Hillary and I are expecting our first child. Right after being asked if we are having a boy or girl, (it’s a boy), we get asked when he is going to start training. I have been thinking about this a lot. I have been around BJJ for a long time, and before that I wrestled. I have seen the crazy pressure grappling parents can put on their kids, and the last thing I want is Leonardo hating BJJ by the time he is in high school.
Whether he wants it or not BJJ is going to be around him. We run a jiu-jitsu family business, after all. Not only do we plan on training a few times a week for the rest of our lives, but we still plan on the occasional trip for a seminar or camp, which means he will most likely end up tagging alone on at least some of these outings.
So, when is he going to start training?
The easy answer is when he asks to. I don’t plan on ever forcing him to take a BJJ class. I have seen too many kids forced into grappling, whether it was BJJ, Judo, or wrestling. Some of them found great success as national champions, junior Olympians, world champions at lower BJJ levels, and so on.
But many of these children who find success stop training completely when they realize they never really liked what they were doing. They enjoyed winning and wanted to make their parents happy, but they were not doing it for themselves. This is the last thing I want to do to my child.
Do I believe there is value in BJJ for a kid? Of Course.
I want him to able to defend himself, I want him to understand the value of hard work and discipline, I want him to compete, I want him to come to grips with failure, and I want him to develop healthy habits. However, he can gain all these things through other sports. Before BJJ, I worked as strength and conditioning coach and one of the worst things you can do to kids is specialize them too early. I believe they should be playing a plethora of different sports and developing different attributes. This keeps them interested in being active, prevents overuse injuries, and prevents them from burning out later on.
We live in North Eastern Pennsylvania, so we will have access to some of the best wrestling in the country. I hope I can get him interested in wrestling at a young age because he will never get access to that level of instruction and competition experience again. He can make friends with his schoolmates, which I hope helps to form a supporting link between the sport, his social life, and his academics.
I do not want him to wrestle year around. If he opts to train BJJ, he will only wrestle during the season and come back to BJJ later.
I really like the wrestling and judo rule sets for kids. The emphasis on takedowns and pins while fine motor skills develop is huge in my opinion, and it would be good for him whether or not he pursues BJJ. As far as that goes, he will have all the time in the world to develop his guard and submission skills later on.
Finally, I will have to figure out the line between coach and dad. I would love to teach him some of my favorite takedowns so he can use on Judo or wrestling, but I don’t want to be one of the dads I have seen over the years at tournaments—obsessed with his kid winning, doing techniques their way, and forgetting that it is not about them. I want to support my kid whatever he does. I do not care if he ever becomes a national champion, a world champion, or an Olympian.
I do not need to live vicariously through my son’s accomplishments. I had a competitive career. I have a bag full of medals in the bottom drawer of my desk. I want my son to enjoy his time on the mat, and I want him to have fond memories of us training together, of his mom having no mercy on him while they were close on weight, and of taking trips together to tournaments.
Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.
I hope to keep things balanced and keep him interested in BJJ. As much value as BJJ has on a kid, I think it has much more as an adult.
BJJ has given me so much, and I want to share this wonderful experience with my son, but I want it to be right for him most of all.