7 Ways to Support Your Child in the Martial Arts
Reprinted with permission from the Pride Martial Arts July 2009 Newsletter
A while back, a parent asked, “What is the best way to support my child in martial arts? What is my role? How do I strike a balance between being supportive and understanding on one hand…and making sure my child shows enough discipline to reach his or her goal?” That’s an excellent question. In this article, I’m going to pass along seven “little pointers” that will help you and your family benefit the most from your child’s martial arts training. Chances are, you are already doing some of these things. But it’s always good to keep these pointers fresh in your mind, because the way a parent approaches martial arts can often be the deciding factor in a child’s success. All these pointers boil down to one thing: taking an active role. This is no different than a parent who gets involved in normal school. It’s the kid whose parent takes an active role who achieves the most academically. The same idea applies in our academy. So, here’s my first tip:
Tip #1 – Watch as Many Classes as You Can
Listen: I know it’s tempting to use your child’s class time for a quick break or as a chance to run some errands. We all need a little extra time now and then. But actively watch as many classes as you can. That’s because watching your child’s class is the #1 most important thing you can do to support them. Something magical happens when you watch your son’s or daughter’s class. They’ll glance over their shoulder and see you watching. They’ll do their best to impress you. They’ll take a greater interest in class themselves and they’ll try harder. Your son or daughter feels visible when you watch class. And while we don’t recommend that parents give “tips” or “corrections” from the sidelines, your child does appreciate hearing you say “good job!” and seeing you flash a big thumbs-up when they’re on the floor (always focus on the positive).
Also, watching class keeps you in touch with what is happening in our academy. You’ll hear all the important announcements, get a copy of our newsletter, stay on top of upcoming events and discover which life skills you should reinforce at home (more on that in a minute). And you might be called on to hold bags or get involved in other ways. Keep showing your support and make your presence felt.
[For tips on helping your child succeed in class, check out 4 Positive Things You Can DO or SAY When Your Ninja Has a Challenge in Class]
Tip #2 – Reinforce Life Skills at Home
By now, you realize martial arts is not just about kicks and punches. Sure, the self-defense techniques are valuable, but we also view them as a way of teaching life skills such as discipline, perseverance, respect, courtesy and leadership. These life skills are everything – it’s what sets martial arts apart from every other activity out there. So discuss these life skills at home and reinforce them . For example, at dinner you can say, “What did Mr. Berry say about courtesy today?” or “What was the biggest lesson you picked up in today’s class?” You can talk about life skills at the park when observing other children or you can discuss them at the grocery store. Use all these situations outside of our academy as “teaching opportunities” – a chance to drill these positive messages home. If you don’t have a lot of time with your child, use “drive time” (to and from our academy) to back up the life lessons we teach in class. Talk about the word of the month (if you don’t know what it is, ask us). Ask questions to stimulate conversation and get your little martial artist thinking. Reinforcing the life skills your child learns in class is a great way to support your child’s martial arts journey!
Tip #3 – Encourage Practice at Home
I recommend two or three days a week in class for the average student. But like any other athletic activity, your child will benefit from at-home practice. Now don’t worry: You don’t have to go crazy and construct your own dojahng [dojahng = kwoon or dojo ~Sifu Mike] in the basement or install Zebra mats in the living room. Any open area in the home will do just fine. Or, if the weather is nice outside, have them practice in the backyard or at the park (forms look really cool outdoors!).
A good guideline for at-home practice is a couple hours a week…spaced apart in small sessions. See, studies prove that students retain information better in frequent, short bursts. So instead of a three-hour “marathon training” on a Saturday afternoon, space home practice sessions into short half-hour or fifteen-minute sessions every other day or so. Frequent practice helps develop “muscle memory” and instant recall in any situation.
Tip #4 – Err on the Side of Commitment
Repetition forms the basis for true mastery. This is true on the job, in academics and in any sport, for that matter. Martial Arts is no different. Routine in martial arts helps develop a student’s “reflexive skills” and the muscle memory I talked about a minute ago (for example, if somebody throws a punch, the student should be able to instinctively block without thinking about it). But – when the repetition part of learning kicks in, a student’s feeling of “newness” or “excitement” can start to wane a bit. This simply means they’re entering a new phase of their training. It’s also a signal you should remind them of the goals they set early on.
