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Why It's Important For Kids To Compete

You’ve experienced it, we all have! Being told what to do. It’s the worst. It’s not motivating, and it often creates immediate reactionary resistance to whatever that thing is. In fact, life’s most impactful lessons were not lessons you were told about, but rather lessons learned through real experience. You did not learn about relationships listening to what your mom and dad told you to do about your boyfriend or girlfriend – You learned through the heartache of your own choices. We did not learn to get better grades through being told to study more – You learned it through your own preparation, missed answers and lackluster attempts.

It’s not your fault either. This biological response we have in our brain to resist being held down and told what to do is deep rooted inside us. Like trying not to think about those cookies in pantry – all we end up doing is thinking more about cookies! The same is said for our life advice. The more someone tells you what you need to do, the more we look for ways to prove it wrong. If someone tells you that you need to lose weight, you will surely find an argument to prove them wrong and that your weight is your weight, and they should mind their own damn business! Well, they should, but to my point why should you do what anyone else thinks you should do? You shouldn’t. This is why I have loved martial arts for the many years that I have been involved learning, competing, and coaching. In martial arts, you put yourself into the spotlight, with pressure solely on your own shoulders to perform well. When you are preparing you are told what you should do to get better. You are given direction and guidance on how you can best improve your skills. The rest is up to you.

I remember being told to practice at home. A smug little pre-teen thinking I knew best and could practice as much as I felt necessary. Sure, I would fulfill my parents wishes and go through the repetitions, but if I were to take an honest look back on my journey through martial arts, the times when I really committed to getting better, they were not the times when my parents convinced me to prepare – it was after the times when I suffered defeat or was not happy with my own performance. It was then that I realized there was more work to be done, more details to focus on, and more for me to give. That always mattered so much more to me than my parents, teammates or instructors telling me what I needed to do. It was something internal that struck my core that made me realize what I needed to do. It was living the experience, enduring the consequences, and reveling in the accomplishments of my own decisions that taught me the most.

The power of competition is just this – An opportunity to learn through experience. The reason we see martial artists, hockey players, soccer players and all athletes alike excel in their discipline and in their lives is due to the experience they gain through competitive action. Stepping onto the stage to give it everything you have, realizing there is more to give or that you have earned that spot! These are the lessons that shape us into the people we are. This is why it’s so important to curate these types of healthy challenges in our lives. Whether you are 5 years old or 65 years old, you can challenge yourself through competition and real-life experiences gaining deeper insights about who you are as a person.

Competition does not look the same to everyone. For some, it is setting a new goal that they have never achieved and facing that challenge. It may appear like challenging yourself to reach new heights in a business and compete against other businesses and the market. In all cases, when you set the challenge and take it head on, you are putting yourself in a position to look failure in the face, understand what you are capable of, learn about what more you must do to succeed, and ultimately discover things about yourself that you never thought possible before.

For the parents of kids in martial arts (and other sports). Too often we get caught up in the winning and losing. Too often we get distracted by the skillsets and ‘natural talent’ of your child versus others. This is not why we compete. Your child sitting on the sidelines, waiting to take their stage, and eager to perform well, is contemplating who they are in their core. They are experiencing the vulnerability of self discovery and approaching one of the moments that will surely help define them for the years to come. They are about to learn how they want to work harder or understand that hard work pays off. They are learning about courage and how courage comes through fear, not without it. In martial arts, and many other sports, they are learning about the value of community as they feel supported no matter what the result! Parents, while you child is waiting to compete your nervous systems are feeling as stimulated as theirs. You are experiencing your own self growth while watching them. You feel their fear, you anticipate their failures and prepare to celebrate their triumphs. You too learn about what it takes to create success. You begin to understand what it means to support no matter the size of the victory or defeat and why that is so important to growth.

If you can, I’d like you to imagine your child is all grown up and facing the world on their own for the first time. They are encountering new relationships, big life challenges, and anxiety producing decisions that need to be made for their families and careers. Scary though, I know! Imagine now, that they have spent their childhood preparing themselves for these types of challenges. Imagine that they want things, important things, but feel uncertainty about being ready or have others who doubt they are prepared enough. Will they go after those passions and beliefs? Will they challenge the uncertainty, or will they wait until they receive validation some other way? I believe, and I have seen that when they have practiced putting themselves in vulnerable and challenging but healthy situations, they will feel more sense of confidence in taking on life’s big challenges!

I’ve personally competed since I was about 7 years old, and I continue to face challenges through competition and life. I am still learning about my fears, insecurities, moments to be seized, and abilities I never could have imagined were possible. I continue to put myself in positions that are uncomfortable, that my parents and peers probably think I am not quite ready for. I do this because I have proven to myself time and time again that no challenge is too formidable, and every challenge brings me something constructive, no matter the outcome. I am not suggesting that competition is the secret recipe for success. I have struggled through my adult life with identity, insecurities, anxiety, depression and all kids of other personal complexities that the various stages of life create. What I do know to be true though, is that with every challenging situation I have faced on my life journey, I have leaned on a tangible experience of competition that I am able to relate back to. Reminders to myself that I have failed before, been doubted and doubted myself, and have overcome obstacles that felt too much to bear in the moment. My parents gave me the tools I needed through the encouragement to take on the challenges big and small in my martial arts. They cheered me on whether I had practiced as much as they told me or they knew I had more I could have given. They sat in fear and watched me in painful defeats, and glorious victories. They taught me to celebrate the wins and the losses. They gave me the freedom to continue to push for a better version of myself. Whether I performed proudly or hung my head in defeat, they never let me quit on myself and kept me competing for something more. That competitive edge in me continues to build while I approach the diverse areas of life being challenged as a parent, business owner, friend, coach and family member.

Bruce Lee said Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself. Do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it. This is what martial arts taught me to do through competition. Rising to the challenges and falling to the pressures, taking it on with my own two shoulders as the only ones to carry it. There is only me who can make my success come true. By learning about who I truly am and what I am capable of as an individual being, I am able to create the freedoms necessary to create MY success!

Kyle Craik

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