When kids start practicing Systema, there’s a fundamental difference between how one should approach working with kids vs. adults. Systema for an adult is typically a question of personal safety and a confidence builder. These are not yet important for the young kids. They don’t care about the end result as much as they enjoy the training process itself. Of course, that changes with teenagers, and goal-setting starts to play an important role.
If we were to divide kids and youth groups by age, we would do it roughly like this:
Up to 7 years old – start training in small groups including parents, using games that require a lot of movement, or work individually.
7-13 years old (the core kids class) – active, mobile, developmental games, specialized exercises, and a lot of wrestling. Traditionally, for the Russian youths at this age, games, running, and wrestling were the main types of exercise.
14-16 years old – introduce the basics of Systema, using specialized exercises, wrestling, and strikes. At this age you can already put the kids in some of the adult classes, but until then it’s better to keep the groups separated.
16+ year-olds can participate in adult classes with no differentiation.
A few points on the core kid’s group aged 7 to 13. Playing games is very important for this age. Only through games and by considering the unique traits of this age group can we balance class productivity and the kids’ precious attention.
The goal of your classes for this age group should be the discovery and development of important physical and psychological traits and the cultivation of basic skills. For example:
- Harmonious body development, correct body form;
- Natural movement, ability to control the body, and overall coordination;
- Correct breathing;
- Moving without unnecessary tension, ability to relax as needed;
- Control of emotions and psyche;
- Ability to fall smoothly and safely, overcoming pain;
- Sensing and understanding distance;
- Interacting productively with a partner;
- And the list goes on and on...
All of these things can be taught through simple games and exercises, both individual and with a partner / group. A large part of this work should hinge on interaction rather than competition, sensing rather than understanding. It is difficult for kids to grasp abstract concepts, but they are good at feeling things. Take advantage of this trait.
It’s helpful to do much falling, working on the floor, crawling, especially from under a partner, pushing, wrestling, and, in general, work with a lot of physical interaction. This teaches sensitivity to your partner, providing the right amount of effort and general body awareness. Don’t be afraid of these types of work: it’s not injury-prone. Kids fall more softly and more naturally than adults. The goal is not to teach kids classical acrobatics or prescribed ways of falling, but to achieve free, easy, and safe transitions from the ground and back up again, removing fear of falls from the body and psyche. Prescribed moves or structures will make kids stiffer. Give them freedom, let them do exercises to the best of their ability, and eventually, with small suggestions and corrections, they will be doing it right.