It was the bottom of the ninth with two outs and the bases loaded in our last game of the season. My little league baseball team was down by one run after rallying back. I was at bat and the count was full.
I remember it like it was yesterday; the pressure and the anxiety. After having my worst little league season ever, this was my opportunity to make a difference. This was my redemption. The pitcher threw a high and outside ball that should have walked in the tying run. But it was already too late. I was swinging. My swing was at my shoulders, but the pitch was higher still. I was out.
The shouts and yells came from the dugout.
“You suck!” yelled one.
“Why couldn’t anyone else been at bat?” another commented.
“You’re the worst player on the team!” said one more.
Kids are mean when they’re unchecked.
A Lack of Leadership
This was just another day and game in my last two seasons playing little league. I was an average height- skinny kid with no confidence. My teammates mocked and made fun of me for the past two seasons. I didn’t have any friends on my team. I was miserable and alone sitting in the dugout. I remember, at one point, when we finally got a kid smaller and skinnier than me, I was relieved because I thought maybe now some of the attention would be on him, but it wasn’t.
My confidence had sunk to an all-time low.
When signups came around for the next season, my mom asked if I wanted to play. I told her I didn’t. That last season at bat was sadly the end of my little league career.
Please understand, I don’t believe that a baseball program should cause a child’s self-confidence to disappear. A well-run program should have the complete opposite effect on any child.
The problem wasn’t the sport, but rather the lack of leadership from our coach.
Rather than using the sport of Baseball to teach these kids how to build fundamentals, training habits, and to be better people and athletes, my coach focused solely on winning and his son. The weaker, less developed players were left behind and the coach allowed them to be mocked by the stronger and more advanced players. This can be detrimental for a ten year old.
Next, my mom asked what I wanted to play. I told her I didn’t know. She asked what I thought about doing Martial Arts. I never voiced this to her, but my thought was something like “Great, doing Karate is something else people can make fun of me for”. My confidence was shot. I told her I didn’t care and she enrolled me at St. Clair Moo Do Kwan Taekwondo, under Master Joseph Barnard Jr. There is not a doubt in my mind that this was the best decision she made for me at that point in my life.
A Contrast in Leadership
I remember the first time I met Master Joseph Barnard Jr. He was a loud, white haired man with a bit of scruff. He wore a clean white uniform with a black V-neck and a black belt. Master Barnard walked up to my younger sister and I, knelt to our level and introduced himself. He explained that we should not be intimidated by him, that he gets loud at times, but it’s to push us and help us become better.
In every class that Master Barnard taught, his goal was to help develop us as Martial Artists and people. He wanted to use Taekwondo to help people the same way it had helped him. Master Barnard improved our focus and demanded our attention by speaking with authority and confidence. He increased our athleticism by challenging and motivating us in our workouts all while encouraging and building us up. Master Barnard was there for us outside of class if we needed advice.
He didn’t just teach these lessons, he lived them and we followed him.
The result: Master Barnard developed one of the most dominant and high quality Taekwondo families in the St. Louis area. I truly believe that every individual who has had the pleasure of training under Master Barnard is a better person for it. To date, Master Barnard uses his program to continue to impact lives. He continues to live out what he preaches. I wouldn’t be the man I am, and Infinity Taekwondo would not be the program it is now without his influence. If you’re ever in Franklin County, Missouri on a Tuesday or Thursday evening, stop in to the St. Clair Parks Department and introduce yourself.
Why Taekwondo and Martial Arts over other sports?
How does Respect and Courtesy Build Confidence?
Why does a Martial Arts program consistently produce these results while other sports can be hit or miss? The answer lies in the core values. All sports start by teaching the fundamentals of the game. But Taekwondo and other Martial Arts begin by teaching respect and courtesy. At Infinity Taekwondo, we emphasize that our goal as Martial Artists is to positively impact the world. It’s a discussion we have regularly as a class.
When we’re talking to our Black Belt candidates, we want to know how they live this positive example in their lives outside of Taekwondo practice.
“Knowledge will give you power, but character respect”
I truly believe that teaching respect is a cornerstone component for building confidence. Learning respect opens the door for teaching self-respect.
