Grappling For Answers: Exploring the Process of Life Skills Development in Youth Mixed Martial Arts Athletes
Beesley, Theresa M.
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Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a form of combat sport that was legalized in Ontario in 2013. Immediately, media began to profile life skill outcomes associated with youth participation in MMA. Evidence in support of these claims is often anecdotal. To date no studies have utilized Positive Youth Development (PYD), a strengths-based approach to youth development (Lerner et al., 2005) to explore youth in MMA. Therefore, the overall objective of this research project was to explore the potential benefits, factors and processes of youths (ages 9-18) life skill development in MMA using a PYD approach. Data was collected in three phases. In phase one data was collected from Toronto MMA gym websites (N=18). One manuscript was written that identified the life skills MMA gyms suggest they can develop in youth. Findings revealed that MMA gym websites included general information, developmental outcomes (4Cs) and processes, resources and not relevant messages. In phase two semi-structured interviews were conducted with youth (n=13) and coaches (n=10) from MMA gyms. Two manuscripts were written, the first manuscript identified the life skills youth developed in MMA and the factors that contributed to their development. The second manuscript explored the role of the MMA coach in the process of facilitating life skills development and transfer of life skills from MMA to non-sport contexts. MMA coaches primarily used explicit techniques to facilitate life skill development and transfer. In phase three, two manuscripts were written. First, a pilot study was conducted to determine the effectiveness of using an online journal and two types of questions (i.e., direct and indirect) as a method of recalling transfer experiences. Second, youth in MMA (N=9) completed an online journal over a one-month period. Findings revealed that MMA coaches facilitated the development of a value for life skills transfer. Participants in the direct and indirect groups demonstrated differences in their description of transfer experiences.