As a child and teenager, I loved sports, but was simply not athletic. I couldn’t dribble a basketball or shoot a layup. I was the right fielder in little league baseball that struck out a lot. I did try wrestling in high school, but was pretty mediocre and quit after losing two-thirds of my matches and not being able to handle the head coach’s constant yelling. For a very long-time I was very self-conscious about my lack of athleticism, but did enjoy biking, hiking, weight lifting and other physical activities that would not expose my lack of coordination and how funny I looked when I am running. As I grew into adulthood, I discovered Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in my mid-thirties and finally found a sport where for once I showed some promise and developed into a solid competitor at the White Belt Masters level.
Like many in the BJJ community, training has been very beneficial for me in boosting my self-confidence, physical health, setting and reaching goals, meeting new people, and overcoming adversity. These experiences and benefits are important in the development of people of all ages, especially adolescent children. Sports can be a great vehicle for human development, but many unathletic children miss out on these experiences and withdraw to watching television, playing video games, eating a poor diet and living a sedentary lifestyle. This is frustrating for both children and their parents. The children want to be more social and active, but poor performances in youth team sports can lead to being ostracized by their teammates and coaches. For parents, they want their children to be active, social, and accepted by peers.
From my experiences as an unathletic youth and a Jiu Jitsu practitioner as an adult, I believe Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is the ideal sport for unathletic children for numerous reasons that include
1. Self Defense: Unathletic children tend to be targets for bullies. BJJ has been proven as one of the best self-defense styles since it relies more on technique and leverage over size and strength. Traditional karate styles like Tae Kwon Do have been marketed as children’s self-defense, but the striking does require speed, coordination, and athleticism, which may make karate less effective for unathletic practitioners. In Jiu Jitsu, clinching, securing top position, and being able to escape a pinned down position relies more on coaching and drilling than athletic skills.
2. Physical Activity: Jiu Jitsu classes are great workouts for children. There are warm ups, drilling, rolling/sparring, and games being played during classes. The children will definitely break a sweat and will be moving their bodies for an hour each class.
3. Quality Coaching: In many youth sports, the coaches are volunteers and usually consist of the parents of the best athletes on the team. The quality of the coaching can vary and the focus of the coaching leans towards developing the athletes with the most potential. This continues into high school varsity sports, where the coaches’ attention is focused on the starters and winning games. The backups and practice players usually do not get much attention or development time. In BJJ, the parents are paying for the coaching and the coaches have an incentive to provide strong coaching and creating a fun and safe atmosphere in order to maintain the parents’ business.
4. Learn at Your own Pace: In BJJ, there is no pressure to learn a set of plays in time for Saturday’s game like there is in other youth and high school varsity sports. Kids can learn and develop at their own pace without the pressure of being rushed into a competition and win immediately. The culture and instruction style of many BJJ schools is that learning and improving in BJJ is a long term process that doesn’t need to be rushed.
5. Playing Time at Each Class: In youth and high school varsity sports, the nonstarters get little to no playing time in games and less coaching and development during practices. In BJJ classes, students learn together, drill together and all receive close to equal repetitions in drilling and attention from instructors. So your child is participating and improving each class instead of just watching other students get better. Also, if your child does want to compete, there is no cap on the number of children that can be entered into a BJJ tournament division.
6. Year Round Sport: Depending on where you live, most sports are seasonal and once the season ends, so does the children’s playing and development in the sport for the rest of the year. BJJ training has no seasons, allowing children to train throughout the year which aids in their continually development in the sport.
7. Teaches Valuable Life Lessons: We live in an instant gratification society. In BJJ, it is a slow, long grind. Breakthroughs could come after a long period of time of drilling, experimenting, and refinement. It could come in a practice roll where a sweep, submission, or escape finally happens after many failures. Children will learn humility, patience with themselves and persistence in continually working through and solving problems.
8. Develop Own Style: In basketball and soccer you need speed and agility. In football, you need size and strength. In most sports, you are learning a rigid pIay book with little room for creativity. In BJJ, you don’t need to have speed, agility, and athleticism in order to develop an effective style or set of moves that work well. If you are slow and unathletic, you can develop a slow, grinding, pressure game that neutralizes opponents’ speed and athleticism. If a child is small, he or she will be matched with training partners and opponents that are a similar size and will be able to develop an identity over time.
9. Individual Sport: When you drop a ball, miss a shot, or make a bad throw in team sports, there is the awkward walk back to the bench or dugout towards upset teammates. That is an uncomfortable position for many unathletic children. Playing in an individual sport like Jiu Jitsu removes the pressure of letting down teammates while teaching a child that they can problem solve and overcome challenges on their own. This aids in building character and self-confidence in children.
10. Interaction with Other Children: The kids classes provide positive interaction with other children. Most BJJ schools have rules and reinforce a culture of respect among students. Bullying and inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated by the coaches. Children will be learning and drilling moves together. So while it is an individual sport, during classes they will have the opportunity to collaborate with other children to help each other learn and develop.
If you are interested in enrolling your child into a Children’s Jiu Jitsu program, use Google to search for programs in your area. Most schools will offer a free class for your child. Definitely take advantage of the free class to see if the program is a good fit for you and your child. Also, ask the instructor as many questions as possible about class schedule, curriculum, student development, safety, contract length and terms, and the number of instructors and children in the classes.