1. Get them ready for the sport by using a slow foundational progression at home. Note: if your child isn’t used to physical play wrestling is gonna be a hard sell. Dads – your job is to start this when they’re young. You’ll know when they’re ready by their behavior. The next part is to educate your wife about why this is necessary and that your son will be much better for it as a grown up.
2. Find a good coach and club. Lots of parents want their kids with their friends. I get that, it’s part of having fun, which is the number one reason kids play sports. That said there are so many poor coaches that its worth looking around. Good clubs make wrestling practice fun and positive. Wrestlers make friends so quickly that going out of your school district shouldn’t stop you. Poor coaches and clubs = no fun, don’t build the mind or body, focus on winning vs. best efforts, only focus on a few of the wrestlers and can turn kids off permanently. Get your youth wrestler hooked on the sport with fun, quality coaching. Peaking at 6-11 years of age isn’t a good long-term strategy. In my experience puberty is the great accelerator. If they like the sport and have a good foundation they can take off quickly from there.
3. Don’t confuse your role as a parent. Even if you are matside coach you are a parent first. Being a parent is much more important than being a coach. If your son loses a match, ask them what they think happened. Give them some coaching points if they are missing things and then put the parent hat back on and love them up. Beating your child up emotionally over a loss doesn’t help them become a better wrestler and is very confusing for kids. When you’re away from the mat don’t talk wrestling unless your child starts the conversation.
4. Praise their efforts not their results. You never know when you’re going to be on the mat with a future State or NCAA Champion. Teach kids that giving 100% of themselves is the best they can do, it takes a ton of mental pressure off them too. If you focus on winning and they know that they are in an unwinnable match the dreaded Q word pops into their minds. Giving 100% is the polar opposite of quitting. The winning and losing is outside your wrestlers control and will sort itself out.
5. Parents can help their wrestler build the best mindset early in life. Be positive but honest. The wrestler that prepares the hardest and smartest wins 99% of the matches. If your wrestler doesn’t want to work hard that’s ok, they just need to know that they’ll achieve average results. Be a role model for hard work, positive attitude, giving 100% of yourself and learning from mistakes. If you like criticizing your wrestler at a tournament just imagine your dad coming to your job and yelling at you. Does that sound like fun? Or a good way to get the best out of you?
6. Feed your wrestler real food. Drinks like PowerAde/Gatorade are the sweetener and chemical equivalent of giving your wrestler a soda. Focus on whole fresh foods filled with vitamins and minerals that help build a healthy body. Our food supply has changed drastically over the last generation and it hasn’t been good for us.
7. Recognize your wrestler’s improvements and resist the urge to criticize. Kids generally want to please their parents and your recognition of their efforts can make conscious and reinforce the changes they’ve made. Seeing our kids for who they are is a special thing. Getting better at anything is hard work, noticing the improved effort, technique etc. feeds the emotional bank account. Make it a habit to notice your wrestlers improvement, even when they are struggling. Struggle isn’t easy, it takes mental strength to persevere. Tell your wrestler something at least once a week. Your wrestler is a physical person so be physical with them, high fives, pats on the back or winks from across the gym go a long way.
8. Take them to a big match with a friend. My son went to WNO (Who’s Number One) with me the last two years. How much wrestling did he watch? 30%, but getting autographs on his shirt and running around with other wrestlers was an experience that he wants again and gives him a glimpse at a higher level.
9. Pay attention to your wrestlers body. There usually isn’t enough time for a coach to build strength, dynamic abilities, flexibilities, technique etc in a 75 minute practice. Make sure that you make your wrestler stretch at home. It will take some time to develop a routine and for them to get the stretches with good form but it can make a huge difference in body health after the sport. Here’s a good start.
10. There is only so much a parent can do: find a good coach that makes it fun and gets them hooked. Be a positive parent and coach, feed your child’s mind with the same quality that you feed their body. Have fun with them. At best you might get a 10-year run with them. Follow their goals and dreams and enjoy it along the way. Silent car rides home from distant tournaments aren’t great experiences or memories. Be the parent that picks your wrestler up after a bad practice, match or tournament.
11. Wrestling should be a multidimensional activity that makes life better for its participants. Wrestling offers very little external rewards so make the most of the life lessons. Don’t get your kids into wrestling hoping for college scholarships. Wrestlers have the lowest estimated conversion of high school to college athletes of the largest 14 boys high school sports. More than 250,000 boys are chasing 7,000 openings and scholarship money is tight and very competitive. So do it for the positive values that it creates and the memories that you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life.
OK that was 11.
Do your best, learn from your mistakes, apologize and laugh about them together. Share your experiences with other parents. Make the mat side a fun place for all involved.