Saturday, July 21, 2007

How do you keep a child motivated to continue learning a martial art?

If you have a child studying a martial art, then you have no doubt been told at some point that they don’t want to go to class. It is only natural as kids get bored easily, martial arts training takes a long time, and it involves lots of repetition.

I have been teaching martial arts since 2000, and have helped my two kids, a boy and a girl, achieve second and third degree black belts. My son started when he was seven and my daughter was 11.


My daughter was mortified (for a time) at the prospect of going to karate class on a Friday night. My son would have rather been anywhere than class, again, at times. My daughter, now married and my son, in college, are highly appreciative of their training, their advanced degrees, and the time spent in the training hall.

The key to successfully maintaining the consistent training schedule, so that your child can reap the benefits of martial arts is to find a balance between persuasion and pressure. To be sure, there were times when, as a father, I simply said they had to go, but I kept those moments to a minimum.
A few important keys to keeping your child involved through the years are these:
  • Begin by getting their agreement that they will achieve some level, such as the next belt, or two belts, or black belt. If you know all of the testing requirements you can say, “let’s agree to continue until you learn XYZ, or until you have to perform the flying side kick.” Once you have their agreement, then you can remind them of their commitment (as opposed to your desire) to continue. Be careful not to select a goal too far distant. A white belt, for instance, cannot fathom becoming a black belt, so make your goals seem reachable.
  • Make attendance routine. Find a schedule that works for your family and really stick to it. I know of some home-schooled children who attend martial arts as their bi-weekly gym class. The more that class attendance becomes ad hoc, happenstance, or irregular, the less likely you’ll be able to maintain training.
  • If you are also attending (something I highly recommend) then your personal commitment is a great lead-by-example motivator. Also, asking your kids to help you remember some of the training techniques is a great way to build we’re-in-this-together feelings.
  • Encourage the socialization aspects of martial arts, of which there are many. If you or your children haven’t begun training yet, you will be surprised at how many people also train, and how involved you become in their lives. You can use this as a great motivation tool as well. “Tom always goes on Thursday nights, so…”, or “Mr. So-in-so always teaches the Monday 7:00 class, and we like him.” This worked better with my daughter than my son, especially when I learned the schedules of the good looking young men.
  • It is always easier to get their attendance right before a test or a tournament as they tend to want to do well and intuitively know they need the extra work.
I don’t recommend rewarding them with money, treats, extra privileges, or punishing them for lack of attendance. The rewards of martial arts training should stand on their own. However, there is nothing wrong by reminding them, and expressing to others, how your child has benefited, i.e. they’re more confident, more polite, in better physical shape, have demonstrated a long-term commitment, and so forth. Additionally, belt promotions are a great time to celebrate, but keep it simple.
As a basic key, I’ll leave it at this. Interact with your child as much as you can. Take class with them; discuss their training at dinner or breakfast. The more it becomes part of yours and their lives, the easier it will be to achieve the goals.

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