I was inspired to write this post based on this article about why parents shouldn’t worry so much about their kids’ weight. I’m not a parent, but I do teach taekwondo to kids and have done so for a while. And in that realm a few things come into conflict with each other. I think martial arts are fabulous for kids, and more kids should do them.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with encouraging kids to try out martial arts competition, including sparring competition (and I have a personal soft spot for times when the sparring turns out like this). But just as with other combat sports like wrestling and boxing, taekwondo has weight classes.
In practical terms, that means that kids generally need to register for competition at a particular weight, and will have to weigh in before that competition. So it really is a good idea for someone, whether a parent or a coach, to keep track of a kid’s weight in order to know how to register them.
But it’s also part of the culture of these sports generally to want to be in the lowest weight class possible. Lots of athletes cut weight, much to the horror of, well, lots of people who want them to stay healthy. It should be obvious that kids shouldn’t cut weight, and fortunately, these extremes aren’t foisted on junior competitors so often.
But still, even in recreational competition, the mentality of “lighter is better” is pervasive. This is not completely unjustified, since there are benefits to being taller and having more reach, as well as having the power that tends to go along with size. But I’m among those who are somewhat skeptical that it matters so much at the non-super-elite levels. And anyway, that’s not the point.
Now, I’ve worked at plenty of tournament weigh-ins. My former team would put on a tournament every spring that could easily get 500 competitors, the majority of whom were kids. I was always one of the people in charge of making the divisions by gender, age, belt level, and weight. So I was always right there when a kid did not weigh in at their registered weight and had to be moved to a higher weight class. And I dreaded it every single time. Not just because it was a bunch of extra administrative work for me, but because I never knew what the parents would say. Some of them were great.
They just apologized to me for the hassle and moved on. But some of them would give their poor kids hell for being too heavy. Making their kids, male and female, feel awful for not being the weight that they had written down a few weeks prior. It was heartbreaking. All I ever wanted to do in those cases was take those kids aside and tell them that they were fine, that there was nothing wrong with them, that the number didn’t really mean anything except maybe what time their first match would be. I know some of those parents were monitoring their kids weights like crazy. And fostering the mindset that pounds gained were bad. Never mind that kids are supposed to gain weight. I mean, that whole growing thing.
I recognize that monitoring these kids’ weights is necessary to some extent. And I’ve talked about the practical reasons why, because I think that kids should be able to compete in sports that have different weight classes. But their weight does not have to have an evaluative component to it. Why should we teach kids, especially at such an early age, that the number on a scale measures how well they’re doing at anything? They’ll get that message enough in their lives from the mass media. Let’s try to make their participation in sports a way for them to feel good about what their bodies can do, not another way for them to feel as though they don’t measure up.