There’s a laundry list of life skills learned through the sport of wrestling.
Wrestling builds character, teaches kids how to overcome obstacles, handle their emotions, respect authority, the importance of being a good teammate, and that success has to be earned through hard work and determination.
Wrestling also helps boys and girls—and young men and women—develop off the mat, notably in social situations.
In fact, participating in and having a positive experience in sports can have a major impact on a young athlete’s social development, says Greg Bach, Senior Director, Communications and Content, for the National Alliance for Youth Sports. When wrestlers aren’t competing they are cheering on their teammates, and getting a sense of just how powerful a collective group of people united in shouting words of encouragement can be.
“Wrestling provides a wonderful opportunity to learn about the power of teamwork and the power of praise—and that is an incredible lesson to carry into adulthood, where the ability to lift someone up who is down or struggling, whether it’s a friend, co-worker, or even a husband or wife, can have major ramifications,” Bach says.
Sport is a language and wrestling is a dialect, says Jessica Medina, Head Women’s Wrestling Coach at Ferrum College (Ferrum, VA) and a USA Wrestling National Team member from 2009 through 2015.
“Throughout my life I have met so many people who wrestled,” says Medina, a native of Pomona, California, who wrestled at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky, where she won national titles in 2008 and 2010. “We immediately have a connection because we can speak the same language. It’s like having an extra skill or tool and you never know how it can help you.”
While girls and women’s wrestling continues to grow at a rapid rate—the NAIA is adding women’s wrestling as an invitational sport beginning with the 2018–19 academic year—it wasn’t, and still isn’t in some situations, always easy for girls competing in a sport dominated by boys. But Medina learned how to turn that experience into a positive, especially in social situations.
“Wrestling has given me a lot of confidence off the mat,” Medina says. “I know that it takes courage to pursue wrestling, especially when most of the time you are the only female in the room. When I face new challenges in life or work, or building relationships, I feel confident in myself, because of my experiences in wrestling. If a wrestler can put on a singlet to compete against an opponent under a spotlight, they can then feel confident putting on a suit and executing an interview. Being confident under pressure is a norm for wrestlers.”
Wrestling also teaches the value of dependability, says Medina. That’s also important as one grows up and goes on to college or work, especially in team environments where others depend on each other to achieve goals.
“As an athlete your teammates are depending on you to show up to practice because you are their drill partner,” Medina says. “If you are a parent, your kid is depending on you to show up and support them at tournaments. If you’re a coach, wrestlers and their families are depending on you to share your knowledge. When you decide to be a part of the wrestling community in any role, people want to know they can depend on you. That is why wrestling is such a strong community of people. They always have someone in their corner, win or lose.”
Wrestling also provides social benefits through social activities. Families of the JJ Trained Wrestling School in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, participate in many in-season and offseason activities together. This is common with youth programs and high school teams throughout the country. After every Saturday tournament, JJ Trained wrestlers, coaches, and parents/fans go out to eat together. There is the annual JJ Trained end of year laser tag party. In the summer, parents, wrestlers and coaches gather for a boating or camping party. There are also group volunteer outings at Feed My Starving Children. This helps develop strong, lifelong relationships. Family members will have those memories forever.
“As a coach, I love the idea of getting to know the wrestlers and parents,” says Jeff Wichern, JJ Trained Wrestling Club Director. “We try to make sure we’re one big family.”
Wrestling also teaches the importance of giving back.
“Wrestling provides many opportunities for people to meet others, to get involved, and give back through volunteering by helping at a social, tournament, meet, or wrestling function,” says Keith Donnelly, Assistant Wrestling Coach at Independence High School (Independence, IA) and Cadet Director for Iowa USA Wrestling.
Wrestling takes kids from small towns to big cities to rural America, experiencing life on the road, or in different parts of the country with different people.
“Wrestling provides opportunities for athletes and parents to travel to places they possibly haven’t ever been to before,” Donnelly says.
Wrestling teaches social skills. Wrestlers make new friends and meet new people at wrestling meets, tournaments, and clinics.
Take the US Marine Corps Cadet and Junior Nationals in Fargo, where kids from around the country exchange singlets with kids they’ve never met before. Sure, some may be quick conversations, but at some point, these young athletes had to muster the courage to speak to what is in most cases, a stranger. These experiences are providing building blocks for future communications, such as in that first job interview, during an interview for a scholarship from a community organization, or even in the classroom setting, where many kids don't feel comfortable raising their hand and asking questions in front of others.
“The bond of being a wrestler creates easy conversation and the ability to have something in common for one another,” Donnelly says. “For some, going up to someone new and talking or introducing yourself isn’t hard at all while others struggle in this area. The more people someone meets or networks with, the more opportunities they possibly provide themselves with in the future.”
Wrestling teaches life lessons and creates memories while also building social skills through a wide variety of on and off mat experiences. Years from now most aren’t going to remember the result of every wrestling match they competed in, Bach says.
“But what will stand out are the bus trips to meets and talking to teammates on the ride, the friendships that were forged through the sport, the joking around before practice, the post-practice conversations with a coach, how your words helped inspire a teammate on to victory, how what teammates said to you before or after a match affected you and have never been forgotten,” Bach says. “The interactions and the relationships are what resonate, and what impacts lives going forward.”