USA Wrestling Myths of Youth Wrest...

Myths of Youth Wrestling

By Matt Krumrie | March 26, 2020, 8:01 a.m. (ET)

All youth sports, including wrestling, deal with myths that may prevent kids from joining the sport, or force them to leave the sport. If you're new to the sport of wrestling, considering joining wrestling, or wonder what it's like inside the world of youth wrestling, these tips can help:

You must start at a young age: Rob Prebish started wrestling in fourth grade. He remembers how, back then, he heard parents tell his parents he was starting too late and would never succeed in high school because he was too far behind teammates who started wrestling in first or second grade.

“While many of my youth wrestling teammates were better and more successful than me when I began, through hard work and competing, I quickly closed the gap,” says Prebish, now an assistant wrestling coach at St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, Virginia. “By the time we all reached high school, the kids who began wrestling much earlier than me already peaked and did not have much success in high school. I continued to grow and improve through junior high and high school and had a pretty successful high school, college, and international career.”

Now, as a coach, Prebish never gives up on a kid no matter their age or start.

“I have pulled some of the best kids I have coached through the years out of physical education class when they were freshmen or sophomores in high school,” Prebish says. “It’s all about the effort one puts into training that determines future success.”

There’s a belief in all youth sports that if you haven’t started competing in that sport by the time you are in middle school, you should give up or not start in the sport altogether, says Chad Shilson, Minnesota USA Wrestling Girls/Women’s Director and father of two-time Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association National champion and 2018 UWW Cadet World Champion Emily Shilson. The same holds true in youth wrestling, and especially for girls in wrestling.

“I believe as a coach, I can develop an athlete faster, in a shorter period of time, as long as they have a great attitude and work ethic,” says Shilson. “I often tell our girls that we can improve several seasons’ worth in only one season if we really focus our training, paying extremely close attention to detail. It’s beautiful when your athlete buys into it and you see them leapfrog other wrestlers that have been involved in the sport much longer, simply because they devoted their time on improving their base fundamental skills, versus only focusing on winning. We stress focusing on the process, not the results.”

“I have had wrestlers start in eighth grade and go on to be high school state champions,” says Scott Kluever, State Coach with the Wisconsin Wrestling Federation, and a middle school wrestling coach in Kaukauna, Wisconsin. “It’s the effort you put in that defines you.”

If you don’t win early, you won’t later: Some of the best wrestlers lost—a lot—in their early years. Those who stick with it and focus on development will find success. Many state champions, collegiate national champions, and senior level men’s and women's wrestlers struggled early in their wrestling careers. Some didn’t even win a match those first few years.

“The truth is that you might not have had great coaches in those early years,” Shilson says. “Or, you might not have been taking the sport serious enough. It could have been a result of being mentally or physically immature. Regardless of the reasons you were not successful, no one needs to hold you back from becoming a mentally, physically and technically dominating wrestler as you get older. We have seen countless wrestlers fit this description over the years.”

You have to wrestle every weekend to get better: Most coaches prefer fewer tournaments and more practice at the youth level. “I find that most of my best wrestlers are drawn to practice as a place to get better,” Kluever says. “They do limited competitions to test the skills they developed in the practice room.”

Many kids who find success at the youth level, especially those who spend every weekend traveling across the country to large national tournaments, get burnt out from the travel and pressure and quit by middle or high school. Success is built in the practice room, not in the trophy case or podium.

“It’s rare to see a kid start wrestling at a young age, experience success and be able to sustain their high level of wrestling throughout their career,” Prebish says. “It happens, but I think it’s pretty rare.”

Rather than focus on national youth tournaments, or even competing every weekend at state or local tournaments, focus on development. Good coaches and the best programs realize this. So do the parents.

Girls should not wrestle: Girls wrestling is the fastest growing sport in America. The magic behind this phenomenon? “Girls being told they can and should wrestle,” says Shilson. “It’s amazing what will happen when someone or some group believes in an idea.”

You have to be strong to wrestle: While being strong definitely helps, it does not make a wrestler. “A wrestler that has great technique has an advantage over those that are strong with little technique,” adds Kluever.

Wrestling can lead to concussions and other injuries: While there are injury risks in any sport, today’s wrestling coaches are educated and vigilant about injury prevention and recovery, especially when it comes to concussions. USA Wrestling has implemented concussion awareness standards and coaches undergo training and certification that also includes a Safe Sport Policy and a Safe Sport Program Handbook to guide coaches and members in this important movement. 

You have to cut weight: This is another area where USA Wrestling coaches undergo significant training, and good coaches encourage kids to focus on wrestling at a more natural weight versus cutting weight. The culture of weight management has changed and the best youth wrestling coaches encourage no weight cutting at a young age.

“Good youth coaches will focus on skill development and conditioning over weight cutting," Prebish says. “And when the wrestler reaches high school, they will have to go through the NWCA Weight Control Program that limits the amount of weight a wrestler can lose per week. No one is forced to cut weight anymore; it just does not make sense to spend practice time worrying about how much weight one will lose.”

Parents make great coaches: Parents have all the best intentions for their children, but unless they are a trained/certified coach, or a coach with the club or program for which they compete, parents should let coaches coach.

“Parents should enjoy and celebrate what their kid is doing on the mat instead of trying to coach or live through their kid’s success,” Prebish says. “At a young age, kids need supportive and positive parents.”

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