How Young Is Too Young?

Gina R.

Hockey, basketball, soccer and baseball are all sports that many youth have participated in throughout the duration of their childhood. Whether it be competitive or house league, youth take part in a variety of sports. When we look back on the sports that we participated in as children, we tend to remember the experiences we shared with teammates and the positive environment that we were immersed in. The goal of sport and recreation is to foster a positive environment and learning experience for youth. What happens when the sport that a child is participating in does the exact opposite? Encourages and focuses on violence? Will this have a negative impact on the youth participating? Or will it help to build the infamous “character” that we always speak of in sport?

Many sports have aggressive components such as; hard tackles in football and hits into the boards in hockey. Although people have suggested that these components of the game have result in youth developing aggressive and violent behaviors, neither of these sports involve the violence that the rapidly spreading sport of pankration has. Pankration, commonly known in adult form as mixed marital arts (MMA) is a sport that is  quickly spreading across the USA. This sport currently involves an estimated three million boys and girls some as young as five years old. When you think of MMA, you can picture two grown men thrashing around inside of a cage in an attempt to either  knock out their opponent or inflict enough pain for them give up. Likewise, the rules of pankration are no different. Youth are inside of a ring wearing no head protection, throwing punches with gloves on as small as one inch thick, and yes, like I said, as young as five years old. The main objective of this sport is the same as adult MMA. It is to have your opponent give up or to knock them out. When searching this sport, the images that are displayed show youth in cages punching, kicking and choking each other. Is this really what we want to encourage our youth to be apart of? Can we really justify that this will help build positive youth development behaviours?

There are many supporting fans who are comparing the benefits of this sport to sports such as boxing and other forms of traditional martial arts, claiming that it encourages self discipline, fair play and exercise. Following a loss, children are seen crying and showing their disappointment, which shines light on how old the participants actually are. This sport is receiving critiques due to its violent manner. Youth are exposed to multiple head injuries which run the risk of severe head trauma throughout their development. It can lead to many neck, head, bone and ligament injuries.

In my opinion this sport should not be allowed for youth of this age. With little equipment and the severe impact that is occurring to children inside of the ring, it can only be imagined that this will lead to an increase in violent behaviors outside of the ring. The sole purpose of this sport is to inflict harm and hurt your opponent. At such a critical age for youth development, implementing such behaviors can only lead to a violent behavior with youth in their day to day lives. Is this the kind of sport we want our youth participating in? Encouraging violence and pain? In my opinion this will only lead to an increase in violence and behavioral issues in youth.

For More Reading:

Kids' mixed martial arts: Thunderdome for children

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9 Responses to How Young Is Too Young?

  1. u95jq says:

    I completely agree, at such a young age this is not a beneficial or positive development. It will definitely increase these children’s violence and aggression and teach them negatives ways to solve problems. Many children at age five do not know how to properly solve a problem or argument with friends and will resort to pushing and hitting instead of talking. If a child is taking part in MMA and resort to hurting another child they could seriously injure the other child and not think anything of it because that is what this child has grown up learning. I believe that there should be an age limit on this sport because of the negative aspects, youth should not be allowed to join until they understand that while choking and knocking someone out is okay in a match it is not okay to do that at school or with friends.
    Great work,
    Emily M.

  2. s30c5 says:

    Great Blog Gina!
    I have never heard of this sport until now and agree that it is not something we want our children doing for a sport. Unless this sport does have some sort or martial arts behind it or real mental/physical purpose I do not think it is healthy for the developing child. Like mentioned, head trauma and injuries will occur since the intent is to harm the opponent. This can be a significant factor of the development of the child and may cause negative outcomes in their cognitive ability in the future.

    If this sport is meant to make children tougher and more discipline, I think it is doing the complete opposite. There are much better ways to teach children how to become tougher and disciplined without including violence. This sport…if you want to call it that, has no real positive outcomes for the developing children. They are being taught to inflict harm on other children and will probably not be making any real friends from this sport.

    I agree that this is not a sport for a child. Children need to be able to be physically active without the worries of major injuries; I believe that is why many hockey organizations took out checking up until a certain age. They need to develop the proper skills through sport that will target the developmental assets and positive youth development, and I cannot see a lot being developed with this sport.

    Hopefully this sport will be looked at more carefully if it becomes any more popular.

    Caleigh R.

  3. Great Post!

    First off I completely agree with you and your points. In my opinion, I believe a sport like MMA or pankration should not be a child’s main and specialized sport a such a young age. Those are the types of sports that you look at when you are around 16 years old after you have played sports like: soccer, basketball, hockey, volleyball or whatever you may decide to play at a young age because this is when you learn the basic fundamentals and coordination. A child shouldn’t be taking hits to the head at such a young age because it can effect them in the long run. that’s a big reason why in hockey you aren’t allowed to hit until you get in pewee ages were you are at least a teen.


  4. t628i says:

    As someone who participated in about 6 years of full contact (with gear) Tae Kwon Do throughout childhood, I believe that martial arts can be extremely beneficial to children/youth. It helped to build flexibility as well as strength, gave me a positive outlet for stress, kept me physically active in a prosocial way about 5 times a week. Though it was full contact (with full protective gear), the goal was never to actually knock your opponent out. The goal was to outperform your opponent by being faster or more talented in healthy competition. Though I see some positive benefits of MMA for children (exercise), I do not see anything positive from having children knock each other out in a ring; I’m fairly certain that at that developmental age, children should not be awarded for fighting one another when they tend to do so without rewards already.

