure to let them know that you are proud of them. Kids love to hear that, and it doesn't have to be said after a win. After a tough practice they gutted it out in or even after a tough loss in the state tournament that would have led them to a medal round. Let them know you are proud of them. This is easy when your child experiences the joy of victory, but it is even more imperative when your kid experiences defeat, whether it's in the practice room or in competition. Your kid will probably be disappointed, and that's okay. It's natural. As the parent, it's important to understand your child's emotional investment in what they are practicing and trying to accomplish, and be able to sympathize with them as well as pull them out of the rut and help push them through it to get better.
These points that I've mentioned above are all really great ways to help you get involved and interested in the activity your kid is getting into and will hopefully stick with for a long time. However, it's also important to keep yourself in check as the parent and not get too emotional and wound up over what your child does or does not accomplish. This is where learning to walk the fine line of being helpful and encouraging or pushy and overbearing comes into play. I've done my share of the latter, and I've learned from that, and I hope I can help a little here with not crossing that line to the point of no return.
Don't Be Overbearing
Often, children will show interest in an endeavor, only to decide that after the initial excitement has worn off, that watching TV and playing video games is easier than going to practice. As a parent, I know that playing video games, although a good time, will not likely benefit my sons in the long run, as much as pursuing physical endeavors will. So, when my kids whine a bit about going to practice and lament the fact that they didn't get to play the Wii U that day, I don't put much stock into their complaints. Practice trumps video games. But keeping that in mind, all work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy, indeed. And for children, all work (as in practice) can lead to a disgust for practice, which can lead to burnout, which leads from what may have been a potentially great career to a hatred for the sport based off being pushed to the point that it wasn't enjoyable anymore.
It's easy as a parent to get caught up in wanting your kid to be successful. Who doesn't want their kid to succeed? This can become even more of an issue if a parent sees that their kid has a bit of talent and, after having initial success, wants to push them more so they can succeed more. Do not overdo things at this point. It's okay to let it ride a bit. If your child has practice three times a week, try not to push them to spend the off days during the week practicing just as much. If you can find some time to drill a few little things, that's great. A brief, ten or twenty minute focused drilling session can really help clean some things up. But if they aren't interested in it at the time, then they won't focus much, and it can frustrate the both of you. It helps to keep it fun and light. Remember, you are their parent, not a drill sergeant. Give your kid the time she needs to get that mental break from practice and competition. As easy as it is to try to push them more and more, you have to be able to temper it so that you don't push them to burnout.
Don't Be Impatient
This is somewhat more applicable to parents that have had experience and success in the field they've entered their child in. As much as a formerly successful competitor a parent was, he shouldn't expect the child to experience success at the same rate. Things click for kids at different times. It's unfair for the mom who was a four-time state champion to expect the same thing out of her daughter, let alone be upset when her daughter's experience in the style is vastly different from what her experiences were. It's also important to not assume that because dad was a wrestler or a karateka or a judoka, that the son or daughter will follow in the same footsteps. I have not forced either of my boys to try taekwondo yet, nor do I really plan to. I might try to talk them into giving it a try when they get a little older, but I'm not going to demand it of them. I will make suggestions along the way, but I want them to forge their own journeys.
This applies similarly to a parent that has an older child that experienced success in the same venue. My oldest boy has experienced some success in wrestling, and his younger brother is now in his second year doing it, but hasn't had the same experiences yet. He's learning at a different pace, and he has a totally different personality than my older son. As much as I want him to experience success, I do my best to not compare him to my older son, and I don't make winning the priority. Instead, I put emphasis on improving and getting better at things he works on in practice. If he wins, that's great, and winning is a great motivator itself. It's important to me that I make sure that I'm not constantly comparing my younger son to my older son, because I don't want my younger son to feel bad or to feel like he's not living up to my expectations. Nor do I want it to cause any angst between the boys, and playing the comparison game would be a sure way to drive a wedge between them.
Along these same lines, it's important to be patient with the kids in the training room, as well. Our wrestling club divides the kids into different groups during practices, based on how well the kids are picking things up and how well they pay attention in practice. My youngest is still in with the beginners group, and as much as I'd like to see him on the other side of the room, he's just not ready for it yet. Moving over early would probably do more harm than good. Instead, I take it on myself to work with him on some of the basic things at home, helping get the movement patterns down so when he goes to practice, he's more prepared and can progress. Eventually, he'll get to the other side of the room. Eventually, he'll start picking things up and putting things together. It all takes time.
I'm sure there are a few more examples out there that I'm not coming up with right now, but I hope these few pieces of advice from my own experiences are helpful to a parent that is looking into getting their child into the martial arts or any other athletic endeavor. In my opinion, when enrolling a child in an athletic endeavor, the most important thing that can be developed and instilled in the child is the development of a good work ethic. Success can ebb and flow, but building a strong, consistent, work ethic is truly a trait that kids will take with them and put to use throughout their lives and will pay dividends on anything they try to do. As a parent/coach/instructor, I try to keep this in mind when my boys are on the field, on the mat or in the weight room. I hope these tidbits can help some other parents, as well.