In today’s hectic world it is very easy to find ourselves, as parents, getting our children to do what all the other kids are doing: participating in a team sport of some sort. In some instances that is a perfectly suitable decision. In others, however, it can be a decision that haunts the child well into adulthood.
It is a proven fact that some kids do not function well in a team environment. Having been involved in and having coached team sports since childhood, it is personally evident that this is the case. The pressure or expectation for the child to perform at a predetermined level with (and in support of) his teammates is sometimes overwhelming and very often simply not possible. To make matters worse, if the child gets an overly ambitious coach who utilizes pressure to perform, the child’s unhappiness dramatically increases. Don’t get me wrong; I am a proponent of team sports. Growing up, that is all that I had, and to this day, several of my friends are those I met as a result of my team activities. But, just because it was right for us does not necessarily mean that it is right for our children. We should not attempt to live out our childhood aspirations through our children, as eventually, it can compromise their self-esteem. We must let them live their own dreams, while gently guiding them.
With that in mind, an individual activity, (karate, music or dance, for example) is sometimes a wiser choice for the parent to make or suggest for their child. Even though the practice takes part in a group setting, the activity itself is a completely individual effort. Each child is able to move at their own pace, guided by a loving, caring and disciplined instructor, who is able to spend one-on-one time with your child. A well-trained Sensei or instructor will be more concerned about your child’s inner maturity and well being more so than their performance level. In time, their level of performance will develop naturally, particularly in a nurturing environment. With proper instruction, your child will begin to exhibit increased levels of self confidence. Because their level of confidence and their focus increases, you will notice a positive difference in their personality. The discipline that is required to train in the dojo necessitates this change. You will see that they work harder to excel in the classroom. They will automatically, through their training in karate, choose to become better individuals. And gaining this discipline and work ethic means that they will also be able to compete more effectively in a team environment! (It has been my experience that it works more effectively this way, as team participants frequently have a more difficult time transitioning to an individual activity, such as karate, although they generally adapt.) They will come to understand the true meanings of honor, courage, discipline, determination, perseverance, humility, respect and more. Their physical endurance levels will dramatically increase over time. They will become leaders and achievers. While all these positive things are happening to your child, they will also learn how to effectively defend themselves. A consistent misnomer is that karate is about fighting. On the contrary, traditional karate is about developing the body, mind and inner spirit in order to live in peace and harmony with your fellow man, while being able to defend yourself should circumstances dictate such a response. A well trained karateka is trained, not to fight, but to walk away and to walk away for as long as they possibly can. Yamaguchi Gogen Sensei said it best: “if your fist is clenched you cannot shake hands”. The purpose is peace without incident. Karate (which means “open hand”) is a purposeful way of life and an activity that can be practiced for a lifetime. Because of the mental and health benefits of karate, many karateka live well into their 90’s.
As you ponder what you have just read, can you honestly say that you are allowing and guiding your child to pursue their path or dream and not your own? As parents, we always want what is best for our children. However, what is best is not always what we want, but what the child needs. I have personally made the mistake of dreaming through the eyes of my child. Thankfully, I recognized this fault early on in his life and allowed his own personal God-given gifts to be cultivated. Who’s dream is being followed? Yours? Or your child’s?