Understanding the process of learning life skills in mixed martial arts


Life skill development has been identified as an outcome of youths' participation in organized sports (e.g., Holt et al., in press). Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a sport that combines techniques from a variety of martial art forms (e.g. karate, Brazilian jujitsu, wrestling, boxing). In recent years, MMA has grown in popularity, with programs often claiming to successfully develop youths' life skills; however, there is little consensus within the literature on MMA's potential to enhance youths' development (Theeboom, 2012). This study explored the experiences of youth MMA participants in relation to life skill development, using a phenomenological approach (Creswell, 2013). Participants included 13 youth (n=11 boys) ages 9-18 enrolled in youth MMA programs in Toronto. Semi-structured interviews focused on youths' background, knowledge of life skills, MMA experiences, self-reflection, and transfer. Interviews were analyzed using thematic analysis (Braun & Clark, 2006). Consistent with findings in other sports (e.g., Camiré et al., 2013), the coach was found to be the most influential facilitator of life skill development, by having a strong connection with athletes, partnering youth with appropriate peer teachers, explicitly teaching life skills, and focusing on transfer to non-sport contexts. Perhaps unique to the MMA context, was that other adults who were present in the gym (i.e., in other adult classes/programs) had a substantive impact on some youth by modelling competence, confidence, and MMA skills. Findings are discussed using the conceptual frameworks of Ecological Systems Theory (Bronfenbrenner, 2005) and Experiential Learning Theory (Kolb, 1984).

Acknowledgments: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Sport Participation Research Initiative