Should Kids Spar? Pros And Cons Of Letting Them Spar

As a parent, you try your best to make sure your children stay safe and away from anything unsafe or cause them harm. So, what happens when one of your little one’s decides they are interested in sparring? Isn’t that counter-intuitive to keeping them out of harm’s way, and should you let them partake?

Kids should be allowed to spar with precautions. It’s generally accepted that children over the age of 5 can safely spar with proper training and the right guidance. Since the martial arts is a life long endeavor, it’s not necessary for reaching appropriate proficiency until the early teen years.

Before you decide to let your little one onto the mats, it’s important to understand both the good and the bad that comes with letting your children spar, so you can keep them safe, healthy, and happy. Let’s go over some of the pros and cons of letting children spar.

Why Sparring is Good for Children

There are so many recognized ways in which allowing your children to take part in sparring can contribute to their physical and mental health. Let’s take a look at some of the positive influences sparring can have on kids.

Gets Them Active

Sparring is a great way to get kids active and get them off the couch (To read more, here’s my article about how martial arts can be used to reduce childhood obesity). Kids will learn early on the importance of stamina management, and they’ll use some of the pent-up energy that can be a bit overbearing for some parents.

One of the best ways to use this energy, develop self defense and sparring skills, and build an all around healthy muscular and cardiovascular system is to use the tried and true, number one martial arts piece of equipment. The kicking bag (heavy bag) is one of the top instruments in health and fitness as well as the martial arts.

My favorite for kids, younger teens, and moms alike is the new inflatable Century Wavemaster ‘Air Strike’. You can have one shipped right to your door from Amazon at this link.

Sparring lets them use their energy constructively, while also helping them with:

  • Dexterity
  • Flexibility
  • Strength
  • Reaction timing
  • Balance
  • Physical endurance

Helps Develop Teamwork Skills

Letting kids spar also teaches them the importance of teamwork and comradery early on. Having friends and family cheer them on and developing friendships and bonds that can last a lifetime are memories that no one can forget.

They’ll get to know the kids they’re learning with or develop stronger bonds with family that help them with this training. They’ll have people share their growth and knowledge with as they learn the sport.

They’ll learn how to pick up on new techniques and forms, while also being able to identify individuals’ weaknesses and strengths. Sparring partners can be seen as tools for individuals, using their practice with them to hone their sparring skills. It also builds great bonds of friendship.

Sparring Can Help Develop a Sense of Purpose

Some kids have difficulty finding something they can devote their passion to and commit their free time to becoming experts in. Sparring offers so much in terms of strategy and learning; you’ll give them something to do in their free time.

From practicing to learning footwork, children will soak up all the information they can. If they enjoy sparring, they’ll become experts, and have a pastime they truly enjoy.

Teaches Self- Control

Learning and understanding the importance of self-control early on is key to a child’s development. Sparring is an awesome way to show kids how valuable self-control can be in those moments when they’re waiting to strike. They will learn to take care of themselves, but more importantly they will develop the skills to take care of their training partners as well.

With the help of their instructor, parents, siblings, and fellow kids, they’ll figure out what the benefits are in a hands-on way. Instead of telling them why self-control is important, they’ll get first-hand experience with physical results that’ll stick with them throughout their life.

Helps Them with Their Confidence

Sparring is the perfect option for kids who struggle with their confidence, or could just use a nice boost. As they learn new concepts and see themselves progress, they’ll gain a sense of empowerment from their newly acquired skills. They will realize they really can handle themselves under pressure.

Sparring teaches kids that when you practice and put your commitment behind something, you can achieve just about anything. They’ll learn to overcome any roadblock or obstacle and to be proud of the hard work they put in.

Aides in Critical Thinking and Conflict Resolution

One of the key takeaways from sparring is not to let your emotions get the better of you. Research tells us that critical thinking skills are boosted in kids when they learn from others. Via karate and sparring, kids will learn new critical thinking skills that allow them to assess situations from an outside perspective, at a much earlier age than standard.

They’ll also get a crash course on conflict resolution to better handle those overwhelming situations that life can throw at them. Kids tend to get caught up in their emotions, so understanding how to properly deal with those moments is a crucial skillset that, the earlier they learn this skill, the better off they’ll be.

