Youth Wrestling Into Adulthood

What has youth wrestling done for my children?

If you know me personally, you know that I consider myself a dedicated wrestling mama. It’s not because I love the sport. If I’m being honest, before my kids ever stepped on a wrestling mat, I had zero interest in the sport at all. It’s not just because I am my kiddos biggest fan and love to see them doing what they love, although I do. Oh man, I do. But before I signed my oldest up for wrestling, I had no idea what I was getting us into or what wrestling even was. One evening after dinner, I pulled a sign up sheet out of my son’s school folder and I told my husband “hey babe, they’re trying this and I think it’s kind of like karate…” (Heads up to the mamas considering wrestling for their littles, it is NOTHING like karate!) I consider myself a dedicated wrestling mama because I am one hundred percent in love with everything wrestling has taught my children, and everything wrestling will continue to teach my children as they grow into the young adults I hope and pray they will be. I am one hundred percent dedicated to the personal growth I’ve seen in my young children in the short time they have been youth wrestlers. In fact, I’m kind of obsessed with it. How could I not be?

A short while ago I caught myself sitting at this computer, staring at a blank screen trying to type my next blog. But I wasn’t concentrating on what I was supposed to be writing. I was stewing over yesterdays events. You see, yesterday was a freestyle state qualifier tournament and both of my boys wrestled in it. We’ll call them big brother and little brother, I’d use their initials but I gave them the same, exact, initials. (Who does that? I have so many questions for 19 year old me..) I keep thinking back to big brother, tears rolling down his cheeks after a second tough loss, whispering to me, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I can’t. I suck…” He most certainly does not suck. But my baby was heart broken, and I wanted to let him quit. I wanted to scoop him up and run home as fast as we could. I wanted to lie to him, tell him it was okay to just give up and spare him the potential heart break of going out on the mat and losing again. I didn’t want to have my heart broken again. Can you imagine that? I’m twenty seven years old, and I didn’t want to get my heart broken again. How many sports do you know that sends a kid immediately out to compete again, sometimes as soon as fifteen minutes, after a tiring and devastating loss? Yet here is this boy, who barely stands four feet tall, and he goes out there match after match toe to toe with another kid he probably doesn’t know. A kid who sweats it out and works hard every day just like him. A kid who wants to win just as badly, who feels all the same emotions. And it’s just the two of them battling it out in front of the whole gym, totally exposed to the win or loss that lies solely on their shoulders.

And then there is little brother, who is so light hearted and naturally good. Not that he doesn’t work hard, because he does. He puts in just as much work as his brother. But he is only six. He doesn’t experience the heart aches that big brother does. He doesn’t wake up before school to work out like big brother, or push himself at practice beyond what any coach asks of him, to the point that he’s bloodied and sore because he wants so badly to be the best. He hasn’t yet experienced what it feels like to pour everything you have into a sport for an entire year in hopes of making it to the state tournament, only to make it there and win one match. Little brother entered the state tournament as an alternate. After a heart breaking loss that knocked him out of the tournament, big brother helped coach little brother all the way to the podium. He wanted to see his brother achieve the success he had worked so hard for yet come up short. (You see, life lessons and good core values.) Big brother is a fundamentally better wrestler. He’s older and more experienced. But this generation of youth wrestlers in Ohio is something to be reckoned with. I mean, these weight classes are stacked. If you haven’t been keeping up with what’s going on in Ohio youth wrestling, you better start. It’s going to make for some very interesting NCAAs in the next decade. And big brother, bless his heart, he’s stuck right in some of the thickest of it.

Back to that moment in the gym, where I was considering grabbing my son and running all the way home to hide in our safe space with some ice cream.. Here comes little brother skipping off the mat after yet another win and a big smile on his face. And his brother graciously smiled at him and congratulated him. Can you believe it? Even through his sadness, and fear of his next match, he took a moment to celebrate in his brothers win. He cared so much about his brother, and he understood how big of a moment that was for him and how hard he had worked for that win, that he knew it was something that deserved his acknowledgment and praise. He was able to put what he was feeling aside, and give that moment to his brother because he deserved it. That is what wrestling has taught him, and it was in that moment that I was reminded why I love this sport. Why we need this sport. And why I had to let my son go out there and do it again, no matter what the outcome would be. What I am most proud of, is that I didn’t even have to speak a word of what I was thinking to him. He already knew, he’s been doing this for so long. He’s matured beyond me to that point of just knowing what had to be done. He grabbed his head gear, the tears no longer visible on his face, and started warming up for his next match. And he got his win. Thank God he did, because he so desperately needed it. But in that exact same moment, another kid got his loss. And it was in that moment that the other kid learned some of his greatest life lessons. Because the best lessons aren’t learned from the wins, but in the losses that make you dig deep inside for the tools you didn’t even know you had. Tools only wrestling can teach you.

Youth wrestling is a sport like no other sport. Don’t get me wrong, there are so many sports that are beneficial to young athletes. I wholeheartedly believe children should play as many different sports as they can growing up. Multi sport athletes grow into resilient, well rounded students and young adults. My children play and enjoy all sports. They have fun, make friends, and learn the good lessons sports teach kids in general. But wrestling offers valuable skills at a young age that no other youth sport can. From a very young age, wrestling pushes kids to limits unmatched by any. I’m not talking about skills that can be used on the mat, on the field, or even on the court. I’m talking about skills that can be used with relationships, in the class room or away at college. Skills that can be used at the first job, or as a CEO of a big company someday. Skills that make them employable adults, good husbands and wives, skills that make them successful.

