August 2021 Scholastic Coaches Update

By George Way, Scholastic Director

Growing Participation in our Scholastic Wrestling Programs

After the challenges of last year’s wrestling season, we suddenly found ourselves filled with joy and excitement over the past summers wrestling accomplishments around the globe. Some of those events have just come to an end. Due to lost wrestling practices, training sessions, competitions, and championships in many parts of the country last year that significantly impacted our scholastic participation, we need to consider strategies and initiatives to get us back on track. Most importantly, we need to regain the participation momentum that we enjoyed before last year. With all the success, backstories, accomplishments, exposure of the Olympics, both men and women, it’s an excellent time to use that as a marketing and recruiting tool this upcoming season. I would encourage you to capitalize on this unique time period to identify as many ideas as possible to attain this lofty goal. We have so many great stories and people to recognize, highlight, market, etc. Utilize these to get your students interested and excited about wrestling. No matter your coaching skills, developmental status, or coaching experience, we can all be recruiters of what we hold near and dear to our hearts. In addition, teach your kids how to be recruiters of future team members. So, how can we promote our sport through those highly visible and accomplished athletes who have made our wrestling community proud? I would also ask you to share the ideas and initiatives that you develop with your coaching staff, student/athletes, school community, and your community at large. This period now presents many unique opportunities to grow our sport that are not always in front of us. The need to recruit is critical, the timing for this is perfect, and the enthusiasm and passion we can provide for recruitment is now.

I have reached out to our NWCA State Chairs in every state, both boys and girls, requesting feedback on how or what we can specifically do to recruit kids and get them excited to join our programs. Here are a few to promote some dialogue. Target your recruits. Nothing is more effective than giving a personal invitation to try wrestling, even if it’s for two weeks. Make it fun and encourage your team members to connect with them. Every kid wants to be part of a valued and visible group.

Target groups at each of the school levels (elementary, middle school, high school). It would be great to have a consistent number of participants in each grade. Continue to grow girl’s wrestling. The more participants you have, the more wrestling ambassadors you have. Once again, kids want to be part of a successful and visible program. Other ideas might include incentives for students. Ask your recruits what they want out of an activity/sport and see if your program can meet their needs and goals. Speak to other coaches and work together to share kids where possible. I know this is probably easier said than done, but it’s pretty clear that multi-sport athletes have a very high success rate. Put wrestling posters of our highly accomplished wrestlers all over your wrestling room or locker room. Hang them in the hallways, local businesses, and other high-traffic areas within your community. Visibility is a key to marketing your program. Social media is a great and simple way to get your story out, share accomplishments and create interest. Perhaps look to hire a student who is skilled in social media to help promote your program. Maybe you could frame it as an opportunity to be an intern with a potential future recommendation from you. If you find yourself coaching another sport and perhaps at another level, you could identify kids and suggest that they try wrestling. Again, a personal invitation while framing how wrestling can help them to attain their future goals. Try to find other coaches in your school who will coach for you. A collaborative and cooperative coaching staff can do wonders in your school. Perhaps a social gathering of the school’s coaching staffs would be a great way to create this type of collaborative culture. Involve your wrestling team with civic projects or school-related programs for exposure and or recognition. Teachers, administrators, and the community will notice. The more everyone knows what you and your wrestling program aspire to achieve, the more support and respect you will receive. Consider having your athletes accompany you to assemblies at elementary schools or other events. I used to provide experiences for our state champions after the season to participate in a district-wide jump rope fundraiser (Jump Rope for Heart) event. It was an opportunity for kids to see their jump rope skills (we had some excellent jump ropers), their gold medal, and a brief but focused presentation by the athlete that was a highlight for our grade 3-6 students. It was amazing to see the young kids’ faces light up when they saw up close and interacted with the school’s state champion. They also had their ears tuned in when the state champion was speaking to them. The question and answer period that followed was both insightful and entertaining. It was often only about six years earlier that the newly crowned state champion participated in this event and heard a previous champion encouraging them. I’m sure there may be some other events that this could be coordinated with. Remember that personalities and dynamic presentations are more lasting and dynamic than perhaps the most recent accomplishments to this age group. Ice cream or sherbet socials after matches are another way to get kids and families involved in your program. After a match, invite everyone to the cafeteria or lobby area and serve small cups of ice cream. The reward can be an amazing personal relationship with future athletes, parents, and community members/fans.

In closing, I am confident that you have some great ideas to showcase/market your programs. Develop an intentional list, share with others, solicit ideas from others that will promote your program. Make it not only deliberate but exciting and an experience to remember. Kids are at a time in their life where they need something both positive and challenging. The past year has been unique for this generation. So, how can we provide what they need? The time is now, and the need is critical.

Let’s hope that this season is much more “normal.” Capitalize on our most recent accomplishments, so we can continue to grow our great sport!! Best wishes to each of you during the upcoming school year.

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