From ATA World Volume 19, Number 4 Winter
Article by Suzy Frisch | Photography by Margie Woods-Brown, Krista Campbell, Amy Jones
We all know the perils of being a teenager: the emotional upheaval of hormonal changes, the awkwardness of a rapidly growing body, the desire to create a new identity that is separate from even the most loving parents and communities. It’s a tough job, those teen years—for everyone. (Right, parents?)
But ATA’s teens generally prove to be tougher than the problems of their age. With the life skills and fitness encouraged and maintained through regular Taekwondo training, many ATA teens respond better than their peers to the challenges of these crucial years.
Here’s why—and a look at a few teens demonstrating it in their leadership and instructor programs right now.
Discipline and Perseverance
It takes heaps of discipline and perseverance to become a state or World Champion in the martial arts, but teens (or younger) do it all the time in ATA Taekwondo. The lessons taught in regular martial arts practice—discipline, perseverance, working hard every time—pay off with success on the mats. And it pays off in other areas of life, too.
World Champion is something 16-year-old Katherine Spaulding achieved in Sparring in 2007. A repeat State Champion, Spaulding, of Bentonville, Ark., applies that same discipline and perseverance to her other pursuits. And she has plenty of them. A straight-A student, Spaulding runs varsity cross country and track for her state-championship winning team, 30 to 40 miles a week. She also volunteers for her school’s Special Olympics team and at a local veterinary clinic, where she gets experience for her future career as a veterinarian.
Taekwondo helped her develop the stick-to-it attitude she needs for all of it. She credits martial arts with giving her strength in mind and body, which helps give her the physical endurance and speed to excel in running. Taekwondo also helped her realize she can do anything she sets her mind to. “Taekwondo has taught me to be hard-working, not only when I’m in class but when I’m at school, too,” says Spaulding. “It’s taught me to be respectful and have good manners all the time.”
Says Senior Master Rick Abair, senior vice president of the ATA’s training division, “Children who train in Taekwondo are able to handle life’s challenges, and with greater strength and discipline.”
Confidence and Balance
Most parents and teachers would jump for joy if their teens were respectful and used manners. What those with Taekwondo teens know is that martial arts teaches these skills and encourages their use even under pressure. Taekwondo trains teenagers to have confidence and balance in their bodies, and in doing so it teaches them to respect others and to balance energy and time—key life skills even adults struggle with.
Take Taylor Martin, 14, a two-time ATA World Champion from Las Vegas, Nev. She says that learning to be aggressive in the ring shaped her into a more assertive soccer player on her high school team. She also gained the confidence to stand up to bullies in elementary school and succeed in and out of the classroom.
For almost-13-year-old Isabella Caracta (she turns 13 this spring), participating in Taekwondo helped give this 13-time World Champion the ability to balance learning the flute, playing on a traveling soccer team, and serving on her school’s student council.
“Taekwondo taught me discipline, focus, and self-confidence— confidence about my body and about self-defense,” says Caracta, of Piscataway, N.J. “I’m confident in my speaking ability—and Taekwondo teaches you to be quick on your feet if a problem comes to you.”
Leadership and Giving Back
Many kids who stay in Taekwondo through their teen years build strong leadership skills by being involved in leadership programs and by becoming instructors to younger students who look up to them. Teens in ATA know they are role models and they learn to behave accordingly.
“Our leadership program is about learning to be the best individual you can be. That might be the best competitor or the best student,” says Senior Master Abair. “You learn how to communicate, to work with others, and to speak and carry yourself like a leader.”
That’s certainly been the case for Trace Megellas, 16, from Colleyville, Texas. In Taekwondo since age 5, he’s a confident, athletic young man who also excels at other sports. Though Taekwondo is primarily an activity performed by an individual, the community of a dojahng has everyone rooting for everyone else’s success. The values Megellas learned in a supportive community have made him be a team player, and he’s helped his baseball, basketball, and track teams reach competitive Texas state championships.
“From Taekwondo I’ve learned discipline, confidence, endurance, perseverance—to never give up and always keep on trying,” says Megellas. “If I can’t get a bo staff trick, I’ll do it 200 times until I get it. That’s helped me in other sports, too.”
The Way: Through an Open Door
Teenagers in Taekwondo also find that many doors swing open for them as a result of their training, whether it’s through their ability to communicate with people from all walks of life, the confidence they’ve developed in their own skills and abilities, their resilience honed through competition, or through longtime Taekwondo friends and community members.
Through Taekwondo, Megellas got the chance to do modeling and act in commercials and music videos. Santiago Gonzalez, 18, a freshman at University of Central Arkansas, says Taekwondo and the community he has developed around it helped him acclimate to the United States after he emigrated with his family from Paraguay at age 13 (not the easiest age for big transitions).
“It provided me with a community that supported me through many obstacles, such as the language barrier,” Gonzalez says. “It dramatically enhanced my confidence. It gave me motivation toward a better future.”
Better indeed—with the help of the English skills, as well as the focus, support, and confidence he got in the dojahng, he earned a full scholarship to college. ATA
It’s no secret that today’s kids need to get moving to stem the tide of childhood and adult obesity affecting the entire country. Taekwondo just might be a teenager’s secret weapon to staying healthy during the teen years. Not only is Taekwondo great for cardiovascular exercise, it helps kids develop strength, endurance, speed, balance, and body control.
And you can practice martial arts for your entire life—if you’ve developed the habit. The teenage years are a critical time to establish positive exercise and eating habits that set people up for a lifetime of good living. Taekwondo teens lay a positive groundwork for future workouts every time they step out onto the mats.
The teen years are an especially critical time to stay active because human beings gain about 50 percent of their adult weight and significant height while they’re teenagers. Learning a martial art like Taekwondo can give kids the motor development and coordination they need to adapt to their rapid growth, says Dr. William O. Roberts, a board-certified physician in family and sports medicine and a professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota.
Adds Senior Master Rick Abair, senior vice president of the ATA’s training division: “The physical benefits are immeasurable. It keeps you in great shape, it keeps you flexible, and it keeps the pounds off.” (And that’s true for both teens and grownups.)
Not only is Taekwondo great for a teenager’s body, it also offers mental and emotional benefits as teens develop. Teenagers involved with sports get a leg up over their non-active peers in self-confidence and time-management skills, says Dr. William O. Roberts, a board-certified physician in family and sports medicine in Minneapolis, Minn.
“Participation in sports helps you develop your work skills, helps you be more efficient, and helps you manage yourself around other people,” says Roberts. It definitely shows in teens. “On average, high school student athletes have higher GP As than non-athletes.”
In particular, Taekwondo can be a stress reliever for teenagers while they build a positive self-image and identity. “Through martial arts, kids learn body control, discipline, strength, and flexibility, but it’s also the life philosophy that is beneficial in the long run,” Dr. Roberts says.
The positive actions and community help develop charisma and hard work. The achievement of belt ranks and competitions helps develop the self-confidence teens need to speak in front of groups and stand up for themselves in difficult situations. Working through a difficult form or trying again after a poor performance helps develop discipline and perseverance.
Teenagers are going to need it all as they pass through adolescence and grow up.
Says Senior Master Rick Abair, senior vice president of the ATA’s training division. “Taekwondo helps kids physically and mentally prepare for whatever comes at them.”