Wrestling is a tough sport and is different than most youth sports. It’s not only more physically exerting, it can be much harder mentally. Being an individual sport, all the pressure to win or lose rests solely on your child’s shoulders. Some kids aren’t affected by this, but for others it can be overwhelming.
But that’s also what is great about the sport. Not only is all the glory theirs when they win, learning to achieve success by pushing through adversity builds incredibly strong character and confidence. And while they probably won’t admit it, you as a parent have a big impact on not only their wrestling success, but how they develop and mature as a person.
While not every child is the same, here are a few tips that will help you be the best wrestling parent you can be:
- Learning from losses – If your child is new to wrestling, they will likely have more losses than wins in their first season. Since wrestling is an individual sport your child may take a loss harder than if they were part of a larger team. How you can help is to remind them that losing is simply part of the learning process. Instead of dwelling on something that is out of their control (the loss which has happened in the past), help them focus on the future and how they can learn from that loss. There may be times when they simply want to be left alone too. And that’s fine. Sometimes they just needs to work out their emotions on their own. But after a few minutes, it’s time to re-focus that energy proactively into improving the skills needed to win future matches. You must learn to have a short memory in wrestling and not live in “woulda, shoulda, coulda” land.
- Learning from wins – Confidence is a great feeling. As a parent, you should celebrate the accomplishments and not forget to recognize your child when they’ve done a good job. But it’s also important to be humble and always look for ways to improve.
- Focus on execution, NOT results – Wrestling is a process and the goal is long-term success and building a love for the sport. Don’t get so caught up in the individual wins and losses. When a college coach is looking at them, they don’t care how many state championships were won when they were 10 years old. Wrestlers should focus on executing their moves, scoring points and giving 100% effort. When they do that, the wins will come.
- Focus on the positive – Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that parents should coddle their kids or praise for no reason. There is a process of mentally toughening up that needs to happen to be successful. I’m saying that constantly harping on the negative can inhibit their progress. They are already upset when they lose or make a mistake. Mistakes are part of learning and it’s important to not be overly critical about them. We want them to take chances and not be afraid of making mistakes. The goal is to dominate their opponent, not wrestle passively. Praise should be given for taking chances, executing a great move or fighting hard whether they won or lost. Recognizing these little accomplishments need to be pointed out to them in order to help build their confidence.
- Let the coach be the coach – This one is tough. But for some reason when kids turn 8, they are hardwired to think their parents don’t know anything. A coach can say the same thing and the wrestler will embrace it. While this can be frustrating as a parent, the sport is much more enjoyable when you focus on being a supportive parent.
- Don’t put wrestlers they compete with on a pedestal – When you say “see, look how Johnny is doing it” what he really hears is “Johnny is on another level and you can’t beat Johnny”. If your wrestler is on the cusp of taking his skills to another level, the last thing they need is a mental hurdle that makes them feel that they are below others in their weight class. What you can do is help your wrestler feel like they ARE in the same league and that anyone can be beaten. When you get to higher levels of competition, you should be analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors. Don’t be in awe. Instead, have them find ways to exploit their competitors weaknesses and neutralize their strengths.
- Performance Fuel – You can help play a critical role to support them by providing healthy choices. Wrestling is a physically demanding sport and nutrition is very important both before matches & practices, as well as afterwards for recovery.
- No sugars before practices or matches – One of the worst things I’ve seen as a coach is a kid coming off the mat during a tournament and heading straight to a bag of skittles and sour gummies. This is a recipe for disaster. Not only will they crash because of the sugar, they will be mentally drained.
- Healthy choices in the house – If junk food is not there, it’s not a choice.
- Water, water and more water – Dehydration is the number one source of fatigue, both physically and mentally. Make sure to bring a water bottle to tournaments and constantly make sure they are actually drinking it.
- What to eat – For tournaments, pack light fruits such as apples, oranges, grapes and veggies such as carrots, as well as whole grain snacks. The fruits are great right after a match to quickly replace lost glucose. All foods should be eaten about 1 hour before a match, but not much sooner. They shouldn’t be heavy or dense, as it can make them lethargic while food is digesting. Also don’t get tricked by snacks like “granola bars” which have a high concentration of high fructose corn syrup. Cliff Bars are a great option.
- Motivation should come from within, not from you. – If your wrestler is looking up at you while he is in a match, something is wrong. They shouldn’t be wrestling to seek your approval or be afraid of how they are going to be yelled at when they get off the mat. This doesn’t mean they don’t need a push. Especially younger kids need guidance from their parents or to be told they have to go to practice when they’d rather play video games. But their motivation for winning should either be the sense of accomplishment or because they hate to lose. Either way, they need to develop a love for the sport that will last through high school and long after you are around to get them psyched up. If they are concerned about what you think of them while wrestling then they are not focusing on the match.
- Find ways to challenge them – As they improve, one of the main ways you can support them is to help seek out tougher competition and experiences that will make them better. This could be traveling to tournaments, getting on a travel dual team, qualifying for a national team, finding a great camp or getting private training. Part of the thrill of wrestling is the accomplishment of hard things and this needs to be continuously fueled.
- Believe they can be great – Olympic champions start with a goal when they are a kid. For someone to accomplish great things, they need people around them who support them and believe in them.
- Keep it Fun – While winning is a lot more fun than losing, it’s also the most grueling sport to compete and train in. Wrestlers need to develop a love for the sport and enjoy the experience in order to put in the hours it takes to achieve success. Keep it light, keep it fun and don’t take it too seriously.