Praise kids for being out for wrestling; it’s tough!

Updated: August 11, 2023

Photo: Seven-time World/Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs (right) gave his young wrestler from “All I See Is Gold Academy” some healthy advice in June during the Kids Nationals in Farmington, Utah. (Tony Rotundo photo)

By Bryan Van Kley

What really made you who you are? Have you ever thought about that?

I’m not talking about your personality and the way God made you. I’m talking about things like your work ethic, your balance of humility and pride, your ability to serve others and your perspective on winning in sports and in life.  

With another wrestling season about to begin, many of you coaches reading this are about to lead your team into another season. 

Coach, why do you coach the way you do? Where did your philosophy on running a program come from? And what, at the end of day, really is the goal of this season?

Coaches, you have a precious gift you’re about to share with your team. And that is this season and how it can shape young people to be ready for life! Please know what an incredible privilege it is to be a wrestling coach, even during those long days and tournament weekends where it doesn’t feel that way and you’d rather be somewhere else.

I bet if you’re like me, the answers to many of those questions above trace back to your parents and the impact wrestling, and most likely other sports, had on you growing up. Also, the impact of those sports and answers to many of those questions trace directly back to key mentors, many of them coaches that you had when you were growing up. 

Think about your work ethic for example. When did you learn how to work hard? When did you learn how to push through those times where it would have been far easier to stop because of how tired you were, or because you didn’t “feel” like working hard, or practicing that move five more times correctly? What in life taught you to persevere?

There is no finer sport to teach about life than wrestling, that is without question if you’re a person who has been in it for a while. But, the sport alone, without a good coach helping his or her athletes reach their goals, can only have a limited long-term impact.

Here’s a couple examples. 

I was in high school in the early 1990s when weight-cutting was widely accepted and often done in extremes and in an unhealthy way. It was considered almost a rite of passage for wrestlers who were truly dedicated. I cut way too much weight — from 162 down to 135 — my senior year. I really regret it. However, if I think back to all those laps my teammates and I spent running the halls of my high school with a hoodie and stocking hat on, I know it had a permanent impact on me in a positive way. Part of the reason was because we had a couple coaches who really cared about us and who were running those laps at times with us and encouraging us to keep pushing. 

Were there times where I hated getting ready for another grueling practice? Of course. The point is that wrestling taught me how to be tough and persevere. I’m so thankful my parents had already taught me to work hard long before wrestling. However, wrestling took that to another level and prepared me for college athletics and life after college. 

I can also still remember the disappointment of failing to qualify for the state tournament my senior year when I lost to a guy I had pinned earlier in the season. Again, coaches were there to help me through that time and to wisely help allow that disappointment to propel me to be a better person. 

Now into adulthood, those experiences are part of the foundational blocks I depend on in many areas of life. This is especially true when adversity comes your way. And those of us adults know, everybody is going to face some form of extreme adversity. 

Coaches, as WIN columnist and Maryland high school coach John Klessinger often reminds readers, it really is about the journey. I know that’s pretty cliché for us wrestling people. But it really is so true. 

Recruit your butt off between now and the start of the season to get as many kids out as possible. Praise them for having the courage to go out for a sport as difficult, and also fun, as wrestling. Then, in my opinion, you need to praise kids often for working hard and remind them of the pride they should have in themselves for being a wrestler. 

Think of it the way the U.S. Marines view themselves. There are lots of people in the military and different branches you can serve in, but only a few can be Marines. Wrestling certainly can be a sport for “everybody” with the right coach. However, only some athletes are really going to stick it out and pour their heart into it, day in and day out. 

Those kids need to be reminded by coaches and others how likely they are to be able to accomplish whatever they want in life by what they’re learning each day in the wrestling room! When people say, “It’s about the journey….”, this is one way to really drive home that point. 

(WIN’s Bryan Van Kley has been publisher since 1998. He can be reached at