Should Youth Wrestlers Go to Tournaments?

June 7, 2020

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Youth wrestling tournaments have become big business over the last decade, with multiple national-level events occurring every weekend for the entire calendar year. It is not uncommon to hear of parents taking their wrestler to a tournament on a Saturday, and then hopping on a plane to fly cross country to make another one on Sunday. But is this good?

Should youth wrestlers go to tournaments? Yes, youth wrestlers should go to tournaments, but their match count should be closely monitored. Parents should aim to get their youth wrestler no more than 20 and 30 matches a year.

In the current culture, some parents are getting their kids upwards of 500 matches a year. There are a number of reasons why this is problematic and should be kept in check, not only for the wrestler, but for the parents as well.

The Case For Youth Wrestling Tournaments

Although exposing your youth wrestler to an extreme number of tournaments on a yearly basis can be detrimental, there are a number of solid reasons why loading up the van and hitting the road can be a good idea.

It is a Great Family Outing

Many people bemoan the fact that in contemporary culture, there is no more quality family time. Whether it be due to the fact that parents are not there for their children or that parents (yes, parents) lock themselves in their rooms all weekend, with their kid in a separate room, and play video games, there are many stories of families not doing anything together anymore.

Youth wrestling tournaments are a great way to bring the family together. You get up together in the morning as a family; travel, listen to music, and tell stories together; and spend all day in a gym supporting and bonding with your child. When it is over, most families usually go out and close the day with a big celebratory meal, capping a great day of family together time.

There is also a wide selection of Rudis and Cliff Keen wrestling gear that is not only great for your youth wrestler, but can be bought in matching sets to make you feel like a family when traveling at airports, similar to how outdoors families match their Patagonia gear.

It Provides a Lesson in Geography

As a substitute teacher, it never surprises me how many kids have never been outside of their neighborhood. By traveling to wrestling tournaments on the weekend, you allow your wrestler to see new areas of the state and country. When traveling, it is always a good idea to stop and visit a local museum or national park to give your child as much cultural exposure as possible.

It Teaches Your Child Social Skills

Perhaps meeting new people in online video game chat rooms is acceptable socialization for your child in 2020, but there is still something to be said for getting out and getting to know other people in real life.

Not only does being on a youth wrestling team give your child the chance to make friends he or she may have never been introduced to outside of the sport, but when traveling to tournaments, he or she will have the chance to meet and interact with a completely new pool of kids, often from different cultures, which is very important in an increasingly diverse society.

It Helps Your Child Learn How to Overcome Adversity

Many people make note of the fact that the participation-ribbon culture, in which children are rewarded for everything and told how great they are, regardless of actual performance, is very detrimental in preparing children for an increasingly competitive “real world.” 

Whether it be having your job application turned down in favor of another applicant, seeing your request for credit to purchase a home denied, or having your car insurance company tell you that they will not cover you after your recent accident, there are innumerable situations in life in which being a good person makes no difference at all.

By having your child experience the highs and lows, wins and losses of a youth wrestling tournament and using these moments as teaching opportunities to talk to your child about life, you can give him or her a head start in processing adverse life situations, something that many modern-day children are ill-equipped to do.

The Case Against Youth Wrestling Tournaments

Although there are many sound reasons for taking your youth wrestler to tournaments, there are a handful of things you need to be aware of as you take your child to gyms and arenas across the state and country.

Moderation is Key

As with everything in life, moderation is key. However, moderation is a concept that most parents struggle with when it comes to youth wrestling tournaments. 

Youth sports tend to be a magnet for overzealous parents, with stories of the crazy soccer mom and overbearing baseball dad too numerous to rehash. For whatever reason, wrestling seems to be a sport that is particularly prone to parents living vicariously through their children.

This means that even though you are really loving the life of traveling around every weekend of the year and seeing your child win medals and get on the award podium at wrestling tournaments, he or she may not be feeling the same way.

Children are known to be interested in everything for a little while but interested in very little for an extended period. This means that they will love wrestling–until they do not love wrestling anymore.

As such, until your child reaches middle school, try to keep his or her match count limited to between 20 and 30 matches a year, which will be the equivalent of about five or six wrestling tournaments. This should be enough to keep your child interested in the sport without inducing burnout.

Too Much Competition Can Lead to Bad Habits

One major issue I see with youth wrestling tournaments is that many of the moves and tactics used to help kids win matches at a young age will not be effective once your child reaches high school. Some common moves that are gold at the peewee level but considered to be “junk” as you get older include:

  • Headlocks (head and arm)
  • Three-quarter nelson
  • Cow catcher

If your child is simply wrestling as a means of entertainment and has no real aspirations in the sport, then there is no cause for concern here.

However, if your child falls in love with the sport and wants to continue with it at advanced levels, it can be difficult for him or her to abandon the bad habits that are helping to win matches at the youth level in favor of the more fundamentally sound techniques that may not work against peewees but will lead to success in high school and beyond.

Do Not Look at Youth Wrestling Tournaments as an Investment

There are so many parents that look at youth wrestling tournaments as an investment, a chance for their child to get great competition and exposure that will help them get noticed by college scouts, which will in turn lead to an athletic scholarship.

On one hand, this thought process is correct. The college recruiting process starts earlier and earlier, with many astute college recruiters having a firm grasp of the youth wrestling landscape. Therefore, if your child is not active on the youth wrestling circuit, he or she will face an uphill battle in getting a college scholarship.

On the other hand, take it from someone who knows, this thought process is heavily flawed on many levels. The following are just a few reasons why you might want to use your “investment” dollars elsewhere:

  • Who knows if your wrestler will even be interested in wrestling by the time he or she gets to college?
  • In a rapidly changing world in which the traditional higher education structure is facing extreme challenges, will a college degree and/or athletic scholarship even have any value by the time your child reaches college?
  • If you add up the amount you “invest” in taking your child to youth wrestling tournaments and compound it over a modest 6% annually leading up to your child’s high school graduation, you would be able to pay cash for his or her college education if that same money were invested in an index fund

At the end of the day, wrestling is a great sport for teaching your youth many physical and intrinsic skills that will help him or her in life. The body awareness the sport teaches will help your child in any sport he or she chooses, so even if your child does not want to go to tournaments, I suggest getting a foldable home wrestling mat to practice tumbling and agility.

If you are limiting the amount of matches and keeping wrestling tournaments fun, educational, and family-oriented, you will be setting your child up for success, regardless of his or her future in the sport.

 

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