Postseason tournament time is an exciting time for parents, wrestlers, and coaches. It's another opportunity for youth athletes to showcase what they have learned and how they have improved over the course of a season in a competitive environment. But it can also be nerve-wracking and stressful, especially for the parents and wrestlers new to the sport.
That rollercoaster of emotions is to be expected, says Greg Bach, vice president of communications for the National Alliance for Youth Sports. Adults still get nervous in numerous life situations because they care about the outcome, so young athletes, especially those competing in higher levels of competition for the first time, are certainly going to experience nervousness and jitters as well. "Parents should talk to their kids about nerves and let them know that sweaty palms and nervous stomachs are actually a good sign. It shows that the youngster cares," says Bach.
During the last weekend of January, Antoine Glasgow, Director of the Glasgow Wrestling Academy in Atlanta, Georgia, took 14 first-year wrestlers ages five to nine to the Georgia state elementary school championships. The tournament field included multiple state champions and experienced wrestlers. A few days before the tournament, Glasgow helped prep for the big weekend by holding a conference call with parents to ensure the message is the same for everyone: Wrestle hard, wrestle smart, listen well, play fair and have fun, win or lose.
"I would have a warped sense of reality if I expected them to win the state championship their first year, and so would their parents," says Glasgow. "Instead, the parents and I agreed to focus on the experience and the lessons that will be learned from such an experience."
Glasgow also prepares his own short tournament guide, which he sends to all parents at the start of the season. This guide covers key tournaments dates, admission fees for family members, details on weigh-ins, and expected competition start times. The guide also features a tournament checklist that helps parents get young wrestlers organized before heading to a tournament, outlining what kind of equipment, snacks, and documentation to bring. "It really helps to reiterate the expectations for the tournaments," he explains.
Jake and Danyell Lundell of Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota have a seven-year-old son, Parker, who is in his second season of wrestling. They have one year of tournament experience behind them, and are looking forward to the upcoming tournament season. But rather than emphasizing winning at the year-end tournaments, the Lundell’s focus on doing the little things right—and listening to the coach.
"One thing we have consistently told Parker is that it does not matter what place he gets," says Danyell Lundell. "We don't care if he gets first or last as long as he does the moves the coaches have taught him and as long as he tries his hardest.”
The hardest part for most parents, the Lundell's say, is dealing with the emotions—the highs and lows, that may come with winning and losing in a postseason tournament. "Young kids are tough [to figure out] because they don't know how to deal with the emotions they face in a match," Lundell says. “[Parker] is very hard on himself. …He wants to win, like most kids." But no matter the outcome, the Lundell always try to end the tournament experience on a positive note.
Glasgow agrees. These tournaments are about growth, as a wrestler and a person, he says. "Some of our kids are shy, don't want to speak in front of people, and many find it difficult to exercise self-control," he notes. "However, these same young kids step out on that mat in front of a large crowd, many for the very first time and one match at a time they conquer their fear and they have fun doing so. How awesome is that?"
To drive home this point, Glasgow says that after every tournament—win or lose—he and his wrestlers celebrate with a pizza party. Enjoy the experience and the journey, he says. This is where lifelong memories are made.
To help wrestlers and parents, NAYS’s Bach outlines these five tips for making the most out of the first postseason tournament:
- Before competition: Share with your young athlete that you are excited to watch them compete in this big event and that you are looking forward to watching them go against some stronger competition since they have been working so hard in practice. Ask your child if they are looking forward to the big event as well.
- Tournament day reminders: Remind them that doing their best–and being a good sport in the process–is what the day is all about. If they don’t win, they can still use the experience as a valuable lesson of what skills they need to work on for next time.
- Make memories: If you competed in wrestling—or any other sport—during your childhood and took part in some big tournaments, be sure to share those experiences with your child. What was it like with everyone watching while going against some talented athletes? Talk about the matches that you lost and what you learned from those that actually helped you become better in the sport in the years that followed.
- Focus on the opportunity versus the outcome: Share with them that they should be embracing this chance to go against stronger competition—that it’s fun to go against really good wrestlers that pose challenges they haven’t encountered before, even if they don’t come away victorious.
- After the tournament: This is a great time for parents to communicate with their children and talk about the overall experience. Ask them about the thrill of competing against others who love wrestling as much as they did and ask if they have questions or comments.