Promoting a Positive Environment for Youth Development: Traditional Sports vs. Martial Arts

by Jake M.

Sport and recreation have served as tools to aid in youth development for many years. Particularly, team sports are most often chosen for children by their parents to engage them in physical activity that promotes social development through teamwork and build confidence in their physical abilities. However, I believe that martial arts can offer even greater youth development when compared with traditional sports due to the climate of respect that goes along with training in various combat sports.

It has been my experience in several team sports that I was not always given the opportunities to develop specific skills in positions on the team that I was interested in. For example, my first couple of years playing baseball, I had really wanted to be a pitcher, but because the team already had several other skilled pitchers, I was not given the time to develop my own skills in practice. My time spent training in various martial arts, however, was very different. I believe this was largely due to the close relationships developed with training partners as we worked together to develop every skill required to advance.

In a recent study David Hortiguela noted how martial arts could benefit a higher percentage of participants than traditional sports as they “are most often practised by peers requiring close collaboration and respect between both members so that learning takes place without risks” (Hortiguela, 2017). In my opinion, the level of collaboration between training partners in martial arts is much greater than traditional sports, and the fact that all participants work together to achieve common individual goals supports a more positive environment for youth development. In his study, Hortiguela (2017) compared two teaching units of martial arts and two units of traditional sports and found that the martial arts “teaching units improved students’ attitudes toward violence and generated a higher peer motivational climate than, and similar fun as two teaching units of popular sports such as football and basketball”.

I would have to agree with these findings as I know myself that I had much more respect for the art of combat and a better understanding and attitude toward violent behaviors once I began training in martial arts. I can also attest to the peer motivational climates being much more positive in martial arts culture, whereas in traditional sports I often witnessed many participants being bullied and put down based on their skill level. I can’t recall a single instance in my martial arts training where I witnessed any sort of bullying.

Both traditional sports and martial arts boast a wide range of potential benefits that can promote positive youth development. While parents most often choose traditional sports to promote their child’s development, martial arts should be considered as they offer the same benefits as well as a much more positive environment, better peer relationships, and may develop better attitudes towards violence. Martial arts training also encourages participants to master all of the skills in their sport which can promote higher levels of engagement in the activity, higher self-efficacy, and a more involved and enjoyable experience.


Hortiguela, D., Gutierrez-Garcia, C., Hernando-Garijo, A. (2017) . Combat versus team sports: The effects of gender in a climate of peer-motivation, and levels of fun and violence in physical education students. Journal of Martial Arts Anthropology, 17(3), 11-20. DOI: 10.14589/ido.17.3.2

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7 Responses to Promoting a Positive Environment for Youth Development: Traditional Sports vs. Martial Arts

  1. Victoria Starratt says:

    Great post Jake! I really find your perspective interesting. When I read this article it made me think about the protective factors of resiliency. Sport and recreation programs that promote environments that foster strong support networks is a protective factor of resiliency. I believe this applies to your situation. It seems like youth the martial arts community have a special relationship with their mentor. This is an example of another protective factor of youth resiliency: presence of role models. Youth who have positive role models are more likely to overcome adversity. Another protective factor I thought of as I read this article was gaining independence, confidence and mastery. Based on your testimonies and experiences in martial arts it seems as though you were given the tools you needed to exceed and gain confidence in your sport.

    – V.S.

  2. johnhunt17 says:

    Very interesting subject Jake, you did a great comparing the environments of two culturally different sports. I agree that all sport and recreational professionals should actively promote a positive social environment in which youth feel comfortable and motivated to be the best version of themselves on any given day. Individuals working with youth in sport should support healthy childhood development through providing equal opportunities for all youth to positively develop their personal and social skills through various types of physical activities. It is unfortunate that you were not given the opportunity to develop your own choice of skills during your baseball classes, but it was great to hear that the martial arts leaders took a different approach. As discussed in class, it is important for individuals working within the sport and recreation profession to take actions to promote a supportive learning environment for young athletes, where safe risks are encouraged and everyone is able to play their desired role to best support the development of attributes and skills. These actions include creating opportunities for high youth voice to ensure the creative thoughts and ideas of youth are heard, and providing youth with the necessary knowledge and skills to accomplish their goals. Creating a positive learning environment helps to equip youth with intrinsic confidence that will propel their future success.
    John H.

  3. Ryan L. says:

    Well done, Jake! We have seen a significant increase in interest for mixed martial arts over the last decade, which makes this post very relative in today’s world. One issue that prevents parents from enrolling their children into this sport is the high level of perceived violence within it; however, parents need to be aware of the positive developmental effects that can come with mixed martial arts. As you mentioned, mixed martial arts provides youth with a lot of opportunities to develop different skills that otherwise may not have been there with traditional sports. Along with helping youth develop a positive identity and higher levels of autonomy, these opportunities can also promote youth’s commitment to learning the variety of skills in the sport. Mixed martial arts requires a tremendous amount of mental toughness in order to engage in violence while still showing good sportsmanship; this directly promotes the development of positive values such as respect, integrity, and responsibility.
    With such a large population of people criticizing mixed martial arts, it is interesting the see the sport viewed as a tool for fostering positive youth development. Although it takes a different approach than most traditional sports in promoting positive development, it can definitely have a positive effect on youth. Although there still remains convincing to do, I hope to see mixed martial arts become an option parents consider when enrolling their kids in sport, as it can be a very useful tool for developing some of the key assets in youth.

    Ryan L.

  4. agreggnb says:

    Great post Jake. It definitely seems like many mental and physical skills can be gained through martial arts over the regular team sports. Martial arts require the full attention and ability of the participant in order for them to progress in the sport. They are unable to lean on their team and still succeed.

    It is great that you mentioned the respect fighters have for their training partner. Combat sports are competed in individually and without a team in the fight with you. This does not mean the participants will not gain teamwork skills. The training aspect requires the fighters to work together to ensure they are both getting the moves right and are participating safely.

    To add to your comment about bullying in team sports and not in combat sports. We also see more hazing in team sports and not at all in combat sports. This could be in part due to the respect each fighter for each other. I think this is also because every one who participates in these sports understands that showing your commitment to the sport can be seen just by showing up to classes and working hard. The other participants understand that if you are new to the sport and are training with them, it will not decrease their own ability so there is no need to force anyone to do anything outside of the sporting context.

    Alec G.

  5. jamariobar says:

    good post Jake
    I have found this to be very true where many kids don’t find the excitement or that feeling of enjoyment from just doing regular physical activity. this leads to them still having loads of pent up energy, anger and frustration that they need to release. If not released it builds and builds until it explodes usually they don’t know what to do so they end up fighting with any one that angers them. But the major problem in my eyes is parents who refuse to let theirs kids learn martial arts because of their own opinions or beliefs about the sport. That their child could be injured or be seen and as violent,but what they don’t understand is the amount of discipline that is learnt from anyone who learns martial arts. they have to learn self-control, discipline, its a structured and a control environment and they learn to respect others.
    They learn to work together with others to achieve certain goals. The have to put in effort and work hard to be persevere to achieve these goals weather it be to earn a higher class belt or to win a competition. In this you can see the amount of effort and dedication the these youth would but in with the motivation to win the tournament or to move up in a higher class.

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