Why wrestling is a family sportWhen Clarence Long heads to wrestling practice he knows one thing for certain: His role as coach is about more than just teaching athletes, it's about interacting with families. "I love it," says Long, who is the head coach of the Hustle & Muscle Mat Club, a non-profit youth organization based in Washington, D.C. The club of about 30 kids ages 6 to 13 includes multiple sets of siblings, so when moms and dads show up too, it adds a truly family-like atmosphere to practice and competitions.
"When you have siblings competing in the same club, you get a built-in support network" Long explains. "You see them encouraging one another and pulling for the other to succeed and know they care about each other on and off the mat." That family support is critical when things don't always go well, he notes.
"There are times when I'm glad that the parents are at practice, because when you are dealing with kids as young as six years old, it's hard to get through a practice without someone crying" says Long, chuckling. When things do get tough, he notes, the emotional nurturing that a family member can provide just can't be matched by a coach, no matter how good of a coach one may be.
This tradition of family involvement runs deep in the sport of wrestling. So deep that in 2011 the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum published a book titled Family Ties: An American Wrestling Tradition, documenting stories from over 130 famous American wrestling families, many of whom achieved success while competing as members of Team USA.
But the traditions created by most families are not just about success on the mat. From small towns to big cities across the country, wrestling families can all share stories about the important role a family plays in making wrestling an enjoyable experience. Family involvement instills important life lessons in young athletes, including teamwork and sacrifice. Mom may take time out of her busy day to coordinate pick-up and drop-off at practice while also preparing for the travel arrangements for a weekend tournament 50 miles away. Dad may dedicate himself to attending practice or helping out as a coach. Working together, wrestling families rise to meet the challenge from that first practice in the fall to that last competition in the spring. Wrestling may be an individual sport, but it truly takes a team effort from the entire family to make each season a success. And that's what makes it special.
"When it's something the entire family enjoys and can be a part of, it makes the experience that much better and memorable for everyone," says Long.
And with the start of wrestling season just around the corner, parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles are gearing up for the hustle and bustle of another busy year. Every family, whether they have one child or multiple siblings competing, figures out their own unique formula to make it happen. But they all share the same general approach -- patience, perseverance and planning -- lots of planning.
"The mom will always be mom and the dad will always be dad -- no coach could ever replace that, nor should one try," says Eric Moore, head wrestling coach at Cary Academy in Cary, North Carolina. Instead, family members should find a role that both fits them best and benefits the young wrestler. "When all units are working together, that's when good becomes great. The constant positive involvement allows parents and their wrestlers to really feel a part of something special."
Long agrees. "I always really appreciate the families that show up for both practices and matches," he says. "Having family at your matches is really important. As a wrestler, they can make you feel better when you lose and make you feel great when you win."