Can mixed martial arts facilitate life skills? Exploring mma's promotion and processes of life skill development among youth


The legalization of mixed martial arts (MMA) in Canada and growing popularity of Ultimate Fighting Championships have prompted increased participation in the sport. MMA gyms have marketed programs as avenues to develop essential life skills, with much anecdotal support (Kim, 1991; Seabrook, 2003; Vitali & Brouillard, 2007); however, limited empirical evidence exists to support these claims (Theeboom, et al., 2009). This study first examined potential life skills that can be developed through MMA, according to MMA gym promotional materials. A content analysis drew upon the websites of 25 MMA gyms in Toronto offering youth programs, to identify the life skills they claimed to be developing. Results indicated key outcomes related to self-control, self-confidence, self-esteem, co-operation and social skills. The study's second purpose was to determine how MMA programs may be facilitating life skill development. Instructors (N=7) completed interviews focused on their MMA history, current practices, values and beliefs, the MMA environment, and their facilitation of MMA classes. Findings revealed that coaches valued and aimed to facilitate slightly different outcomes related to patience, focus, resiliency, discipline, and self-control through the practice of MMA. Coaches primarily used deliberate techniques to facilitate life skill development. However, less direct approaches such as values-based programming were also employed. Coaches also highlighted co-operation with parents and the unique competition and program structure as key criteria in enhancing youths' life skill development. Results will be discussed within the broader context of positive youth development through sport; potential implications and future directions will be highlighted.

Acknowledgments: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and Sport Canada