  5. brendanlane2 says:

    Following up on Adam’s comment, I think there are some pretty serious physical issues with having children take part in full contact activities. There are really good reasons why most football, hockey, and martial arts organizations for young children focus on non-contact variations. The chance of injuring a child pretty much overrules any potential benefits from the sports, so it’s better to just hold off on contact until the children are a bit older.

    The fact that the kids taking part in MMA are doing so without some sort of head protection is absolutely ridiculous. Concussions are not something to mess around with, and the idea that someone would willingly put risk having a five year-old experience head trauma blows my mind. I don’t see any real issue with MMA in general because it’s a group of informed adults who understand the risks involved and consent to them. That’s definitely not the case with a child, and I don’t understand how any parent would put their child in that sort of situation.


  6. Until reading this article I had no idea that kids were practicing mixed martial arts in such a combative way. It amazes me that parents can view this as a productive sport for children, let alone one that is safe and good for character building. The fact that the kids wear no protective gear is very worrisome. Like this blog states, the injuries and intense physical demand will likely have a negative consequence on physical development.
    It seems unlikely that developmental assets could be learnt through participation. The sport lacks positive peer influence, how can kids combating one another to the point of unconsciousness model responsible behavior? Not to mention the lack of personal assets, like caring, integrity and moral values. Youth participating in this sport are learning that violence is socially acceptable and that their parents are conducive to these forms of behavior.
    It would be interesting to examine gender participation, and the differences in rules and regulations, if any between the two. The psychological, physical and emotional development between female and males could be affected if taught that violence is a sport. Although there are many other sports that contain violent behaviors it is not the main focus. Mixed martial arts are based off teaching kids how to physically hurt their opponent to the point of defeat or unconsciousness. If kids begin to associate winning with violent behaviors, then what could that mean for their behavior socially and emotionally as they age? Fostering youth development implies that they are learning skills to prepare them for adulthood, I do not see how the skills they obtain through fitting will help them in their future endeavors.

  7. Ashley LeGresley
    All I can say to this is WOW! I have watched a few UFC fights in the past and it blows my mind that grown men would want to inflict that kind of harm to another human being, let alone letting children as young as five participate in such antics.
    They compare it to boxing, which in some ways it is similar. The outcome is to knock-out your opponent or get them to tap out, but in boxing there is much more safety equipment invovled especially when youth come into play. Youth wear protective head gear and thick gloves as to protect their heads and hands.
    I realize that all sports have some sort of violence involved in them, some more than others. Pitchers intentionally hitting good batters with the ball so that they get a walk instead of a grand slam, hockey players shoving someone into the boards, soccer players cleeting others with the aim to hurt them. It happens in each sports and many times the coaches even encourage or tell the players to do such acts.Many people think this is part of the game, but it certainly is not.
    We must teach our children that playing fair is the right way to play the game, not a win at all costs. Our sports should focus on teaching fundamental assets such as integrity, honesty, caring and responsibility, not how to hurt someone so they can’t finish the game or the season.
    Video games that protray such sports have age warnings so why are they allowed to actually play them at such ages when the gamers who aren’t actually hurting anyone are limited to 13+??
    Allowing children to display such forms of aggression and anger only builds on such attributes and teaches them that feeling this way is perfectly fine. We are sending different signals to children when we teach them at home to not play rough but then on the ice or in the ring to knock them out! These types of violence should be limited to children over a certain age that have learned the difference and understand that in the ring or on the ice is different then everyday life and you can’t use those techniques on just your average joe.
    Parents needs to be careful as children are very influential at such young ages, and everything they see and do changes them in some way. Be sure to be clear on what is right and what is wrong as to not to confuse them.

  8. t510z says:

    This is an excellent post and quite an interesting subject. When does does the line get crossed in youth sport. We encourage aggression even in sports like soccer and basketball that are non-contact. I grew up with a friend that was very passive and kept to himself until he became involved in structured sport. The next year the boy was often getting into fights on and off school grounds and would sometimes injure other students when playing at lunch or recess in order to win. Obviously the correlation may not be perfect as other things could have created this change but it makes one think that maybe the encouragement of being aggressive in sports passed over to the real world. Why is it different for a child to knock another out in the ring, or out of the ring. When a child wins a fight in MMA they are rewarded and reassured of how skilled and great they are, but on the playground if they get in a fight and knock the other child out they are scolded and told how bad they are. How do we draw the line for youth spots?
    Brandon Z

  9. jbuote says:

    Great post Gina,
    I couldn’t agree more with the arguments you have made for this certain topic. Personally, I have played competetive hockey since I was ten years old and they taught us to check at the age of twelve which is PeeWee level and even that seemed a little young to be learning how to hit another human being in the context of sport.
    As far as MMA goes I also believe that youth should not be able to participate in this until a certain age because this sport is like you said specifically about knocking out or inflicting enough pain into your opponent so that they give up. I do not believe that it is fostering youth development very well if these children and youth are learning through this type of sport that you have to be violent and hurt people to achieve success which is ridiculous.
    Of course, MMA is still a respected sport and takes a lot of hard work to compete in but their should be guidelines and rules set as to when youth or children can start to participate in this sport by their own choice and understand that it is not all about inflicting pain and knocking out your opponent but to instead learn the philosophy behind it and the training and preperation needed to compete in these MMA events.

    -Jamie B

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