Child performing martial arts front kick

Does your club need a children’s martial arts programme?

It is almost two decades since Melody Johnson (was Shuman) created her Little Ninjas programme. Approximately a year later (around 2001) Kimber Hill (now Tyee) released her Lil Dragons programme in to the martial arts world.

These programmes were different to many others around at the time as they were written specifically for children. The Lil Dragon brand is still popular with martial arts clubs world wide, though many tend to just use the branding and deliver their own programme based on their particular martial arts style. Although the Lil Dragons programme was never updated, Melody introduced a new martial arts programme for children called Skillz. This expanded on her idea of delivering content based on the child’s age of development. She ran the new programme internally for 2 years before making the system available publicly in 2007. In 2013 Melody moved her Skillz programme online via a membership based platform.

Why should martial arts clubs be interesting in teaching classes for children?

In speaking with coaches, clubs and governing bodies it is evident that the average age of participants in martial arts classes is trending downwards. In the 70s, 80s and even in to the 90s, it was unusual to find children under 10 years old taking part in martial arts classes. These days it is harder to find a club that does not have under 10 year olds in their classes.

Children are not mini adults

The difficulty instructors face in delivering martial arts programmes for children of this age group (3-6 years) is that the needs of a child is not the same as the needs of an adult or even a teenager. In fact, the number one rule repeated over and over again throughout coach education literature is ‘Children are not mini adults”.

If you have never delivered martial arts sessions to young children, the prospect of doing so can be quite daunting but like any other skill, most can be developed with practice and the right mindset. Once you have a little experience under your belt, teaching this age group can be very rewarding. So much development happens in a child’s life in these younger years that you have a massive opportunity to contribute to giving them a great start.

Implementing a great children’s programme in your club can have significant benefits for the children, club and coach. I personally started delivering Lil Dragons style classes back in 2008. Little did I realise that over the next few years the programme would become the backbone of the club. We currently have 492 members between 2 clubs and although we do get enquiries for all ages from our web site, we only ever need to advertise the classes for children under 7. Over time these students graduate and move through to the next programme and some even progress to take on coaching roles themselves.

Even though the Lil Dragon programme had been available for 7 years, by the time I delivered our first session (in 2008) our club was still the first in the area to run age specific martial arts classes for young children (originally 4-6 years). To get tips on how to deliver this programme I used travel to Colchester (about 450 miles round trip) to see a female karate instructor that was also an ex school teacher. Obviously this was quite time consuming but this was at a time when few people were teaching young children, never mind understanding their wants and needs.

The ABCs should be included in all children’s martial arts programmes

If your wondering what makes these programmes different to regular martial arts classes, the main point is that the content and delivery should be age appropriate. Here are 7 quick differences that I use to identify these programmes:-

  1. The curriculum only contains basic martial arts techniques 
  2. The entire programme is non contact
  3. There is a mix of age appropriate multi skills games that help build the ABCs (Agility, Balance, Coordination, Speed) and FUNdamential Movement Skills (FMS) 
  4. They include basic academic skills such as learning colours, numbers, shapes, letters and the difference between left and right.
  5. There is a focus on developing the social skills needed to operate confidently in pairs or small groups
  6. The sessions are delivered in a way that enhances positive psychological traits
  7. The teaching methods and length of the classes are inline with the age of the child 

If you’re wondering how your club could benefit from introducing a programme for this age group, here are a dozen reasons:-

  1. It allows the clubs to isolate this age group and deliver a classes specifically created for the participants  
  2. The parents of this age group talk to other parents and refer more new customers that any other group
  3. It provides you with a steady stream of new students for your other programmes
  4. If the coaches do a great job delivering the programme, many parents will automatically enrol younger siblings as soon as they are old enough
  5. With a focus on fun / enjoyment, retention is great
  6. It introduces young students to martial arts before they pick up mainstream sports
  7. Establishes a foundation of basic martial arts skills that you can build on in follow on programmes
  8. It creates extra income from a time slot not traditional used
  9. You will get additional second income from equipment sales, gradings, child & parent training sessions
  10. Coaches get the opportunity to have a big impact of the development of children at an age when they are most impressionable
  11. It helps build common social skills before they start school
  12. When the children move up to the next programme, it is often possible to get the parents involved in the classes too

If you decide to go ahead and add a children’s programme to your schedule, you have two main options; build one or buy one. While building one takes time, effort and knowledge, buying one obviously costs you more. 

I have now developed a new website to help martial arts coaches to build their own children’s martial arts programme. The system is called MAPLE which stands for Martial Arts Physical Literacy Engine. The idea behind the system is to provide a framework for coaches where they can just drop in their own technical content and rebrand the whole programme under their own name.

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