Just let ‘em play



Just let ‘em play

Finished with my tournament this weekend with a little bling and was able to spend some quality time with my other ninja pals. One of the things I enjoy most about traveling to these events is the camaraderie with like minded people. We can sit around and talk “shop” and it’s actually fun. It’s great to meet up with other students from all over the country, men and women that I only get to see at these tournaments, but are still good friends.

In addition to competing, I’m also a certified judge. I can sit as a center (chief) judge in rings up to adult 3rd degree black belts.

The rings I really enjoy though are the kids. The youngest are called “Tiny Tigers” and can be as young as five years old. This usually is their first exposure to competition and we do everything we can to make it fun and something they want to keep doing. I used to wear tiger ears and tail just to make it more fun for the kids. If we judges can joke around with them, it takes a lot of the scary-ness out of it for them. If I can get them to laugh, I know they’ll enjoy themselves.

As with any sport, martial arts can be made ugly by out-of-control parents. Parents who believe that their kid must win, no matter the cost. Parents who are obviously living vicariously through their children. I will be the first to tell you, as an instructor and as a judge, if the child doesn’t want to participate in this sport, or any sport, don’t force them. If it’s not fun, they will not benefit from it.

I can remember one tournament in Orlando several years ago. I had a ring of little girl Tiny Tigers. One was clearly upset and I tried to calm her fears. Her story was heartbreaking. She told me her mother hated her because she couldn’t do her form right and that she was always yelling at her. She couldn’t have been more than six. It almost brought me to tears, but I couldn’t let her see me cry.

I tried to tell her that her mom loved her and brought her to these tournaments so she could have fun. That she just wanted her to try her best. I didn’t believe a word I was telling her. All I could do was try to make her experience with me as positive and loving as I could.

I have judged in rings with pre-teens where parents have tried to get me to view video of their son or daughter in an effort to change scores in forms or sparring, because we, the three judges covering the competition ring had missed something. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “My son has never received scores that low before. He always wins!” These parents don’t seem to understand the concept of good sportsmanship and are not doing their kids any favors.

I want to tell them that today he lost today because the other competitors were clearly better. But, I can’t. I have to remain calm and courteous at all times. Even when I think a parent is going to be physically demonstrative with his displeasure at a judging call.

One dad, incredulous that we didn’t call a point for his son in a sparring match, came out of the stands at a full run yelling at us. He was huge… and very angry. To his credit, he did apologize after the match, but it was so uncalled for.

Parents are notorious for trying to coach from the sidelines. As a soccer parent I know that this crosses all sports lines, but in taekwondo it can mean someone gets hurt, and hurt badly. I have had to eject parents for repeated violations. This is not a popularity contest for me, I have to insure that ALL my charges stay safe, not just their kid.

I have to find a way to help a devastated kid, or sometimes an adult, who just froze while trying to complete their form. They get lost and can’t remember the next move. It happens more often than you might think. Nerves can be a powerful numbing agent. I had my own share of brain dumps. I’ve learned to laugh at them, but the first time it happens, you feel like an idiot. My job then is to reassure a competitor that it’s not the end of the world. That is a tough task.

There have been times when in a previous life, I would have totally embarrassed myself by what I have to ask each competitor. As a rule, all males must wear specific protective equipment. I am required to ask if they have this gear and have it on. Adults no problem, little boys, no problem – I just ask the parents.

Pre-teens and teens, there is a problem. They get embarrassed and on at least one occasion, one teenage boy felt it was less embarrassing to lie to me than to tell me he didn’t have on a cup. The lie became apparent less than a minute into his first sparring match. The kick even hurt me. He had to leave the ring, the hall and probably the state.

Adding insult to injury, after the match, a parent tried to convince me I had to disqualify the boy from competition for THREE YEARS for violating tournament rules. I shrugged off his comments as if I didn’t hear him. I know the rule far better than that parent, I wasn’t about to do that. I also knew that the boy was probably never going to compete again, all on his own.

If I had one wish it would be for parents to let their kids be kids. Let them make new friends, and show them how to be both good winners and good losers. Show them that no matter what they must show respect to their fellow competitors, their judges and especially themselves. I wish that parents could see how they truly are and how bad that image sometimes is.

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