Undefeated in college and a gold medal winner and now coach of #1 Penn State wrestling team… interesting tidbits …
I asked PSU head coach Cael Sanderson about his thoughts on youth wrestling last week, and I found his responses to be insightful for those who have young family members in the sport or are thinking about getting started.
Q: “Is there an ideal age to start — too young, too old?”
A: “I don’t think the age is really that important. I think it’s more based on the individual. A lot of that is based on the attitude that you bring to the kid. I think you obviously want to make sure they love competing and they want to win, but it’s got to be fun. It’s a game. That’s one thing in our sport we’ve lacked across the nation: You kind of get thrown in into the fire right away as a young kid. And there’s nothing more humiliating than going out there and getting your butt kicked in front of your parents and your friends at a young age. It’s not like that in the No. 1 youth sport in the country – soccer, right? – it’s not like that in soccer. My kid can kind of hang out in the back and not get beat individually, so I think that’s important. Parents need to take that into consideration. We have a youth program. We actually have a practice tonight that we started here (with the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club, called Youth Recreation). We couldn’t get more kids in here. It’s full. It’s fun. They come in and wrestle on Sundays. It’s good. The point is to have it be a recreational style versus throwing them into the fire – blood and guts and glory – when you’re five years old. That’s not a good foundation, I don’t think.”
Q: “How much do you focus on technique during those youth practices?”
A: “I think technique is important, but a lot of what we do is correct bad habits that we see kids bring to college. … Hustle is obviously very important, but hustle will sometimes get you out of position. Getting off the bottom, a lot of it is more of positioning. If you just try to get out of there before your hands are clear, that’s kind of like trying to get out of the car without taking the seatbelt off. So there are those little things that you’ve got to correct. And, also, when you put a real strong emphasis on winning and losing at an early age, I think the kids are going to do whatever it takes to win and usually that means they skip the fundamentals, because the fundamentals are kind of a long-term success. You look at the Olympics, you look at the World Championships, as they say, I think, advanced techniques are the basics mastered. That’s an old combat quote, so I think that’s important. If you can actually teach your kids fundamentals first and let them learn it before you throw them into the fire, they’ll probably be more successful in the long run.”