Youth wrestling has taught my children that anything less than everything you’ve got is cheating yourself. Every minute that you slack is a minute another kid is out there outworking you. It’s taught them to show up early and ready to work, and to push their hardest all the way through until the end. To listen to their coaches and apply the skills they’ve been taught in order to achieve success. It’s in these moments that great students and employable adults are created.

Youth wrestling has taught my children to get up when they’re tired and work. To put their foot on the line again at the end of blood time, with a cotton ball up their nose to stop the bleeding, because there is two minutes left in the match and everything they’ve been working for is just on the other side of it. It’s taught my children to wipe their faces after a tough loss in over time, and start warming up for the next match. Because there’s more to be done, and there’s nothing worse than letting one loss beat you twice. It’s in these moments that resilient adults who achieve success after failure are created.

Youth wrestling has taught my children to be appreciative and kind, even when it is hard. To shake the hand of a wrestler and coach who just beat you and knocked you out of the state tournament. To offer a hug to your opponent after achieving a significant win over you because you know first hand the hard work and dedication they put into the sport. To offer up support and congratulations instead of feeling bitter. To cheer on your friends and sibling who have made it farther than you in a tournament you’ve worked so hard for. It is in these moments wrestling builds young adults with impeccable relationship skills. It is in these moments wrestling builds good husbands and wives.

Youth wrestling has taught my children that, although you may not be the best now, there is always a place for you at the top. That you should never stop setting goals and you should never stop working to achieve more. Settling is for the weak and the tired, and there is no room for weak or tired on the mat. There is no time for weak or tired in a match. It’s just you, and your hard work, and your dedication to striving to be the best you can be in the moments that are hardest for you. It’s constantly reaching for the greatest achievements. It is with these skills that wrestling builds top college candidates.

Youth wrestling has taught my kids that not everyone gets a trophy. There are no participation ribbons in life. You either win, or you lose. With wins comes great satisfaction and with losses comes great reflection. You’re not always going to be the best. You’re not always going to be the top pick for the promotion even though you were next in line. You’re not always going to get a raise for your hard work, and you’re not always going to get recognized for the time you’ve put in. It’s in these moments that wrestling builds hard working gracious adults.

Youth wrestling has taught my children the joys of success. The glorious feeling of a pin at districts that sends you to state when you’re down by four points with all of your teammates and family screaming for you in the stands. It’s running off that mat to hug your mom because she believed in you even when you didn’t believe in yourself. It’s youth wrestling camps where you make new friends, it’s staying in hotels and swimming with kids from all over the state, and creating memories that last a life time. Its staying after practice to work out with your friends just to spend more time together. It’s creating bonds that nobody else can understand. And it’s tucking your sweatpants into your socks because, well, I still don’t know. But its in these moments that wrestling builds happy kids who love the sport.

As for me, as a wrestling mama, wrestling has taught me a lot of things. Most importantly, it has taught me to stand back and let my kids fail. To offer a hug and a shoulder to cry on, to share in their sadness and their joy, but to separate myself from it. To not try to fix everything for them. I have learned that there is nothing greater than to witness my children work through their struggles and achieve their goals on their own. I have had the pleasure of sitting back and watching my children learn so much from this sport that I couldn’t teach them myself. I have had so many opportunities to sit back in awe of what my children can do. And if there ever comes a time that they decide wrestling isn’t for them, I will forever be grateful for the time they spent dedicated to this sport. And to all of my wrestling mamas, who sit up at night as I just did this night, making a list of all the great things wrestling does for your kid because sometimes the heartache of a loss makes you sit back and wonder what it’s all for.. They are right where they need to be. Keep going.

2 thoughts on “Youth Wrestling Into Adulthood

  1. I’m a retired teacher/coach. High school wrestling head coach for almost 30 years. Oklahoma and Colorado. I wish I had read this before every wrestling season. The parallels of what I experienced in coaching, and your parental experience is astounding. I’ve never once seen them expressed on paper. Thank you. One thing I know is that what parents go though in the stands is significant. I’ve seen everything from a man doing the parent/coach squirm, fall off the 11th row of bleachers, to a parent have to go out in the hall way until after her son wrestled. Hundreds who just simply know it’s not like other sports. Your superb application of the lessons learned through sport to life’s toughest, yet most rewarding experience. Parenting. That’s the “Legendary” level of parenting. I pushed my guys physically in the safest, most efficient manner known, but push them I did. Every single second was aimed at producing a better human being, that happened to be a great wrestler. I have been around man’s oldest sport for 50 years, and it’s nice to still be able to learn from it and the people who understand it’s more than wins and losses, it’s about preparing for life. Nice job of parenting in my humble, yet very accurate opinion.

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    1. Wow! Thank you for your kind comment. It means a lot to have my experiences validated by a coach! And thank you for investing so much of yourself into those young wrestlers all of those years. Wrestling coaches are truly one of a kind!

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