The scene: A kids karate tournament in any city or town. Two karate kids clash in the center of the ring in sparring competition. It is overtime. The score is tied 4-4. The next point will determine who will get a trophy and who will go home empty-handed. One child lunges across the ring with a mighty kiai and scores with a punch to the other’s chest. He pumps his hands in the air as the judges declare him the victor. He looks to his parents, who are hoarse from yelling and screaming, for approval. They are all smiles. The other child bows his head in despair as the tears flow. This is his third tournament and he has not yet won a trophy—so close this time. He cannot bear to look at his parents. I feel his pain.
Are Karate Tournaments for Kids Good or Bad?
Are karate tournaments healthy for kids? This is an interesting question as it can apply to any sport. Our competition team, Kenpo Freestyle Sydney, has broken records for the most championships in the International Sport Karate Association in Australia. The team has been the number one ranked team for five years in a row. You might expect me to be a bit biased on this subject. I am. I believe the positives outweigh the negatives, when it comes to karate competition for kids. I will discuss why here. I would also really appreciate your comments for or against kids in karate competitions, or perhaps any sports competition.
For Karate Tournaments
While getting ready for tournaments, kids practice a lot. Tournament competitors practice about three times as much as your average karate student. This pays off as they progress much faster in their ability.
The tournament competitors get the attention of the top instructors, who take time to work with them. This training is often one-on-one.
Kids learn to handle pressure and perform. Doing this consistently helps them to overcome stress with grace—a key life skill.
A good coach will know how to motivate competitors to perform well, further building their self-confidence.
Karate competitors also learn how to overcome disappointments and perservere. They learn from their mistakes and don’t give up.
In my experience, martial artists with a competition background make the best instructors—they have forged their skills the heat of competition and now have the confidence to help others.
Kids and parents alike will build a strong camaraderie with each other at tournaments. Competitors stand around the ring and cheer and clap loudly for their team-mates.
Tournaments foster the importance of sportsmanship. Shaking hands with other competitors after their events is strongly encouraged. Words of support to other competitors who had a bad day are routinely offered. In some instances, stronger competitors let weaker ones score a point or two just so the weaker ones leave with a feeling of pride.
Children learn in competition that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. This is an important lesson to learn about life.
Against Karate Tournaments
Not everyone will be a winner. Some will quit martial arts because they are so disappointed.
Karate tournaments can be very expensive. If a student is competing regularly, it can run into the thousands of dollars per year. For families, it is even more expensive.
Kids that don’t compete might feel left out.
The pressure can be too much for some children; especially if coaches and parents put too much emphasis on winning.
How to Mitigate the Negatives
Everyone who competes should be recognised, win or lose. We call all competitors up for a clap in front of the class and recognise them for their bravery and willingness to have a go.
We do not pressure kids to go to tournaments. If they want to go and if the family can afford it, that’s fine.
We try to recognise non-competitors for their achievements in class; for instance kids get to demonstrate techniques in front of the class if they do them well.
For kids that are having difficulty coping with the pressure, we try to give them extra encouragement. As coaches, we never show anger or disappointment at our students’ performance. We support them and try to help them do better next time. If we see a parent getting a little heated about the results of their child’s outcome, we might have a talk with them. We want kids to have fun, make friends, and be inspired by their team-mates performances. Most importantly, we want them to enjoy their day at the tournament. That is what it’s all about.