Youth Program Wrestling Coaches: FUNdamentals: Balancing Fun and Competitiveness

FUNdamentals: Balancing Fun and Competitiveness
by Dennis A. Johnson, EdD | November 8, 2016

Youth wrestling programs should go heavy on the “fun” aspects of the sport and pretty light on competitiveness. Coaches must understand that children in youth programs especially in the U10 age group vary greatly from individual to individual in terms of their motor development, physical and cognitive development, and emotional/social development. That is why we notice that children in the older portion of an age group are the wrestlers who are the most successful.

In almost every research study on youth sport, children indicate they participate in sport simply because it is fun. There are many components that fall within a definition of fun (i.e., being with friends, enjoy the sport, like the coaches, etc). Therefore we in the wrestling community should heed the results from studies such as a recent youth soccer study. Visek, et al. concluded that coaches and administrators “should advance the understanding of positive, fun movement by establishing a youth sport ethos” (1, p.428) which relates fun to the trifecta of being a good sport (social), trying hard (internal), and positive coaching (external). In youth wrestling that translates to, learning basic wrestling fundamentals, playing wrestling games, and enjoying time spent with their friends with limited focused competition.

A heavy emphasis on sport specialization and competition in youth wrestling has proven to be a major contributor for the attrition rate from year to year. This has led to a decrease in participation numbers in the high school wrestling programs resulting in the many forfeits which we now see at scholastic level. Coaches should refer to the NWCA Youth Sport Manual which lists guidelines suggesting young and inexperienced wrestlers should not practice for more than 75 minutes per session and participate in an at-most a 10 week season. Older and more experienced elementary and middle school wrestlers will find 75-90 minute practices appropriate with a three month season. Fun should be the name of the game in all youth programs!

“Find a way and make it happen”….dj

1. Visek, A.J., Achrati, S.M., Mannix, H. M., McDonnell, K., Harris, B.S., & DiPietro, L. (2015). The Fun Integration Theory: Toward sustaining children and adolescents sport participation. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 12, 424-433.
NWCA Sport Blog
Youth Program Wrestling Coaches: FUNdamentals: Balancing Fun and Competitiveness
Dennis A. Johnson, EdD
Associate Professor-Jamestown Community College (SUNY)
Former wrestling coach & author of Wrestling Drills for the Mat and Mind

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