top of page
IMG_3237 2.JPG

Why Children sparring and head contact is never an option.

I am never shy in sharing my thoughts on getting children involved in martial arts and combat sports under the tutelage of the correct coaches and teams.

I know what kind of an amazing effect the ethos of a good academy can have on young children.

The sport or art itself teaches many, many lessons.

Discipline, focus, grit, determination and a never say die attitude are just a few of the attributes I believe are afforded from taking part in combat sports as a junior.

There’s many an article online about how many loves boxing has saved.

Those it has taken out of the gutter, off the mean streets and provided purpose and hope in to many a young Childs mind.

Now I really don’t dispute what the sports offer, I love all the martial arts and combat sports and have the pleasure to be able to coach juniors of all levels and I agree about the benefits of boxing and those lives it has saved, but what of the lives it has ruined?

I know this may sound dramatic and I don’t intend it to be so, but head trauma has the potential to ruin lives and is not something as humans we should be looking to receive on a regular basis, its damage over time is blatantly obvious and is proven so.

As adults, we should be really trying to limit the occasions we receive trauma to our brains.

If you choose to be a professional boxer or mma fighter, then obviously, there are going to be times when you get hit in the head, its an inevitability.

There is the possibility that you may be knocked unconscious too. Its certainly not ideal and no fighter would want that but it is a risk that, as fighters, we choose to take.

Live by the sword, die by the sword.

Information is freely available now about head trauma and its adverse effects on us and its role in developing neuro degenerative diseases like Alzheimers, Parkinsons and CTE.

Years ago, when I would spar hard, and often, the information wasn’t out there as it is now.

I would be coming home from morning sessions, feeling sick and carrying the worst headache for a day whilst trying to do my other tasks.

So much of the training based around ego because we didn’t know any better. Harder, meaner and more intimidating, dog eat dog, bite down on that gum shield and swing.

We weren’t to know any better at the time and we chose to be fighters, we were adults and we engaged in all the fighting willingly to try to be the best fighter we could.

But now know so much more, we know much better.

With my professional fighters, I limit the head trauma as much as possible. There is no way around sparring, they need to do it. If you’re a footballer, you need to kick a ball, a tennis player has to swing a racket and a fighter needs to fight. But as a coach its my responsibility to mitigate as much damage the fighters receive as possible. But there is no way around it, they need to be hit at some points as they prepare.

They’re adults and they have chosen to be fighters but I am a coach and I must do my best to provide as safe environment for them as possible.

And this is where one of the key differences is between having children spar and adults.

The adults choose.

We choose for the children.

These children are forming all of their cognitive abilities. They're growing and going through all kinds of changes on a daily basis.

They don’t really know their own bodies, hormones are all over the place as they grow and learn and develop their skills and personality through their various interactions.

I always say to the parents of the children I coach, I will treat your child like my child when they are on the mats.

It is my duty to protect them.

Even from the parents sometimes, and I don't mean that to sound inflammatory, (all of us as parents have our similar faults.)

When, as parents we sit on the sidelines watching our children train, we can’t help but get that voice inside telling us to get up and get involved, shouting from the sidelines.

Our egos trying to burst through our chest when we see them not performing like we feel they should, imagining the telling off we are going to give them after class on the drive home.

(This is why I don’t usually allow parents to sit close to the mat during class, its frustrating for the parent sometimes and it totally alters the behaviour of the child when they know their dads watching and judging. There’s a reason we don’t go sit in their maths class with them all day, but I am digressing, this is for a different post.)

We are expected to protect our children. I don’t think that instinct ever leaves us either. But when they’re only little children we really have to be sensible in what freedoms we afford them. Some of them would love nothing more than to fight. Its in some of them.

The competition is just naturally there, I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

Natural fighters who appear to be the most astute martial artists and fighters you have ever seen.

They want to spar and hit their friends and training partners in the head.

But, its not bad when you’re the hammer, its awful if you’re the nail.

We seem to think we are doing these kids a disservice for not allowing them to put gloves on and beat the crap out of each other.

There is never a need for a child to receive head trauma.


You will never convince me otherwise.

Because maybe, one famous fighter started when they were a child and sparred hard and they got to be a world champion doesn’t mean that it works.

Think of all the thousands who did it and never got anywhere with their careers and are now left with permanent damage on their brains.

Left with defects in their learning abilities or even changes to their personality.

We can’t pretend that a ten year old child knows exactly what they want to do with their life. Most forty year olds still don’t know what they want to do with their lives, why would we entrust a ten year old does.

Of course they want to be UFC champion, they sit and watch fighting with their dad and they see how excited he gets when watching it, it provides a way to build a connection for them. Maybe, they think, it will make us closer.

It will too, until it dent and it drives them apart. Ive seen that too, a lot.

The fathers who didn’t do it, or couldn’t do it who didn’t live fighting trying to live vicariously through their child.

Fighting is an extremely tough life. I know I am not selling it and I don’t want to persuade anyone to be a fighter. I didn’t choose to be a fighter for a career, I was a martial artist who just wanted to continually get better.

I didn’t do it for fame or notoriety or money.

Its very difficult and only a fighter knows if its the life they want.

The thing I see most in these situations is that the child feels too pressured as they hit their late teens and then go the total opposite way and leave the sports altogether.

They’ve received all this trauma, all the hurt and the damage and for nothing.

Head guards don’t help either. The only use of headguards should be for the prevention of cuts. They do not limit the brain trauma and in fact in some studies have proven the opposite, that the extra weight from the headguard causes more trauma due to the added weight.

The damage of a head shot isn’t usually caused by the impact of the first shot, its from the brain hitting the inside of the skull as the head bounces from the trauma.

Instead of focusing on sparring for youngsters, this also applies to adults too but a lesser degree, the focus should be put on to skill acquisition.

Development of superior technique and mindset whilst continual improvement is sought after until the suitable age that sparring can then be introduced in a controlled manner

If your child is studying a combat sport, be mindful of what impact they are receiving.

Broken bones and ligaments heal, brains are different.

Think about risk vs reward.

Coaches, protect those that are put in to your care. I know they will want to spar. Of course they do, that’s the most fun part. But our role is to be the bad guy sometimes and stand our ground. Many parents have asked me before about allowing them to spar, but I’ve had to let them down, then educate them of the risks and why and if they still don’t understand, that is fine, but I am likely not the coach for them and I take no offence at that.

My role is an important one that I cherish.

I want to be able to see these successful children in many years time as they receive their black belts living their most fulfilling, successful lives, proud of the minor part I played in helping and protecting them on their journey.



Top this. agreed. Im glad my little girl isn’t getting banged to the head on a regular basis. She’s learning a skill and at the same time being part of a lovely team of kids ❤️


Nicki Bradshaw

Well said Tom x


Jodie Danner

Fantastic post 👏


Thankyou jodie x


Hi, thanks for stopping by!

Hi, thank you for spending the time with me and reading what I have to say. I hope my comments help you in some way and I would love your feedback. Please drop us an email and get on our contact list to know about any new posts or things happening that may help you.

Let the posts
come to you.

Thanks for submitting!

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
bottom of page