Lessons in Parenthood: The Martial Arts Experiment

When I was around junior high school age, my parents decided to enroll me in Judo because they thought it would be a good idea for my sister and I to learn how to defend ourselves. They chose Judo because it primarily focuses on throwing people, and less striking. The thought behind the idea of learning Judo was sound. Learn a martial art that will allow you to defend yourself if you have to, and not use the training to be the aggressor. The part that didn’t work was the timing of when to begin the journey.

The journey didn’t last long, maybe a few months to half a year. There were multiple reasons why it didn’t continue, starting with not knowing anyone else in class, none of my friends were into martial arts, and I played sports on multiple teams. But I would say that however short the experience was, it was beneficial.

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The journey starts with white.

Fast forward a few decades and martial arts is once again a subject for my family. But in this case it’s a decision that my wife and I have made for our two boys. We’ve decided to start them relatively young, and for the same reasons why my parents decided to start me years ago. We wanted the boys to know how to defend themselves if necessary, but also build some self-confidence. Having been at it for a good number of months now, we’ve also seen some other benefits.

The drills that the boys do have helped with their coordination, and due to the physical nature of the sport, it has helped them become more comfortable should people invade “their space”. I benefitted in a similar way after going through my short stint in Judo. I’ve seen this help them in other sports as well. They don’t necessarily look for contact, but instead more comfortable with it now.

Discipline and self-control should be preached and taught at all martial arts academies and dojo’s, and 5150 Martial Arts, the dojo my kids attend, it’s no different. They learn that fighting is the last resort.

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We study a mix of Karate, Muay Thai Kickboxing, and Arnis.

Another valuable lesson they learn there is that they need to be ok with working or practicing with anyone. While there is a rank order, respect must be given to all regardless of belt color. They are taught that the students all learn and grow together as a team. It’s forced the boys to meet new people and make new friends.

All of these things are great, and I’m happy the kids are enjoying the martial arts experience. But I will say that one thing that has contributed to the continued interest is the involvement that my wife and I have. She and I also train at the same dojo, but started after our kids did. So yes, they outrank us.

I believe that it is the complete family involvement that will keep the interest in martial arts going for a long time. We talk about it, practice and train together, and encourage each other to climb the ranks. The lesson here is one that all parents know, but at times are tempted to brush aside. There’s nothing more valuable than time spent doing something as a family.

Lessons in Parenting: Stop Overcoaching

The word “overcoach” is pretty self-explanatory. But Merriam-Webster defines it as “to coach someone to an excessive degree.” Basically it’s to give so much direction, that it doesn’t allow for any freedom of choice and learning. In some ways, it also takes all the fun out of things too, especially sports.

I am not a parent that yells at his kid from this sidelines during games. I’m also not a parent that yells at coaches during games either, or referees. As someone that has coached basketball at a competitive (but amateur level) I know what it’s like to be on the wrong side of an angry entitled parent. Good or bad, I believe parents should let coaches and referees do their job without interruption.

Instead, I am a parent that chooses to give my kids feedback after the games are done, or during halftime and breaks if they come over to see us. I do not yell or speak loudly for all to hear. The feedback I give my kids is spoken quietly, only for them to hear. It is never my intention to make a public example out of my children for all to see. But what I find myself doing though, is overloading my kids with excess feedback. Quietly, I’m overcoaching.

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As a parent, can you step away enough to let kids find love for the game themselves?

There is a fine line between overcoaching and not coaching enough, and for each kid that line is different. Kids shouldn’t be made to figure out how to play certain sports on their own, but they should be allowed to figure out if they enjoy playing it on their own.

It’s very easy to get competitive when your kids play sports. As parents, we should all admit that some part of us selfishly wants our kids to do well so that we look good. And for some, it’s a way to live vicariously through them if we weren’t good enough to play sports competitively.

At the end of the day, I can’t do anything about that volunteer dad coach that seems to think that recreational league, second grade basketball is the NBA finals. I really can’t complain since he’s the one helping out and I’m not. But what I can do better is keep the sport fun for my kids outside of the team, remove my excess expectations for them, and let them experience the game for themselves and learn to love it as I do.

And in the meantime, I’ll look for a different league with real coaches.

Advice for Parents: Lead by Example

As my kids get signed up for Fall sports, I’m reminded how they both got interested in sports in the first place. While they might have naturally gravitated to sports at some point in life, I believe the reason why they got interested so early on is because they saw me actively play. It led me to this conclusion that seems fairly obvious, that my kids will follow my example.

My boys are still relatively young, but I remember introducing them to sports by watching it on TV. I love watching sports, and it probably doesn’t matter what sport it is too. I thought that watching sports on TV would help fuel their interest in it. But instead, it just made them interested in watching TV in general. In a way, they were following my lead.

So to change that I started spending time shooting baskets in the hoop I have in my driveway, and before you know it, both of my sons wanted to do the same thing. I encouraged my wife to take up running, and we both ran a 10K last year. After seeing all the training we both went through, my older son told me that he wanted to run the marathon with me when he gets older, and my younger son continues to want to race me.

Kids are like sponges, and while it might not seem that they’re paying attention to you, they are. And they’re learning from every interaction or non-interaction they have with you. At the end of the day, children want affirmation from their parents, and so they look and see what is of interest to them and emulate that.

I’ve noticed that my kids see how I communicate, and I can see how they copy that for better and for worse. The kids can see where my priorities lie and they copy those as well.

I could go on and on about this but I think you get the point. Parenting isn’t easy, it’s a huge responsibility. Along with all of the other pressures that life throws at you it’s easy to just let kids be. But kids need your involvement and actions speak much louder than words.