What can mixed martial arts do for you? A content analysis of life skills youth can develop through participation in mixed martial arts


In Canada, the growing popularity of youth participation in mixed martial arts (MMA) may be attributed in part to MMA schools marketing their programs as a vital way for youth to develop life skills (e.g., positive thinking, stress management, anti-bullying skills, self-confidence, social skills). While anecdotal sources promote the idea that youth develop life skills from their participation in MMA, few empirical studies indicate martial arts positively impact youths’ development (Lakes & Hoyt, 2004). The purpose of this study was to identify the life skills that MMA clubs suggest they are developing and explore how clubs suggest these skills are being facilitated. Data was collected from websites of 20 MMA gyms in Southern Ontario that offered youth programming. Data was analyzed using content analysis methodology (Krippendorff, 1980). Website information, key words and descriptions about life skills development and process of life skills development at the specific MMA gym was located on the website and recorded. Additionally, information regarding the gym’s program philosophy, mission statement and program design was also collected. All schools promoted that they could increase youth participants’ self-esteem or self-confidence. Most MMA schools promoted their ability to develop character; however, the specific aspects of the character they claimed to develop were not identified. Finally, MMA school websites commonly identified that youth programs led to improvements in self-discipline, respect and social skills. Interestingly, life skills commonly identified in past youth sport development research (i.e. leadership, sportsmanship, were not identified as outcomes of participation in MMA Hansen et al., 2003). Further research is necessary to determine if and how child and youth MMA programs are following through on their claims of life skills development exploring the development of life skills in youth MMA.

Acknowledgments: Social Sciences Research Council of Canada Sport Canada