Team sports often bench the ‘not so good’ players as they focus on the ‘best team’ for winning. Karate is a social but individual sport which focusses on the individuals development.

The benefits of sports for boys and girls are very well documented, but there’s debate of how good team sports are for children; and that debate is heating up now that the traditional models of physical education at school, and of course how kids spend their recreation time, is leading to an increasing number of kids who are not as physically ‘literate’ as others.

I am among the first to say that if a team sport is something your child wants to do, is engaged in, happy with, and enthusiastic about, then by all means continue. However, the experience that many children have in team sports can be frustrating and somewhat harrowing, turning what should be an experience with lasting lessons into a lasting trauma.

Researchers say that children are happiest at sports when the following factors are present:

  1. Getting to try their best.
  2. Coaches treating kids with respect.
  3. Getting to play.
  4. Doing well as a team.
  5. Getting along with teammates.
  6. Exercise and activity.

The problem with team sports is that some children never get to play, and sit on the bench as adults play favourites and politics.

Others are bullied by their own teammates. Often times the pressure to “be a team player” leads to keeping silent about behaviour that adults need to know about.

Or sports are turned into a machine that chews up and spits out kids as the field is winnowed for the most talented.

Or parents push their kids too hard. Certainly, it’s not all sports and not all parents, however some fields are more fraught than others. I doubt you’re going to see a brawl at a rowing competition, for instance. In general, the more prestige that a sport has, the more fraught the atmosphere. The goal is not participation, not learning, but a grooming for excellence that few can hope to attain and one that puts younger, less coordinated, less experienced players at a severe disadvantage.

Winning, playing in tournaments and championships, and practice are less a child’s priorities than they are those of the adults. Everyone wants their child to do well, but there comes a time to pull back and ask yourself if it’s for them or if it’s for you. Do they own those medals, or are their accomplishments part of your brag book? Are you seeing bad behaviours from a star player rubbing off on the other kids? Or is your child so discouraged that they just want to quit? Martial arts might be a good alternative to offer your child, and to try for yourself.

There is no bench in karate! Everyone plays and everyone participates. Everyone gets a chance to learn and grow.

Individual achievement: Everyone starts as a white belt, no matter how old or young, and they rise through the ranks at their own pace.

Martial arts last a lifetime: Not many players get a chance to practice their sport into adulthood. Some will play through high school and college, but unless they enter the ranks of professional sports, they may find that they have lost the sport they loved. Karate is something you can do for a lifetime, no matter where you go, in and out of school.

Parents can play too: Leading by example is best, after all, and even adults can use the principles of karate in their lives.

Self-confidence: It is well documented that martial arts build the qualities that make good leaders. Researchers have long noted that martial arts change how a person views themselves, makes them self-confident, and believe that they can achieve their goals.

Your child will not always have a team around them, or you coaching from the sidelines. The must one day go out into the world on their own. Learning karate can give them a solid footing on which to build their adult lives.

How does karate training achieve this? The wonderful thing in karate is that there is no bench. In karate, with the right instructor, everyone gets an opportunity to shine.

One analogy is that kids are like flowers and they need constant water and sunshine to grow, otherwise they will wilt under the weight of discouragement. What can be more discouraging than working your heart out in practice and doing your very best just to be put on the bench by the coach with never a chance to play in the game. The bench is a statement that shouts out to the child and all his peers, “You’re not good enough!” This happens at one of the most fragile times in a young persons development. They need that encouragement and the affirmation that they are valuable and have something to contribute.

Karate offers an avenue for kids who are forced on the bench in other sports to play right along side the “star players” and when you get an opportunity to play you naturally improve.

One of the problems with competitive youth sports today is that the coaches don’t allow mistakes and the child would be on the bench. And it’s hard not to make mistakes when kids are rarely taught the basics of physical education at school any more as the Phys Ed model has changed in modern times. Things like learning to run, throw, catch and kick a ball now (mostly) optional at school. To add to this mortgage pressure means kids are spending the time they used to spend at home playing with parents, siblings and friends either at after school care (and even before school in some cases) or playing video games inside. Mum and Dad have to work so there is often no time for the play interactions taken for granted with previous generations.

Sometimes it can be made even worse with a coach who they look up to that may humiliate them and reprimand them in front of the rest of the team.

In karate you perform up to your potential and not up to the expectations of a coach.

Students are not judged based on the performance in a particular game, but on their individual potential, their individual development and their hard work. They have the opportunity to fail, without failure being fatal;  fatal to their confidence and their opportunity to continue to participate and improve.

Many parents are under the assumption that if they choose a team sport like rugby, AFL, soccer or the many other options available to parents today that it will give their child a chance to be a star. Unfortunately that dream is greatly over rated. Out of all the kids who become a star for their sport, there are thousands who do not. Karate in contrast may not give students the opportunity to earn fame, but it does help them gain something far greater. At our school, Southern Cross Martial Arts, students in karate gain the life skills that are required to succeed inside and outside of the dojo. Skills like self-discipline, confidence, loyalty, honesty and persistence. We develop their character by helping them to own and master these and many other traits. It has been said that character is the some total of a person, which includes their beliefs and values. These beliefs and values are developed at the dojo and reinforced by teachers who are models of character. Sure these skills may not earn a student stardom, but they are attributes that will benefit them the rest of their life. You combine that with the hard work ethic they learn in the dojo and they can definitely apply these skills to be successful academically too.

In addition to these many benefits of children participating in karate, we cannot forget about the self-defence skills. In an ever increasing dangerous world, learning practical self-defence is a valuable asset at any age and especially for children. When I speak of self-defence I am not just talking about learning how to punch and block, but more so how to use common sense and develop a spirit of confidence to defend one’s self and not be a target of an attacker. These are skills learned in the karate school and not on the bench.

The karate school, with a good instructor, is a place where kids can grow up and flourish. A place where they find their identity and build their self-esteem. A second home where they can develop life long friendships and skills that will take them far beyond the doors of the dojo. To give your child the gift of karate is a far greater gift than having them sit on the bench, just because their friends do. I believe in the gift of karate and I hope you will too.

The many gifts that karate offers a student, cannot be attained by sitting still and watching everyone else play. You have to be involved. With karate the only limits on an individual is the limits they place on themselves. Everyone in the karate class has the opportunity to reach their full potential. One of the greatest gifts of karate is that there is no bench, and everyone plays. I encourage you to look at a new path for your child to reach their full potential. Instead of the traditional route of team sports, give karate the opportunity to change their life. Find them a good school with a great instructor that matches the values you desire to instil in your child and it will be a worthy investment into your child’s future.

For further information on the positive psycho-social benefits of karate training, contact us for a copy of our free report on the positive benefits of martial arts training

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