Put a Smile on Their Face

Put a Smile on Their Face by Dennis A. Johnson, EdD

We want kids to return to our wrestling programs year after year.  That means young wrestlers must have fun and leave practices with a smile on their faces every day.  As a college cross country coach over the years at Wingate University, I was always talking to my runners about smiling; during team meetings, during practice, and even during races.  It creates a huge positive psychological effect on everyone involved with a program.

How can youth wrestling program administrators and coaches be sure that kids leave practice on a daily basis with smiles on their faces?  How can we make that happen? Try following Weinberg and Gould’s 12 basic guidelines for youth sport coaches (1):

  1. Coaches should  be supportive in their instruction (please, no hostile or punitive actions)
  2. Catch kids doing things correct and give plenty of praise (and be sure to smile!)
  3. Make sure praise is sincere and recognize poor performance with support (e.g., it will get better)
  4. Develop realistic expectations with regard to the child’s age and ability level
  5. Reward effort as much or more than outcome
  6. Design practice so instructions are short and simple and there is maximum participation with variety of drills and games
  7. Modify the techniques and tactics to assure success for the children
  8. Modify rules to maximize action and participation (e.g., the pin may not end action-just reset the start)
  9. Reward correct techniques-not just the outcome
  10. Use sandwich approach to correct errors (e.g., Nice try-can you keep your head up on that shot next time-Go get it!)
  11. Create an environment where making mistakes is ok (John Wooden, former UCLA basketball coach called mistakes “building blocks of success”)
  12. Finally be ENTHUSIASTIC!!! (p. 542)

I believe the key for kids to enjoy the sport of wrestling is to have a well-organized practice in a positive environment.  Coaches should schedule a variety of games that stimulate wrestling throughout the practice.  And finally ask the wrestlers throughout the practice if they are having FUN?  If you don’t get an enthusiastic response to that question-they won’t be leaving practice with a smile on their face.
“Find a way and make it happen”….dj


  1. Weinberg, R.S., & Gould, D (2015). Foundations of sport and exercise psychology (sixth edition). Champaign IL: Human Kinetics.

Youth Program Wrestling Coaches:  Put a Smile on Their Face
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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