By Andrew Moshanov
With the Youth Worlds Championships fast approaching, all the focus is on 12-17 year old children who enjoy competing. I look forward to seeing them in action. Their passion, commitment, and drive is almost contagious. I enjoy watching the young athletes in the preparation area, wrapping hands, and listening to the last instructions from their coaches before they step into the field of play. I wish I could repeat this myself, and I am sure I am not the only one feeling this way.
According to the concept of long-term athlete development, a cornerstone of modern youth sport, children between the ages of 12-14 are at the stage called Learning to Train. Perhaps the most exciting part of their journey in sport.
They are trying to find their individual style, define the pre-competition routine, cope with the stress and playback the game plan. They learn how to get themselves ready right on time. They go through the complex selection process of what works for them and what doesn’t. This trial-and-error pathway is full of obstacles.
Understanding and assistance from the personal coach are what the young competitors need most at these moments. While some coaches could become even more nervous than their athletes, it is critical they do not lose their nerve and do not add extra stress and pressure on the competitors.
As they learn all the lessons of this stage and improve, young athletes will transition into the stage known as Training to Compete, where they can focus on the tactics, techniques, conditioning, shaping and performing for their big day.
So, IMMAF Youth events are a great school for their future success, be it at the adult amateur level or for professional endeavours. Once these children are guided through all the properly planned developmental stages, the face of the sport can change and eventually go to the next level.
At the critical age of 12, far too many children drop off the sport. We must admit that poor introduction to full contact sport is not the only reason they leave the sports clubs. Losing the first event could be difficult and emotional but still manageable. The competitive sport presents children with an opportunity – “a chance to lose in the environment fully controlled by the coach”. So, when managed right, it helps add decisive value to their social skills and shape the child’s character.
However, taking into consideration that the majority of children in the youth classes are purely recreational and would never compete. Coaches need to look carefully at other reasons why they drop out. If one does not establish themselves in the open contest, how would they know if they are progressing? The recreational side of the sport ought to have a strong system of rewards and recognise non-competitive progress. That is why IMMAF is consistently pushing for a grading system. So-called “educational values” of the sport are almost a buzzword in international sports.
For a coach, keeping young children in sport takes dedication and attention. There is a strong need to move away from outdated methods and focus on dynamic learning. This is what the new IMMAF course for Youth MMA Coaching aims to promote.
The course has already been introduced to a few national federations in 2021 and 2022 and was well received.
Another one will be held in Abu-Dhabi in conjunction with the Youth World championships on August 21-22, 2022.