American youth wrestling is stuck in the 1970s. It’s a different world today with changes in societal norms, scientific breakthroughs and childhood overall. In order to rebuild the popularity of wrestling it must adapt – or wither. Leading high schools, top colleges and senior-level wrestlers train differently today than they did in the 70s. Youth sports are usually the slowest to adapt to modern techniques and approaches.
Kids today are less active than at any time in history thanks in part to the loss of purchasing power of the dollar, both parents generally need to work leaving kids to play video games or watch TV. The lack of physical chores, farm work or mowing yards for money and the junk that passes for food has left the American boy in terrible shape. As coaches we need to help get them athletic – and not the old fashioned way. No pushups! Start simple; teach them to fire their muscles correctly. Planks and tumbling. Don’t focus on grown up strength and conditioning. A 6 year old boy doing push ups incorrectly is not only setting himself up for a life time of bad habits but quite possibly harming his or her body. I’ve heard lots of armchair wrestling fans complain about their favorite wrestlers “horsing around” posting all types of gymnastics videos on social media. Jimmy Kennedy showed an incredible cartwheel counter to Logan Stieber in the finals of Senior Nationals. In most cases this isn’t horsing around – it’s part of their training. Most recently Roman Bravo Young did a crazy flip counter that made its way to ESPN plays of the day it was so amazing. Wrestling is a sport built on foundations but most coaches still don’t teach that way. Many youth wrestlers I’ve seen recently are so weak below the waist that they can’t bend their knees to get in a stance for more than a few seconds.
The goal is to make young wrestlers bodies work correctly and have the mental toughness to not be turned off by bumps, bruises or losses. The way to get that mental toughness is to get the boys in physical shape. I didn’t say cardio. Cardio is a sure way to turn off youth wrestlers. Let them get cardio through games and wrestling live. Most youth wrestlers seem to have endless energy for these two activities.
For some reason most adults don’t think that kids need to stretch. They’re no different than the rest of us. Try talking a youth coach into closing practice with a stretch and you’ll get a blank stare back. Yes stretching at the end of practice. Wow. I’ve coached several tween kids 10-13 that have wrestle, played football and lacrosse and they can’t come close to touching their toes. This speaks to undeveloped muscles, in this case glutes and hamstrings and a lack of stretching. Long term this is a great recipe for an adult with back pain/problems that complains about what wrestling did to his body.
Wrestling will always have trouble attracting kids in this country because it is so out of step with today’s culture. Hard work, responsibility, mental and emotional toughness are all but gone from modern American society. The best the sport can hope for is to attract the remaining boys out there and maybe pique the curiosity of some that might be on the fence and give them a positive experience that makes them not only spread the word about the sport but get their kids into it. Get rid of the singlet. Don’t let anyone wrestle under the ages of 6-8 depending on mental and physical maturity. Build the boys and girls up for long-term success. Make them athletes by developing coordination, developing their little muscles correctly. Help them learn the meaning of competition and sportsmanship. Focus on technique and giving 100% effort while competing. Don’t focus on the wins and losses. Kids and parents that focus on state championships at 8 years old rarely last in the sport. Kids that fall in love with the sport, not the parent, stick with it and get their friends and family into the sport. Every kid is different and I’m stereotyping for brevity. I haven’t even touched on kids that find wrestling as a way out. That’s a topic for another day.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays from True-Wrestling.