From time to time we like to take reader questions here at Jiu Jitsu Times. We recently received a tough question that I’d like to address:
“I have 3 kids, 2 boys ages 8 & 10 and my baby girl 11 they do really well during class but when they go live they seem to freeze up. Their coaches say they are ready to compete but I am worried when they do compete they will freeze up and lose and won’t want to compete again. As a parent what can I do to help them?”
Full disclosure: I am neither a parent nor a child. I am however an avid competitor and I think that many of the anxieties that kids suffer are shared by adults and vice versa. I think that the exact same setbacks that kids go through, we all go through but in different forms.
There are very few people who, when first exposed to grappling, don’t freeze up. This freezing up can translate to spazzing (you are inactive until you feel threatened then you exert all of your energy all at once) or it can translate to simply not knowing what to do, not knowing which move to do and not knowing how to do it. Every single person goes through it unless they are some sort of phenom or have prior grappling experience.
Once a coach says that you’re ready to compete, chances are you’re not, (but that doesn’t matter!) Chances are you’re going to go out there and you’re not going to get the gold medal at your first competition, probably not at your second or third. In fact, competing isn’t about the gold medal at all, so let’s put that out of our heads, competing is about revealing what aspects of our game we should nurture and what aspects we should change.
First time I competed I froze up, in fact just about every single competitor I’ve seen step out for their first competition has frozen up in a big way. They don’t know what to do, they do that awkward “white belt shuffle”. It’s just reality. So how the hell do our coaches tell us we are ready to compete?
You are ready to compete the moment you step out onto the competition mat. Whether or not you are ready, you are ready. Because you are out there. Whether or not you are able to experience success depends on an almost infinite variety of factors, but the second you step out there, you are in the line of fire, and in order to truly experience the full jiu jitsu experience we must place ourselves there.
All of that being said, the best thing you and the coach can do after they step off the mat is the same thing every coach I’ve trained with (with only a single exception) has done for me: praise them. Let them know how proud of them you are. Even if they go out and get subbed within the first couple of minutes. Also make sure they make the decision to go out there.
Far too often parents project their own desires on their kids. Parents wish they were the big shot competitor so they make their kids go out there and then are upset when they lose. Give your kids the full rundown of why they should compete, let them decide if they want to or not, sit down with the coach and have the coach explain to them the benefits of competition, and make sure they understand that win lose or draw they are accomplishing something that most people never in their entire lives accomplish. If that isn’t enough to sell them on the idea, maybe they’re not ready.
You can’t force your kids to excel at competition, but you can make the experience a positive one, and who knows, they might do really well! Or they might not, but that’s all part of the experience.