When your child reaches this phase, encourage them to stick with it. Remind them of the goals they set and the commitment they made. And, once again, use this as a learning opportunity. Explain to them the importance of showing perseverance and focusing on their goals. Give them examples of how YOU had to persevere to achieve something you wanted in your life. Remind them it’s not always “fun” or “exciting” to demonstrate discipline and commitment. However, achieving anything truly great in life will have periods of routine and repetition. Life is not a video game!
How hard should you push? Most parents feel they push “too hard” when in reality, they really don’t. I say, “Err on the side of discipline and commitment”. For example, a parent at another school recently said, “I don’t push my kid. If he doesn’t want to come to class, I don’t go”. I don’t think that’s a good policy: it goes too far in the other direction. Why? Because it allows a child’s emotional whims to determine their behavior and actions. Explain to your child what would happen if this were applied in other areas of their life: What if they didn’t “feel like” brushing their teeth every night? Or didn’t “feel like” doing their homework? Or they didn’t “feel like” going to college? Or they didn’t “feel” like getting a job? What would happen? Help your child understand that the lessons they’re learning now carry over into their adult life – and the sooner they start building their “discipline muscles” the easier life will become. (And isn’t building discipline one of the main reasons you enrolled your child here, anyway?). Encourage your child to go to class every chance he or she gets. Besides: it’s always the one class they don’t want to attend that ends up being the most fun!
Tip #5 – Attend a Tournament or Two
If you haven’t done so already, attend a tournament or two. Not only is it a lot of fun, but your child will meet new friends, hone their moves against new opponents, take their skills to a new level…and maybe come home with a new trophy to show off to their friends! Tournaments also rev up a student’s motivation level. They act as short-term “mini-goals” which channel a student’s focus and direct their energy. Students know they have a month or two to prepare for the tournament, so they work extra hard on their forms, practice their sparring with more gusto and take more pride in their techniques. I suggest families attend at least one or two tournaments to get an idea of how much fun they can be.
Tip #6 – Compete, Don’t Compare
Martial Arts is tougher than almost any other sport. It’s mind, body, spirit, emotion, everything – wrapped up into one. And techniques that are difficult to execute look simple from the sidelines. Because of that, in the past I’ve seen some parents expect too much – especially at the Tiny Tiger level. You can’t expect a Tiny Tiger to execute a perfect side kick or jump front kick. In these lower levels, our goal is to make sure your child can follow instructions, develop gross (and some fine) motor skills, increase their confidence, have fun and prepare for the next level. Our Tiny Tigers program helps us build a foundation for later success. It makes no sense for us to refine six or seven-year-old’s techniques. There is plenty of time for that later.
So if you feel yourself slipping into the mindset of “my kid’s technique should look a lot better”, try this: Get out on the floor and try it yourself for one class. Or even just try holding a deep middle stance for a few minutes. I’m serious. If you’ve never done it before, you’ll have a new-found respect for your kid! So don’t pressure them when it comes to technique. Keep the focus on having fun, staying committed to their goals and getting to class. It’s fine to encourage your child to compete with other kids in class, but don’t compare them to others. It sets up unrealistic expectations because every child progresses at his or her own pace. Appreciate your child’s abilities and eventually, they’ll hit their stride.
Tip #7 – Take a Cue from Other Black Belt Parents
Finally, understand this: The skills a martial arts student needs to reach the rank of black belt are the same skills a parent needs to guide their child to that same rank: Discipline. Sacrifice. Perseverance. Stick-to-it-ness. Focus. Commitment. Approach other “black belt parents” and ask them how they achieved their goals as a family. What was the journey like? What sacrifices were required? Was it worth it? (I think you know the answer to that one already!). Other black belt parents will help you crack the code on what it takes to get your child to the ultimate level…black belt!
Try these seven tips today and watch your child’s motivation and skill level skyrocket! And finally, THANK YOU for everything you do. The parents here in our academy are the “unsung heroes” of our programs and the driving force behind all the life-changing success we have in our academy! Enrolling your child in our school is one of the most valuable investments, greatest gifts and best decisions you’ve ever made for your child’s future. Great job!