Character development through children’s martial arts

Most martial arts clubs promote character development in their martial arts training. Indeed, if you look at any social media post advertising taekwondo, karate or ju jitsu (or any other martial arts) classes, you would be forgiven for thinking that stepping on the mats and kicking and punching each other would automatically lead to overnight success in life. Usually centred around confidence, perseverance, self control, respect etc, it’s safe to say that these points are front and centre when it comes to advertising the benefits of training in most martial arts clubs.

We are not a mainstream advertising agency and we are unlikely to ever be held to account on the promises we made in our marketing, so why does it matter? For one, if what you advertise is not congruent with the service you provide, you are unlikely to keep your students for the long term. Using the old ‘bait and switch’ tactics on the public is also quite likely to cause blowback on social media. These points are even before we consider the ethical side of selling benefits that many instructors just don’t know how to deliver.

Have you ever thought that if each club delivers different content, in a different way, how can they all development the same positive psychological characteristics that routinely get used in their marketing literature? What benefits do martial arts classes deliver that other sports can’t? Do you think you could use what you know to help a coach in a non martial arts sport develop confidence, perseverance, self control etc in the children they work with? If that’s the case, is WHAT we teach any better at delivering these benefits that any other sport or is it more the WAY we deliver the content that makes the difference?

Although it is true that including a character development programme can help you deliver on the benefits of running a children’s martial arts programme, if someone asked you ‘Why have you chosen this list of positive psychological characteristics over others?’, what would you answer? Because it is what parents what to hear? Because they are the values I was raised with? Even before you start looking at HOW to nurture these characteristics in children, you need to know WHY they were selected in the first place. 

Character development super heroes
Design your own character development programme

Often the terms ‘values’ and ‘key skills’ are used to describe the positive psychological characteristics you would like to develop in your students. Sometimes these are based on the club’s or your own personal values while other times they are promoted in your specific martial art. If you can define the end results you are trying to achieve, you can work back choosing characteristics that align with these goals.

Selecting attributes for your Character development programme

Once we have decided the main benefits we want to develop in our children’s martial arts programme, how do we choose the values / key skills that align with and support these goals? We research the goals to find evidence for characteristics that support the end result we want. 

If one of your highest level goals is ‘confidence’, what positive psychological characteristics could you help develop to improve student confidence? Do they need to be good at speaking in public or is it subject mastery that counts more? Do they need to develop a growth mindset so they are less likely to worry about failing (as they know it is just part of the process of improving) or is it all down to affirmations and visualisation? One consideration is that, what may have worked for you in the past does not mean the same methods will necessarily work for your students. The only way to find out what works for most people is to do your homework and get reading up on the subject.

The first characteristic we will be looking at in my next blog post will be Growth Mindset. Without getting into the weeds, if you put ‘growth mindset children’ into the google search engine and hit <enter>, you will be presented with a whole host of different articles. In the past, people have done a good job in gaming the Google algorithm but these days it is much harder to get to the top of the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) if you are not an authority in that space. That’s not to say that you should automatically trust the listings at the top of the page but this is a good place to start without having access to an index of academic journals. Project MAPLE currently includes 9 of these positive psychological characteristics though I would be open to adding more as long as I can find the research to back up the addition of more.

Many of the articles and papers that show up in SERPs for character development will be from authoritative sources. An extra little tip is to put ‘PDF’ at the end of the search string if you are searching for papers more academic in nature. Books are also a good source of information in this field but they are not always as up to date as online sources. Once a book goes to print the information is fixed and will not be changed unless the author decides a reprint is in order (Like Carol Dweck did with her book ‘Mindset’).

Over the coming weeks, my aim is to investigate a range of different positive psychological characteristics, some of which you may decide to include in your own character development programme. Hopefully the information and studies I reference will not only give you a little bedtime reading but will be useful in helping you decide which way to go in developing or improving your own programme.

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