Martial Arts and Taekwondo are unique among sports in that they are year-round endeavors without a true ‘off season’ like most sports in which kids will compete. Keeping this in mind, it is important to set your ‘in-season’ around competitions. This being said, the ‘off-season’ is also of vital importance as it is where the Team Members will develop new skills and the team should work on team synchronization drills. Much of this ‘off season’ work, while done in a team setting, is individual work. Similar to other sports, a Taekwondo Demonstration Team should have athletes who are responsible for different specializations within the team. If you are fortunate enough to have a team of highly skilled Taekwondo Athletes in all areas, you are very lucky. If not, and you are more similar to most dojangs, you will have different skill levels and skill set specialties within your highest level team. While all team members should perform poomsae well within the routines, some team members will have specialized roles and/or skill sets. Some will be skill breakers, some will be the team ‘acrobats’, some will be weapons specialists and some will even be specialized board holders. Yes, just like in football, for example, if the offensive line doesn’t do their job the star quarterback can’t do his job! Team Demonstration is just that…TEAM Demonstration. No one person’s role is more important than that of another…some roles just happen to be more visible. When preparing the team to compete, consider breaking the seasons down accordingly with emphasis on the following:
Off Season – Team flexibility, team strength, team unity/synchronization, individual skills work and basic routine development.
In-Season – Routine refinement, team synchronization, individual detail work (stances/foot position/hand position – correct Taekwondo form according to the rules set forth by the competitions you plan to attend (USAT Guidelines or other?).
Practice Tips – Each Dojang is a little different according to the background and style of the Master Instructor. Similarly, there is no ‘one true magic potion’ for practicing. However, I do feel there are some key things which successful teams all do well. First and foremost is Team Synchronization. You can develop drills that work on synchronization. In curriculum class, if Master Lee had the class perform a poomsae, I knew that my teammates and I would always finish at the same time compared to the other students who would not. This was due to the fact that we worked on synchronization so much that we developed the same ‘internal clock’. This should be the goal of any team…that the members get to the point where their internals clocks are in perfect synch.
Kick technique and height. Whether performing a traditional poomsae within a routine or a creative one, foot position, body posture and kick height are important. Work to get the team all on the same page. Details, details, details. You can never work on this enough. Head posture, eye contact (or not), hand position…in short, kinesthetic awareness and execution should be the same throughout the team.
Athlete Awareness – It is very easy to push Taekwondo athletes to the breaking point, especially when preparing for competition(s). We used to joke on our team that we knew we were ready for competition when the Dojang smelled of analgesic rubs and half of the team was sick or injured. On a serious note, be very mindful of your athletes. Make sure they are getting plenty of rest, proper nutrition, and you are not pushing skills (especially athletic breaks or acrobatics) to the point where the athletes injure themselves. I have seen this happen both in the off-season and during the weeks leading up to competition. As a subset of this point, be aware of the age and gender of each athlete on the team. Young men and women develop physically at different times in their lives and it is important to keep this in mind so as not to push a developing young athlete to the breaking point. If you do not have a team member or parent with a background in sports nutrition, I highly recommend bringing in some professional help. The young developing bodies of Taekwondo practitioners go through a lot of stress. Consider regular curriculum classes, Demo Team Practice, the stresses of school and many times just being an adolescent…this is a LOT of stress to put on a young athlete involved in a physical activity where bumps and bruises are the norm not the exception. There is no place in the diet of these young athletes for fast foods, sugary drinks and an abundance of candy or pizza.