Some Do’s and Don’ts to Inspire Young Wrestlers
Steve Fraser, Greco Roman Wrestling National Team Coach and Olympic Gold Medalist
This article is meant to be a humble, thought-provoking message to all of the
fine coaches and parents that support our young grapplers throughout our
country. Your leadership and wonderful efforts - in inspiring and coaching our
youth - is vital to our sports future. I commend you for your dedication!
How do we avoid burning our young wrestlers out? How do we inspire kids to
love the sport so they continue to wrestle in their teens and beyond? Do we want
them to learn good sportsmanship, good discipline, good work ethic, and gain
good physical strength and coordination? Do we want to teach them how to
overcome adversity and how to be persistent? Do we want to build great
I have compiled a few Do’s and Don’ts that we all need to consider when
working with these young kids. Let's start with athletes 12 years old and
Create a fun environment in the practice room and in the
competitions. Having fun should be the most important priority. Focus on
enjoying the act of wrestling is very important.
Having a small (or no) focus on winning/losing is good. Kids will do this
enough without any of our help.
Focus and excitement should be placed on successful execution of
techniques and wrestling movements.
In practice, focus should be on following the coach’s plan and
activities. Focus on good listening and discipline skills are
Wrestling “type” games that help teach movement,
balance, and the very basic technical skills will keep it fun. Inspire kids to
learn and enjoy themselves.
Teaching a good work ethic and tough - but fun - physical activity will help
a youngster to develop their conditioning, health and coordination.
Win or lose, let’s hug our child/wrestlers lots and always.
Don't get emotional as parent or coach regarding winning and
losing. Kids will sense our emotion for sure.
Don't think that if kids don't win ‘now’ (at 12 years old and younger) that
they are learning to accept losing. This is false! Matt Lindland, Olympic and
World silver medalist, states; “Without properly teaching kids how to win AND
lose at this young age we are doing them an injustice. In the real world we have
to deal with both.”
Don't push young wrestlers to think winning is the main focus. Yes, winning
is good and fun but it's not all about the wins and losses. “I was the worst
wrestler on my club team when I was young. However, wrestling with all the
better kids helped me to get better myself”; says Lindland.
Don't get mad at a child/wrestler for losing or not executing moves properly.
Most of the time a young child's physiology and motor skill development
determines what that child can and cannot master at that particular age in their
life. As they grow older, their coordination and motor skills will naturally
Don't cut weight! Please understand that losing weight to wrestle at a lower
weight class does not help a wrestler win. Learning the skills and strengthening
the body and mind is what helps them to win. The fact is cutting weight will
kill (in many cases) a young wrestler’s attitude about this great sport of ours.
Wrestling requires enough hard work at learning the skills and conditioning the
body without the added torture of not eating after the tough workouts. It is no
fun to cut weight! Remember the main goal of the young wrestler should be to
have fun and enjoy the act of wrestling.
Don't get mad at officials, or yell at them and other coaches/wrestlers.
Accept the results and all the bad calls (or perceived bad calls) that the
referees make. Teach good sportsmanship by setting a good example.
Don't be a “coach” when we need to be “father/mother”. Kids need their mom
and dad more than anything!
Don't think short term. Think about how we will teach our child/wrestler to
love the sport so they will wrestle as teens and beyond. This is where the true
value of the sport of wrestling will build their character.
Don't take our child/wrestlers match (especially losses) personal. Don't
think our wrestler’s performance is an indication of how tough 'WE' are.
Remember it’s about growth and development. Young kids need to learn from defeat
as much as victory.
In summary: If we are too focused on
winning/losing at this young age we are risking a lot. Basic skills, games and
fun should be the emphasis. It takes a strong parent/coach to fight the common
urge to get emotional about our children/wrestler’s performance and result.
Remember kids all develop their coordination skills, physiology and anatomy as
their maturity allows. Most wrestling techniques and movements will not even be
possible to master at this young age. Not to mention the mental development at
this age varies tremendously. Many of the young national champions at this age
never even wrestle past the age of 12. Why is this? And let’s keep in mind that
a national champion at age 7 means absolutely nothing in the big picture.