What youth soccer can learn from karate

Following up on my School of Rock post, here’s another one about a youth program that offers a few good lessons for soccer to follow …

1. Run afterschool programs. Elementary-school parents balk, with good reason sometimes, at having to drive kids all over the place at dinner time and afterwards to get them to soccer practices all over creation. Having a mere two practices a week can be an imposition.

Yet these same parents will send their kids to karate five days a week. Why?

It’s not because they have dreams of their kids being the next Chuck Liddell or Lyoto Machida. It’s because the karate program runs vans and mini-buses to several nearby elementary schools, and the parents have jobs that make it difficult to pick up their kids at 3:15. (Can you tell I’m speaking from personal experience here? The same kid who played travel soccer and is now devoted to School of Rock has a brown belt.)

2. Have a fun but disciplined environment. Learning to break a board with a wheel kick isn’t the most practical skill unless you’re a soldier who does a lot of hand-to-hand combat. But the discipline of martial arts will carry over into anything.

That said, your kid probably isn’t going to be thrilled about going straight from school to a boot camp. Play games, give kids some time to unwind, and then start training.

3. Divide up by skill level, not age. When the time comes to work on particular skills in our local karate program, the brown belts and green belts would go in one room, and the white belts and … yellow? blue? I don’t remember … would go in another. Age didn’t matter. Sure, age and size were a factor when kids started sparring — even with tons of protective gear, you don’t want a 13-year-old kicking a 7-year-old — but that’s easily managed.

4. Be cheaper than other programs. Maybe day care had skewed our perception of how much it costs to have people look after your kids, but karate wasn’t killing family budgets. They could also go to a local place and learn coding, but that’s waaaaaaay more expensive.

5. Be role models. You don’t need to show your kids Christian Pulisic and Alex Morgan to give them someone to emulate. Young kids are going to look up to the adult in charge in the room.

Granted, there’s not much professional karate in mainstream culture. I mentioned Liddell and Machida above because they’re the rare old-school example of karate practitioner in MMA. These days, it’s mostly wrestlers who’ve learned a bit of kickboxing. (That said, the “mixed” in mixed martial arts isn’t a bad thing, and I once walked in to pick up my kids and saw then-UFC fighter Kamal Shalorus teaching wrestling. Persia represent.)

Sure, in soccer, we don’t just want to have fun. We want to find the next Pulisics, Ramoses and Cherundolos. But if you’re bringing in first-graders and second-graders five days a week and helping them progress, that’s not exactly a bad foundation.


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