Up to 300 very young muaythai athletes have taken part this year in Youth Development Leagues across America as part of a grassroots drive to improve standards. The League is promoted by the United States Muaythai Federation, which recently submitted an application to the National Olympic Committee of America for recognition.

Months of quiet and maybe not so quiet negotiation to bring competing Muaythai organisations together in the US are paying off with increased opportunities for athletes and a surge in interest nationally. The youth team shone at the World Championships, taking Best Team Over-14. And looking forward, The World Games 2021 take place in Birmingham, Alabama, bringing world-class Muaythai to an American audience.

Michael Corley, president of the organisation says: “The USMF is proud to announce that it is has submitted its Application Packet to the USOC for Recognized Sports Organization. Having the committee recognize the United States Muaythai Federation will propel our sport forward, and we believe our past, present and future hard work will prove it to be a great decision.”

Looking to that future, Youth Leagues run in Texas, Illinois and Indiana, Arizona, California and the island state of Hawaii. Plans are already made to expand next year into the East Coast states including New York, the Pacific coast and the Southeast as far as Florida. The development plan stretches to 2026 aiming for up to 10,000 young athletes eventually.

Under the keen eye of national coach and USMF board member Patrick Valor Rivera, the league is learning from more established sports. He says: “By developing a Youth League in a structured, nurturing environment, we are able to provide an accession model that develops athletes appropriately for their developmental stages. This allows an athlete to quickly to gain the confidence and move up in the sport.”

He compares the USMF plans to baseball  – children move through Tee Ball to Little League and eventually college baseball or professional competition. And of course it’s not just about competition, he adds: ” The beauty of that model is even if a child decides not to compete past the YDL, they are now educated in rules and strategy so they know what is going on.

“This creates lifelong fans who will follow Muaythai and support more local, regional and national competitions even if they themselves aren’t competing.”

Rules have been carefully modified and adapted. Wearing full IFMA equipment as seen at the IFMA Youth World Championships, even when their age range forbids strikes to the head or the use of elbows. In the first level (see below) the youth are further sub-divided on their  physical ability; some 5-year olds are well coordinated while others need more time for example.

Patrick says: “Using this matching methodology ensures everyone has a great experience, not just the super athletes. The problem with matching in the past is that you have two kids both 100 lbs but one might be 5’6” and the other 4’6” and a little heavy-set.

“By having this algorithm we are able to make sure all bouts are evenly paired and  the young athletes have fun, the parents are happy and supportive. And coaches gain invaluable experience.”

Learn more about  USMF and muaythai in America.

See more action from  USMF Youth Development Leagues for Muaythai on Facebook.