Guide for Busy Karate Parents: Is My  Child Ready for Tournaments?

Guide for Busy Karate Parents: Is My Child Ready for Tournaments?

ishereadyI’m working on a short guide for our karate parents. It will be a little primer covering what to expect, what to bring and how much all this is going to cost them. As I’m working on it, I’ll be putting portions of it here to test it out in front of a friendly audience. Please, let me know what you think.

As a tournament approaches, I’ll approach the parent of a new team member.  I’ll explain their student has been working hard on her kata and has shown great improvement from their efforts. The student knows her backup plan in case she forgets her kata. (It will happen to  everyone at least once.) She knows the basics of point sparring and ring etiquette.

“If it’s something she’s interested in, she’s welcome to join as at the next tournament.”

At this point, the parents always ask if their child is ready to compete. It’s time to answer their question with some questions.

Will your child be able to find their ring?

Tournaments are noisy and there is a lot of stuff going on to distract a young child. So, if your coach is judging in another ring or is otherwise disposed helping another team member, can your child find her ring? If she needs help finding her ring, are there older and more experienced team members attending who can help her? Will you be available to help her get to where she needs to be to compete, if she needs it?

In large tournaments, the rings are usually assigned in advance. So, in that case, the parent or coach should find one a flyer that posts which ring each division will compete in. Keep your ears open, if one of the rings is moving quickly, your division could be moved to another ring to help the tournament move quickly.  Be ready to grab your stuff and move, if you have to. When a ring is reassigned, typically the center judge will make  an announcement from the ring and there will also be an announcement over the PA system.

In smaller tournaments, rings are assigned on the fly. There is also no PA system, so you have to listen hard and pay attention whenever someone in a Gi starts yelling instructions toward the parents’ seats. There’s not as many rings running and the space is smaller, so it’s usually easier to make sure your competitor is in the right spot at the right time.

Can She Navigate a Crowded Room Safely?

Tournament rings are usually marked with blue painters tape. It is absolutely important your child never, ever accidentally walk through someone’s ring, while navigating the tournament space. If she accidentally wanders into an active ring, she or the competitor can get injured. Anyone who has coached, judged or helped out at a tournament has had to dive head first after a wayward student. Accompany your student everywhere until you’re confident she can get where she needs to go safely.

Is your child emotionally prepared to come home without a trophy?

There are some tournaments where everyone who participates gets a trophy or a medal. But those tournaments are rare and, the simple truth is not everyone can always go home a winner.

I can’t tell you if your child is emotionally prepared for this, I only see them for a couple hours a week. If this is something that really concerns you, there are some things you can do to help your child cope with the disappointment.

As a parent, it breaks your heart to see your child work hard for something and not get the outcome they wanted.  Heck, it breaks my heart to watch my kids get disappointed about stuff they didn’t work for. But the only way a child can learn to be a gracious loser is to have some experience losing.

One way to help ease the pain of disappointment is to let your child experience small losses.  Next time you play checkers, don’t throw the game. Or you can teach her a new game; one she’ll find challenging, at first.

Another thing you can do is show your child what it means to be a gracious loser. Suck it up and play Mario Kart with her. When you lose (and you will lose), congratulate her on her win. Then, ask her how you can be better at the game. Be specific with your questions. A good karate competitor asks judges for their feedback so she can learn from her loss. Show your kid what that looks like, so she can learn from your example.

When you talk about an upcoming tournament, steer the conversation away from trophies. At our dojo, to participate in our competition team, a student has to name one reason they want to join the team. But their reason can’t be anything about trophies or winning. Whenever possible, during our practice time, I try to mention the kids’ reasons for competing. I also try to mention those reasons again after a tournament. Remember,  tournaments are a great way to meet other kids who are interested in martial arts. It’s a chance to learn about weapons and kata that we don’t use at our school. It’s a chance to learn about other cultures.

Try to set up realistic expectations. The largest age groups for kids are typically 8-9 and 10-11. Even if a promoter splits the age groups between soft and hard styles AND by belt level, you may still see divisions with 20+ kids. If there are nineteen other kids in your division and only three trophies are  awarded, it stands to reason 17 kids are going home without trophies.

The purpose of the first tournament, I tell our new parents, is for the student to learn how tournaments work. I can tell the students about rules, etiquette, where to stand. But, until they get to experience that controlled chaos for themselves, they aren’t going to understand.

I don’t expect trophies. I expect our students to go and learn how to get to their ring. I expect them to shake the judges’ hands after the trophies are handed out. I expect them to come back with at least one piece of feedback that they can share with their team members.

And I expect them to come back hungry to do better next time.