Getting your child into wrestling when he’s young has many advantages. According to Bill Campbell, author of the 2005 booklet “Parent’s Guide to Wrestling,” children who start wrestling will have a jump on the competition when things get serious around his high school years. Deciding exactly what age is a good one to start your child in wrestling depends on several factors, including his interests, personality, and physical ability.
4 or 5
Children can start wrestling training as young as 4 or 5. Campbell wrote that starting at this age can teach coordination and develop emotional maturity. Knowing if your child is ready to wrestle depends mainly on his attitude. Penn State coach Cael Sanderson, a 2004 Olympic gold medalist who went undefeated in his college career at Iowa State, says the important thing is to have a child develop a love for fitness early, no matter the sport.
Middle school is another common entry age for wrestling, according to Campbell. At this point, students are a little more mature and able to handle the ups and downs of serious competition. Not starting until high school will be tough given how much more experienced the other kids are by then. The best high school wrestlers are usually those kids who did get the early start. However, it’s not impossible for a dedicated athlete to overcome those odds. In fact, some states, like Texas, don’t even offer scholastic wrestling until high school.
Steve Fraser, an Olympic gold medalist and wrestling coach, says many child champions don’t wrestle past the age of 12 because of burnout. They focus too heavily on competition instead of simply enjoying the sport. Campbell says those 4- and 5-year-old starters shouldn’t be put in highly competitive wrestling programs that focus on tournaments. The United States Wrestling Association apparently agrees as no official national tournament on its website even allowed any kids that young.
Some parents worry that starting kids out in wrestling too young might hurt their physical development, but some experts say it can actually help. According to Portland Youth Wrestling and Campbell, wrestling improves strength, coordination and flexibility. When children take part in a sport that focuses on only one muscle group, they are at risk of long-term injuries and hurting their physical growth. But when they participate in sports like wrestling that emphasize all muscle groups, the activity is physically beneficial.
Tips for Children
There are a few things you should demand in a wrestling program you’ll trust with your child. Fraser suggests you look for one that teaches technique and good listening skills, but rewards effort and still makes fun a top priority. Avoid programs that are too emotional or where children’s mistakes are pointed out more often than their achievements.