By Caoilte de Barra
When the IMMAF Youth World Championships first kicked off in 2019, 253 athletes from 26 nations travelled to Rome, Italy to compete. Despite disruption of the pandemic putting a halt to a 2020 edition to the tournament, growth of the competition has not stopped.
In 2021, the championships went ahead, despite the obstacles of Covid restrictions, which affected multiple member federations travelling to the event. This saw a reduction in nations drop to 23, however, the number of participants rose to 331. Not only did the number of participants rise, but the number of divisions being contested rose from 39 to 45.
The significant jump in participation was seen across all age categories. A trend that continued into the most recent set of Championships, which set the new record for participants and participating nations.
At the 2022 Youth World Championships, previous numbers were crushed as 479 athletes from 42 nations made the trip to Abu Dhabi for the third edition of the competition. Of those 42, 13 nations made it a hat-trick of Youth World Championships appearances, while another 13 made their first appearance.
Making up the numbers was not just a case of athletes just entering either. The emphasis on Youth Development was key as the minimum technical level was increased for two age categories. Ensuring that athletes were meeting a certain standard and progressing through the grading system.
Deep diving into the numbers for the 2022 Youth World Championships, the Men’s Youth A featherweight division set the record for the most number of entries in one category with 30 athletes.
Each age category saw almost identical growth from the previous year, with each seeing an average of 49 participants more than the previous year.
For Youth C in particular, this year surpassed over hundred entrants for the first-time with 119 in total, a massive improvement upon the 45 that entered back in 2019.
Overall, there is year on year growth to be seen across the board with the Youth Championships. The rapid pace of development is emphasised by the number of courses being held around the world, the most recent being the first youth Coach Education & Certification course to be held in the UAE.
Combined with some of the given examples, there is no doubt the rapid rate of progress being made at youth level. And as IMMAF continues to build and focus on building the future, there is no doubt we will see the numbers of youths partaking in MMA soar both at a competitive and recreational level.