How To Support Your Child’s Jiu-Jitsu
by Deb Blyth
Being a good Jiu-Jitsu Parent
Having been around jiu-jitsu for quite a few years now, I’ve come across a lot of things. It’s hard to recall very many negative experiences I’ve had with the sport, however, one thing I seem to witness more than I’d like, is some poor kid in tears while his mom or dad screams at him during a tournament or sitting with parents during class and they’re acting like that guard drill is a world championship match. Jiu-jitsu can be life changing for adults who discover it later in life. For kids, jiu-jitsu can instill discipline, confidence, a competitive spirit, respect for others, and so much more without them even realizing it, but for most, it’s just plain fun (as it should be). And in order for them to reap all these benefits for the long term, they have to stick with it. That’s where you, the parents, come in. Being a good jiu-jitsu parent will help your kids get the most out of their jiu-jitsu, in both the short term and for the rest of their lives. In this article I’m going to share with you many of the things I’ve found to be the best for kids, not only in jiu-jitsu, but in any new endeavor they take on.
When you enroll your child into a jiu-jitsu program, you’re investing your time and money in their future, both in the development of their skills on the mats and into so many intangibles off of them. Their progress through jiu-jitsu will build confidence, promote physical health, instill discipline, and help cultivate their sense of respect for others and themselves. So, it’s important for both the parent and the child to commit to no less than two or three class sessions per week. I know life gets stressful and schedules get jumbled, but do your very best to make sure they get to class on a regular basis. If you can stick to the same routine every week you’ll see the greatest results, plus it will help reduce any anxiety your child may have in their training.
You know how it feels to be late to an appointment or a meeting, or to be fumbling with your phone or forgetting something. It sucks, and keeps you from being able to focus on the tasks at hand, so try not to put your kids in this tenuous situation. Make sure they get to class on time and in a clean gi, ready to go or with plenty of time to change and be on the mats when the instructor is ready to begin class. Just as their gi should be clean, they should be, too. Proper hygiene is essential in life, and especially important when your kid is going to be rolling around with someone else. You want the other kids clean with clipped nails, so make sure your kid shows up that way, too. Make sure there’s fuel in the tank. It’s okay for them to have a light, healthy snack before class, but avoid junk food, heavy foods or big meals.
Most schools will have an area for parents and spectators to hang out while the instructor teaches class. Some parents prefer to drop their kids off for class, but I definitely recommend sticking around and being there to support your child. And by supporting them, I don’t mean coaching them. Leave that to the instructor. If you see something you’re unsure of or a situation that doesn’t seem correct, save it for after class and talk to the instructor privately, not with your child present. In jiu-jitsu, as with any physical activity, there may be injuries. Don’t panic if it looks like your child is injured or sheds a tear. Most kid-related jiu-jitsu injuries are minor. In that case they will be fine. Let the instructor handle the issue. If the injury appears to be more serious, the instructor will let you know and have you come and comfort your child. Some kids have the ability to brush off injuries with little attention; others see it as an opportunity to get some ice cream on the way home. No matter what, it’s best to let them deal with the bumps and bruises on the mats. However, if it appears to be serious, seek medical attention right away.
When your child is training, whether it be drilling a technique or sparring, it’s important to remember that all the kids on the mats are his/her teammates. If you feel the need to speak up, bring only encouraging words to the table, but refrain from coaching, which is especially hard when you’re a student of jiu-jitsu as well. If the instructor seems to have his hands full, offer to help out in the next class. Expect to be turned down, but just in case he says, “yes,” be sure to help ALL the kids, not just your own.
Tournament competition is a great way to help further your child’s jiu-jitsu, as well as build his/her competitive spirit, confidence, and everything else that comes along with jiu-jitsu, if handled correctly. Leading up to the tournament, remember the preparation aspect. Encourage your child to get to class regularly, focus on their technique, be aware of their diet and sleeping routine, and overall, just emphasize positive thoughts, proper preparation, and how much fun jiu-jitsu is supposed to be. Hopefully your child’s instructor will be on hand to coach from the sidelines. If their coach is there, let him coach; you be the supportive parent. And by “supportive” I don’t mean yelling out, “Kill him, Johnny!” Stay calm, no matter how the match is going. It’s hard not to get excited when your child is on the mats, but don’t get too intense because your child might pick up on it, which may cause him to lose focus in his match or ignore his coach. Some kids like hearing their parents cheer for them, and others don’t. So, talk to your child before the match and ask him what he’d like from you. Whatever he tells you, respect it.