Sparring Teaches Two Key Traits: Focus and Relaxation

Sparring also lends itself to the calmer side of kids, teaching them the importance of both focus and relaxation. Relaxation plays a key part in getting your child into the right headspace before a match, and they’ll quickly see the benefit of it when they see the results unfold in front of them.

It’s also a great teacher for children who have difficulty with focus. From breathing techniques and meditation, to slowing it down and taking in your surroundings, sparring teaches the vital skill of focusing. While many kids struggle with it, sparring can be the fastest way to teach them better techniques for focusing that they can bring to other facets of their life.

Things to Consider Before Letting Them Spar

With so many positive influences, sparring isn’t without its potential risk or hazard for children. There are some significant risks associated with sparring that you should always consider before deciding if it’s right for them.

Overconfidence Can Develop Quickly

One of the negative things sparring can offer kids is overconfidence. At one point, a positive, it can quickly turn into a situation where children partake in risky behavior due to becoming too confident. This behavior can be risky, and detrimental to their health.

This risky behavior can cause them to make more mistakes sparring too. If they feel untouchable, they’ll open themselves up to hits from their sparring partner. Confidence is a great quality, but it’s important not to let it get out of control.

It’s an Expensive Hobby

From the gear needed, to the classes and events, sparring is an expensive hobby. Children who are scared easily can be quickly turned off by the sport the first time they take a good hit, which means all the money spent on gear is down the drain.

However, making smart purchases, those that are made of quality, long lasting material, and not getting side tracked by the plethora of options, with support from your child’s coach will certainly help.

If you would like to see some of the highest quality gear at reasonable prices, visit my Little Ninja Shop here on this site.

If they get hurt during one of their matches, the medical bills can take their toll as well. Make sure kids are serious before you get into this expensive hobby.

They Have to Get Hit

You’d think it’s obvious, but just in case it wasn’t, kids have to take hits. It can be argued that if someone’s good at it, they won’t, but that’s unrealistic, and you should expect them to take their fair share of punches, kicks, takedowns, and even pin downs.

It can be nerve-racking for both the kid and the parent, but taking hits is an important part of sparring. This should be accepted as a part of the sport, and letting kids spar means letting them get hit.

That being said, it is important that a good instructor or coach set limitations on how ‘hard’ children may make contact with each other. This also applies to takedowns and throws. Proper gear must also be worn for obvious safety reasons.

The Obvious: Risk of Injury

Considerably the worst of the cons, sparring can result in injury. With younger children, their bodies are still growing, so more severe injuries can risk future complications for them. Much like any contact sport, having the right training and guidance can prevent many of these injuries from happening.

Sometimes, however, there are no preventing accidents from happening. If something does happen to a child, they can be scared away from the sport never to return.

Understanding if It’s Right For Them

There’s a lot to consider when your child wants to take up sparring, but if you make sure they’re getting the right training and taking it seriously, then there’s nothing too serious to worry about.

Kids can get hurt doing just about anything, so it’s easier to consider sparring a calculated risk. As long as they’re using the right safety equipment and utilizing the guidance from instructors, children run little risk of getting hurt and stand much more to gain from the experience.

Children stand to gain so much life experience early on when they spar, and most develop great qualities. They’ll learn the importance of focus, learn patience, and even how important it is to know your limits. 

The Kids Sparring Takeaway…

While it’s widely accepted, you should always check with your child’s physician before making any decisions in regards to their physical fitness routine to make sure they’re up to the task. Every child is different, but you can rest easy knowing it’s perfectly okay to let your kids spar!

It is also important to make sure your child is properly trained in the basics. Isshinryu’s founding Grand Master Tatsuo Shimabuku advocated learning all basic techniques to proficiency before ever learning Kata, self defense application, or sparring.

If you are interested in your Little Ninja learning the basics in a fun class streamed live and directly into your home, click here to learn about my Online Karate Classes for younger children and beginners.

Mathew Booe

Mathew Booe is a father of four, husband to Jackie since 1994, retired international competitor with over 50 wins, an international seminar instructor, a master instructor of hundreds of Little Ninjas each week, and the one bringing you the great content like you just read. Sign up for the newsletter to hear about his upcoming books before they are released to the public.

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