If a child lacks the ability to respect the world around them, how can we expect them to respect themselves? How can we expect other people to respect them?The first thing a student does when entering or leaving the training floor in most Martial Arts programs is bow to show respect to their classmates, their instructor, and their school. At the beginning and end of every class, students “bow-in” to the master or instructor. This respect is emphasized from the beginning to the end of every class. Students are taught not to talk when the instructor is talking, to listen, to pay attention, and to learn, and respect their Martial Arts family.
In many cases, Martial Arts programs inherently reflect this model without the instructors even being aware of the positive impact. With other sports, a coach must make a conscious effort to emphasize focus, courtesy, and respect. The focus can easily fall onto the game rather than what the child should be learning from the hard work, the hours of practice, and winning and losing. If unchecked, coaches can easily divert their attention to their “Star Athletes” and their own children, while ignoring those struggling with the fundamentals. It happened to me.
Taekwondo and Fitness
During physical activity, your body releases endorphins. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that essentially cause you to feel good. Think of them as naturally produced anti-depressants. The prolonged effects of this regular endorphin release can help combat depression and negativity. Research shows that the positivity from endorphin release helps to boost confidence.
Physically, everyone will feel better!
Beyond the mental benefits, physical activity also strengthens muscle tissue, bone density, and cardiovascular efficiency– all positive influences on a child’s day to day activities. Along with this, we see an increase in focus and overall health which can lead to a drastic increase in confidence. Finally, the child will be more athletic. They’ll run faster for longer, jump higher, have increased coordination, and be stronger. Being more athletic while at play with their peers does nothing but boost confidence.
Body Image and How We Think We Look
A positive Body Image is another major side effect from the physical strain that a Martial Arts program has. Simply put, as fitness, health, and appearance improves, so does self-image and confidence.
Taekwondo and Self-Defense
This is where a quality Martial Arts program has the largest impact on confidence over other sports. Being someone who was bullied in my youth, this is where Taekwondo truly changed my life.
A Martial Arts program isn’t meant to give children the tools to fight a bully. Rather, a great program will show kids that there’s no reason to fight. It teaches them that they have nothing to fear or prove. It removes the fear that a bully thrives on by giving the child confidence in their ability to defend themselves.
A bully does not want to pick on someone who isn’t afraid of them. This confidence leads to an upward spiral in most cases. The effects can be profound.
Family and Teamwork
In my story, I went from being a very average baseball player to one of the worst players in the league over the course of two seasons. The biggest factor in this negative change was the lack of support I had from my team. Rather than helping me grow as player, teammate, and an athlete, we were belittled for our mistakes by our peers and ignored by our coaches.
When you train with a group that has growth, empathy, and their teammates’ best interests at heart and you leave everything out on the training floor, you start to develop a sense of comradery, which turns into relationships, and as the relationships grow, you become a family.
A Martial Arts family is essentially one of the most positive and supportive groups of close friends that will push you, encourage you, and be there for you, not only in practice but in the darkest times. Having a group of people that believe in you and want the best for you is perhaps one of the most fundamental and basic ingredients to building confidence. These relationships can be life changing.
Keep in mind, I don’t believe that other sports are not capable of having similar positive results in developing confidence. The right coach/leader will positively impact a child’s life in a very similar manner. My first baseball coach developed me from a kid who had never played the sport into an average to above average player for my age. He was encouraging, he was helpful, and fair to everyone on the team. He taught us to be humble winners and gracious losers. I became a worse player under the second coach.
The key component to any program is the leader.
Taekwondo and other Martial Arts programs tend to have high quality leadership more consistently due to the nature and built-in core values of the sport. Taekwondo instructors coach out of the love the impact our sport has on developing people as opposed to only coaching because we want to coach our own children. As a culture, Martial Arts schools are built around developing respect for the school, the instructor, and the students’ peers. All Martial Arts are physically demanding by nature. The more a child trains, the more fit they will become, the higher their confidence will rise. Martial Arts programs are developed as self-defense systems. Confidence is a direct by-product of the activity.
Finally, I have never trained in a school where we didn’t develop close, family-like relationships. My training partners and fellow students always help me on the mat and outside of the school with every program I have ever been involved in. Taekwondo and Martial Arts programs do this naturally. In my mind, there is no activity that builds confidence and self-respect like a high quality Martial Arts program.
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