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Your Kid is Not in the Wrong Weight Class (Guest Post)

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.

scales make you cry 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.

6 thoughts on “Your Kid is Not in the Wrong Weight Class (Guest Post)

  1. Rowing has some of these issues too. Lightweight rowing came about so smaller kids/smaller people could compete. But now you have people making weight to row lightweight and the average height among lightweight rowers is pretty tall. There’s some concern about this and eating disorders among lightweight rowers. And now there’s a whole culture around lightweight rowing. A friend had a tshirt that said, “Friends don’t let friends row lightweight.” But you can see why it’s needed to have a lightweight class and immediately, what the problems are,

  2. I’m very glad to see this post. With kids in a similar sport, I am increasing concerned about the emphasis on “making weight” especially as level of competition increases. We were able to avoid most of it when they were younger, but as they enter early to mid-teens, there is increasing pressure from coaches, peer pressure from fellow athletes, accompanied by an internally driven desire to compete at a certain class, due to knowing who likely opponents will be.
    I HATE it, and it is an increasing source of concern to me that remains unresolved. I am particularly angry about the culture that glorifies weight cutting: to me, it is a slippery slope to further disordered eating and weight management behaviours.

    I agree with your post 100%, and argue further that I don’t think it’s just a matter of parenting our kids – we still have to confront the deeply entrenched mindset in the sport organizations and coaching staff. I’ve already turned into “that annoying parent” for resisting it. Yes, as parents we need to be vigilant about the behaviours we guide our children towards – but there also needs to be change at organizational levels. I genuinely believe that given the research demonstrating increased risk of ED for athletes participating in weight sensitive sports, it is grossly irresponsible for organizations and coaches to neglect this aspect of keeping athletes healthy.

    1. Sophia, I totally agree! (I should have been clearer about that in the post, too, because I’ve only ever seen it from a coaching perspective, not being a parent.) My high school wrestling coaches treated us “just like the guys” in the sense that they also ragged on us when we weren’t on weight, and in retrospect that really sucked. But I’ve also had several great coaches in my life, who had the attitude that cutting was by no means mandatory, and took a clear back seat to training in its other respects.

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