When they’re not being annoying punks, I feel a lot of sympathy for teenagers—especially when they take on the challenge of Jiu Jitsu.
Don’t get me wrong. I think Jiu Jitsu is a fantastic choice for most teenagers. I just suspect that being a teenager makes the journey even more difficult sometimes.
Teenagers have difficult relationships with their own bodies. More often than not, coordination and dexterity don’t show up at the same time as growth spurts. Personally, my coordination didn’t show up until my mid 20s. Before that, I was a big, lumbering spaz. It made me miserable in P.E. Even though I was as big as most of my classmates, the chances of me actually catching a ball or throwing it accurately were microscopic.
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In Jiu Jitsu, I’ve noticed teenagers also have trouble tying together sequences of moves smoothly. They may have the flexibility of youth, but that doesn’t make up for the fumbling way they lunge from move to move as they try to establish a triangle choke or angle around an opponent to catch an armbar.
One would think that their youth would make them quicker learners, but my experience is that it’s just the opposite.
As if that’s not bad enough, teenagers have to deal with surging hormones that distort their perception of reality. For boys, this means managing their preoccupation with winning. In their testosterone-soaked brains, most teenage boys convince themselves that they must win to prove themselves. Losing one roll means they are “losers” forever—not just for that roll, but on the mat and in every aspect of life. Each roll has the intensity of a life-or-death struggle that could result in the end of the world.
(I don’t have a daughter, so I’ve never had a chance to observe their suffering up close, but I have no doubt that they are also trying desperately to find or establish their place in the social pecking order. I don’t know how this plays out on the mats, but I have no doubt that it does).
The biggest reason that I sympathize with teenagers is because they don’t realize how little other people are thinking about them. Instead, they’re convinced that their every stumble or mis-step is noticed by everyone else. By our 30s and onward, we finally stop being so narcissistic. We realize that—most of the time—no one is paying any attention to us at all.
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That might sound awful, but it’s a huge consolation and comfort. We can finally stop being so self-conscious about our every snafu because we finally have the perspective to understand that, even if someone saw our mistake, they don’t actually care about it. It’s freeing to know that we are not under a microscope.
Teenagers don’t know that freedom; they’re convinced that everyone is watching them all the time. And that makes everything even worse. As if it’s not bad enough that a gangly teenager needs more repetitions to get the hang of a new technique, they’re convinced that everyone is watching their struggles. And as if it’s not hard enough reigning in their raging hormones during a roll, the belief that they’re being watched non-stop just adds to their sense of social anxiety.
For teenagers, all of this anxiety is self-inflicted. They create it themselves (it simply doesn’t exist in reality). For those of us who are old enough to keep our fears in check, a teenager’s worries just seem silly and insubstantial.
But as we help teenagers on their Jiu Jitsu journey, being sympathetic to their worries may help us be better guides—both along that journey and into adulthood.
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