Impact Martial Arts

You don't have to be great to start...

Posted: September 06, 2018

For many families, this time of year brings hope for change. A new school year or brand-new school, bright and shiny new clothes and new activities, which means new goals to create and habits we wish to accomplish.

Though they promised you they would stick with it this time, the sad reality is, a few short days, weeks or at best a couple months later, buyer’s remorse sets in and you’re left with that brand new trumpet collecting dust in the corner, those expensive gotta-have-name-brand soccer cleats are now hanging in the mudroom without any grass stains, and all that unused football equipment left a big dent in your wallet. And now those new “goals” are replaced by excuses like, “I don’t wanna go”, “my band teacher is too mean”, “the coach doesn’t like me”, “I don’t like getting tackled”, and so forth.

A lot of times the main underlying issue with kids sports and activities, is it’s hard for them to realize all the work that’s going to be involved. Nobody was a world class musician from birth, being a fan of the world cup doesn’t instantly make you a great soccer player (nor give you the right to wear a man bun), and the best wide receivers aren’t the ones with the best hands or vertical leap in their rookie seasons, but the ones who learn to focus on where the ball is going. You’ll need to play the long game.

With many people starting new activities this week or very soon, here are a few things to remember when starting new dreams or aspirations:

1. Embrace the suck… So-to-speak.

When we meet with a family for the first time, we don’t expect you or your kids to be perfect. I mean that in the nicest way possible. So, when it comes to any activity, let them own “not being good” in the beginning. I mean really own it. Let them own dropping every pass, missing every note, not being as fast, as coordinated, as special as the coach’s kid or star player, but you must have their back for moral and emotional support. Because even our beginner students who have a natural level of athletic ability and coordination are expected to miss a move in a form now and then and kick with the wrong leg by mistake. This is part of the learning process. And an important one too as it lets them build resilience.

I see many younger adult students struggling with this in the early stages of their training from time to time too (darn millennials – Just kidding, I “am one”). I find this is likely because they’ve been told they’re great at everything they’ve done their whole life by their parents, teachers or coaches who are too nice and don’t want to hurt their feelings. To let my point sink in, think about a new season of American idol during the auditions. The judges tell them they “can’t sing”, and they have a complete emotional breakdown because it’s the first time they’ve heard this.

My job certainly isn’t yelling at your child or belittling them for what they’re doing wrong, but it’s to teach them how to correct themselves through taking disciplined action. I love it when I see our Yellow Belts show humility and discipline by correcting their own mistakes on the floor versus pretending they didn’t just make a mistake, and remembering our philosophy is, “you don’t need to be great to start, you just need to start to be great.”

2. Failure, NOT success, is the greatest teacher.

About a month or two back, one of our young, but rather advanced students got to experience this first hand. His physical curriculum and was very strong (his older brother is a black belt and he follows his great example of character). However, our requirement for breaking boards at his belt rank is to complete it in three attempts or less and having just turned 8, he now has a more challenging board to break. He was not successful in his endeavors and we were not able to pass him. Tears proceeded to follow. Which is understandable, and I have been there myself. But more on that another day.

I took the young man aside and said, “I’m very proud of your hard work today. If you want, you can go home tonight, or we can get to work and practice right now.” He looked at me and said “Okay.” We must’ve practiced for 45 minutes on one technique, over and over. We focused on not only how much speed and power he needed to break his board, but the mindset required to accomplish this. As I watched his confidence grow, I asked him, “how do you feel?” “Good,” he said. I told him, “that’s not going to work.” You need to feel “unstoppable.”

He kicked and kicked and kicked some more. Every few minutes, I’d ask him, “how do you feel?” He’d mumble, “unstoppable.” Then he started to gain even more confidence, when I’d ask again he said “UNSTOPPABLE”, which later became, “UNSTOPPABLE, Sir!” We worked on his kicks and his mindset over the next week doing several different exercises outside of class. When he came in again later that week, I asked him how he felt about breaking that board again, he said, “Let’s do this!”

What took this student upwards of 8 attempts a week prior was broke his board in just two. Did he miraculously gain more strength in 1 week..? Well, he certainly did more repetition against more resistance, however, it’s clear he learned he needed to gain more resilience and confidence through the gift of failure. It also showed me, his parents and himself just how much he actually cared, when probably 80 percent  (or more) of kids his age would’ve failed and immediately quit trying or taking classes in general.

3. Get a coach, a mentor or a trainer, because you can’t do it alone.

Every day on social media, I see these “Solo-preneurs“ claim to be “self-made”. The last story proves 2 important points. One, no one achieves anything alone and two, the greatest have a coach. Many have mentors who helped them build a skillset or took classes or acquired certifications to help hone their craft.

I spent the early days of my career being happy go lucky thinking I could please my students and their parents if I always said yes or promoted them if they tried really hard, rarely facing a challenge or adversity. It started to get old fast and when those students actually faced a real challenge, they often found it tough to stay resilient or hold strong.

When I had to fail the student I mentioned earlier, I bumped into his mother the next day at the grocery store (she wasn’t there in person the night before), but she actually THANKED ME for failing her kid! Mainly due to the way we did it with grace, empathy and compassion, but thanked nonetheless.

Our student mentioned above couldn’t have become stronger physically, mentally or emotionally without the help and guidance of another, and I certainly wouldn’t have grown as an instructor that day as a result of having him as a student.

So, remember. Let them try new things that pique their interest, support and encourage them when they are getting started and above all else, let them fail and persevere. I’ve never met an adult who was happy their parent let them quit something as a child.

Until next time, keep training hard!


-Ken Hoops

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