Keep it Classy
Hopefully your child is competing for himself and not for you. Regardless of whether or not you were able to meet your childhood sports dreams, your child deserves to have his own personal dreams and should be allowed to manifest them in his or her own individual way. The most commonly heard phrase in jiu-jitsu is, “You win or you learn.” There is no loss if you learn something from the experience. I’m sure it’s fair to say that we’ve all learned the most and developed our greatest strengths from the mistakes we’ve made in our lives, so allow your child the same pardon. Always be supportive and not critical of your child’s efforts on the mats. Everyone loses – it’s inevitable – so, teach your child how to win and lose with class. Showboating and/or throwing tantrums are not examples that anyone has any respect for, so help your child keep it classy. Win or lose, kid’s jiu-jitsu is about healthy competition and respect. How you carry yourself sets an example for your kids and everyone else. Yes, jiu-jitsu competition is intense; it’s easy to get heated up during a match, but no matter what, keep your attitude positive. If there’s a bad call, don’t bother arguing with the referee, you’re not going to change any minds, and it sets a bad example with your kids. Bad calls are a part of any sport. We’re all human and we all make mistakes. It’s a part of life. Let your child’s coach handle the referee. If you still feel you need to be heard, you may politely ask to speak to the referee coordinator at the event so you can plead your case. Do so courteously and professionally. If that doesn’t work, and you want to take it further, wait until the tournament’s over, contact the organizers and let them know how you feel, and what you think should have happened. If their attitude is dismissive, then you may decide that that’s not the tournament promotion for you. Think about that before signing up for their next event.
Some parents take their child’s jiu-jitsu way too seriously and put their own personal feelings onto their kids. You know who I’m talking about: the ones screaming, “Kill him, Johnny” at the top of their lungs, coaching over the instructor, arguing with the referees, and criticizing their kids after their matches. Don’t fall into this trap if you meet up with one of these parents, especially if their kid is going against yours. Take the high road, don’t stoop to their level, and avoid contact. It’s unfortunate that that’s how they choose to conduct themselves in that circumstance, but you telling them how to raise their child is only going to make matters worse. Just feel sorry that the child has to deal with that pressure, congratulate the kid on their performance, and move on. Maybe your professionalism will sink in to those around you.
When all is said and done, win or lose, be encouraging. Point out all the positives, all the things they did right, and especially their willingness to just compete. That’s a “win” in and of itself. It takes a lot of guts to compete in jiu-jitsu. If your child loses their match, use the defeat as a basis for him to grow from and develop his skills and positive attitude.
The more you’re around your child and are a part of his or her jiu-jitsu journey, the more you’ll begin to understand the points made in this article. Be encouraging and support your child. He or she will probably put enough pressure on themselves that they don’t need more from you. If you don’t compete in jiu-jitsu and are unsure about this concept, put on a gi and go out and compete against someone. If you personally felt the fear and anxiety that can occur from having to compete against another, “mano y mano,” you would better understand the need for competition to be serious, but fun. And for those of you who compete often and love it, and expect the same from your child, remember that we are all wired differently and some people LOVE competition, while others have a natural born fear of it. For some, it may take a lot of time and a variety of experiences for them to be comfortable with it. As many black belts will attest, the more one competes, the easier it becomes over time, so be patient with your child. As with any sport or activity, some kids will take to things with more intensity than others, but every kid should be allowed to have fun and enjoy jiu-jitsu. Be supportive and encouraging, whether their goal is to be a future black belt world champion, or just a way to hang out with their friends. It’s all good no matter how you look at it.
The most important thing is for your child to have FUN! Having fun in training and competition brings about a passion for the art that will keep him or her in it for the long haul. Too much intensity or pressure can create negativity associated to the sport or to competition, and will undoubtedly push them away from it, and possibly any other future endeavors they undertake. So, be positive, supportive, and encouraging. This will not make your child a wimp. Even our world champions, who are very competitive and intense, have a love and passion for jiu-jitsu that supersedes anything else. They train hard and compete hard BECAUSE THEY LOVE IT. If you don’t instill a love for jiu-jitsu in your child from the start, you can count on it being a short-term affair. Jiu-jitsu is such an awesome sport in so many ways, it deserves to be something you want in your life for the long haul.
15 Tips For Being The Best Jiu-Jitsu Parent
01 Be encouraging
02 Stay calm
03 Don’t fret over bumps and bruises
04 Help your kids be prepared
05 Let the instructor do the coaching
06 Lead by example
07 Help them avoid junk food, encourage a healthy diet
08 Remember your commitments to them
09 Don’t push too hard
10 If you have a complaint, bring it to the instructor, don’t burden your child with it
11 Focus on the positives
12 At tournaments remember it’s about them, not you
13 Don’t argue with the referees
14 Don’t do anything that would make your kid not want to go to jiu-jitsu class
15 Jiu-jitsu for kids should be fun, don’t forget that!