Klingman: Best club coaches are those who keep age in perspective

Updated: December 8, 2021

Editor: Jake Deitchler (left) and Brandon Paulson, who teamed up as a wrestler and coach at the 2008 Olympics, now help today’s younger wrestlers in two clubs, Grynd Wrestling and Pinnacle, in the state of Minnesota.

By Kyle Klingman

There is much to be learned if USA Wrestling’s Preseason Nationals is a cross-section of the current state of youth wrestling in America. The event — held in Des Moines, Iowa, from October 29-31 — featured some of the best young wrestlers in the country.

It wasn’t the most talented field, mind you. Super 32 took place the week prior and had a better field than its USA Wrestling counterpart.

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This isn’t about which tournament has a deeper field or which tournament is more prestigious. This is about how far wrestling has come — and how far we need to go.

A quick stroll through either tournament and there is one thing that is crystal clear: high-level wrestling coaches are entering the club wrestling game at breakneck speed. There were no fewer than seven Olympians at Preseason Nationals — and that doesn’t include World team members, NCAA champions, and All-Americans.

Coaches, parents, and athletes proudly wear club gear as a way to establish loyalty and to show off which youth program they represent. The higher a wrestler places, the more proof that your system works.

Two of those Olympians are a microcosm for what is happening within the American wrestling system. Brandon Paulson — silver medal winner at the 1996 Olympics in Greco — coached Jake Deitchler to the 2008 Olympics when Deitchler was still in high school in Anoka, Minn.

Paulson started PINnacle Wrestling School in Minneapolis with NCAA champion Jared Lawrence. Deitchler coached at PINnacle and sold medical supplies before he branched off and created his own club called Grynd Wrestling. Now there are two high-level wrestling clubs in the Twin Cities area with an Olympian at the helm of each.

“You have your eight-year-old Jimmy getting coached by Brandon Paulson or myself or (2000 Olympic silver medalist) Sammie Henson,” Deitchler said. “We’re seeing kids get better younger and younger.”

Not only are kids getting better, but, hopefully, parents are getting better, too.

To the naked eye, it appears that parents are figuring out that not winning a youth tournament doesn’t stop the world from spinning. There isn’t as much yelling and screaming and berating and excessive weight cuts, either.

No six-year-old should sit in a sauna to make a lower weight class … ever.

Part of this stems from the above-mentioned coaches establishing ground rules. Parents sitting in the corner of a match usually isn’t a good idea unless they are qualified. Coaching — like any other profession — requires training.

Northern Iowa coach Doug Schwab was at the tournament watching his two sons compete. He offered advice when appropriate, but he was never in the corner and he never made a scene. He has stated numerous times that he was reluctant to let his children start wrestling too early … and he certainly wasn’t going to let them cut weight.

“I think cutting weight is absolutely ridiculous,” Schwab said. “You’ll have a kid who’s an 80-pounder coming down from 90 pounds to win a preseason national tournament. Really? It drives a love of the sport out of kids. You start cutting weight and you start having a negative association with wrestling. I don’t want anyone to have a negative association with this sport.

“I’ve talked to some parents about some things and they roll their eyes at me and that’s ok. They’re your kid, but I can tell you it drives out the love of the sport for the kid and they don’t ever want to do it and that’s what I don’t want.”

We may be making progress but parents can still be a handful. It’s hard to know what goes on behind closed doors.

A few club coaches mentioned that parents behaving badly happens more often at local tournaments than at national events. 

Most of the kids in Des Moines were higher-level wrestlers involved with high-level clubs. This leads to a supportive environment that stresses development over immediate results.

That’s good news as wrestling navigates the next decade of progress. Successful athletes are looking to youth coaching as a viable option to make a living. It’s important they understand the health of this sport is in their hands. 

(Kyle Klingman, the former director of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum, is an editorial content provider for Flowrestling.)