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Children in Competitive Jiu-Jitsu: A Parent’s Observation of Development

Observing competition from the parent’s perspective is an interesting viewpoint. As parents, we sometimes wish to remove our children's discomfort in the face of adversity. This is often in an effort to save them, but it can actually harm their personal development. Allowing our children to feel the discomfort and pressure of training and competing will enable them to learn what they are capable of. If done correctly and with support, the discomfort and challenges they face become a force that molds our children into stronger individuals.

In this month’s blog, I will highlight some exciting areas of growth I have witnessed in my own two sons. Both children continue to experience different paths and results along the competition route, resulting in some pretty awesome self-improvement and self-confidence.

My boys have been competing since the age of 7 or 8. Our first tournament was a CompNet in Irvine, California. It was something we wanted to try. It is nerve-racking to be the parent watching your child face an unknown opponent at a young age. However, the pride you feel in your child and their pride in themselves when facing that opponent is unmatched.

Over the years, I have watched my sons compete in many tournaments. We have done many CompNet tournaments. They have also fought on the biggest kids' stages available, IBJJF Kids Worlds and Pan American Kids. Due to their comfort with competing, they learned at CompNet and confidently faced the large arenas, albeit with nerves in tow!

Observations about my sons

First, I will never forget the day we sent our impulsive and forgetful 4th grader with his passport down to the weighing station at the Pan American Kids competition, where he was to go without his parents’ help. This was a young boy who would forget to bring shoes to school occasionally. He had to be solely responsible for not losing his ID, getting weighed in, checking in for his match, warm-up, and waiting patiently for his match to start. We thought this was way above his ability at the time, and we were not prepared for that. But we did it, and we sat and hoped. And to our pride and amazement, he did everything right…and returned with the passport.

He had proven that he was way more capable than we had given credit. He had matured beyond his years in this competition setting and thrived in it. He had learned those skills through attending CompNet tournaments for years prior. He was not scared, not paralyzed with nerves like his parents were. He was just calmly doing what he came to do. And he took silver in that tournament in a pretty tough bracket, going three rounds to achieve that medal. But, I was more proud of his maturity and perseverance than I was of the medal.

“Perhaps it is not about the gold medal. Perhaps it is about the person we become while chasing it” - Professor Flávio Almeida.

Looking at that same child now, I see an 8th grader who bravely chose to undergo surgery – that was not emergent but would greatly impact his athletic ability. He had fear, of course. The unknown was daunting, being wheeled away from his parents, put under anesthesia, and into a doctor’s care. All of this to electively put himself through a surgery that required a long recovery process so that he may become better, stronger, and more able. This child has become a mentally and physically tough young man because of the influences of competition. He has learned for himself what he is capable of. And he didn’t need his parents to tell him. He owns that lesson for himself, and he earned it!

My older son didn’t have as much success in the competition arena as his younger brother. It was only in its second season when he joined the Gracie Barra San Clemente Competition Team. It was a vast unknown. Sure, he competed at CompNet, but this was a new commitment. This was to train with the expressed purpose of competing.

He was always a very timid child, but we got him involved in Jiu-Jitsu at the age of 4 because he loved rough-house. We needed a space for him to express his energy with children his own age rather than his then 1-year-old brother. He competed at CompNet for the first time at 8 years old and joined the competition team at 9 ½ years old.

He struggled to find his comfort in competition. He fought through some tough matches. There were seasons on the competition team where he constantly battled the same one or two individuals in a competition that would get the better of him. He often struggled with demons of negative self-talk and self-doubt. He would defeat himself before he ever stepped on the mat.

One day, we showed up to a tournament and discovered he was not in the bracket with the opponents he was expecting. He went into those matches without negative self-talk. He came out of that tournament with a Gold medal. He was aggressive and aware. He was in tune with his many years of competition training skills at his fingertips, and he came out on top because he had prepared all of that time for that moment. He reflects that the memory of that fight was probably his favorite in his Jiu-Jitsu training.

He has since said he doesn’t like competing and explains that he continued to compete because he was a part of the team. He sacrificed his comfort to be a part of something bigger than himself. He did it for the team, and he is proud of that.

Although my now 16-year-old stopped competing at the age of 13, he continues to be a confident young man. He is not timid. He does not shy away from teen boy rough play that often happens. In fact, he is incredibly proud that none of his friends can get the better of him. As a result, he is not messed with. His sacrifice of living through the discomfort has provided him with a great deal of confidence to deal with both physical and verbal conflicts. This is vital to a teen boy's self-esteem and to a young man's confidence.

Both of these boys are better individuals because of their time competing. They both own the lessons they fought for and were not given to them by their parents. Knowing oneself and believing in oneself is the most valuable lesson learned on the journey of training for competition.

So if you are considering having your children compete, go after it. Or if they are competing and you are curious about what lessons they are learning in the ups and downs, brace yourself to be surprised. You may not know or understand it all yet, but they are becoming something unique that only time will reveal!

Blog Written by Dawn Korsen, a Gracie Barra Brown Belt

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