Parents Being Fans

By Randy Hanson

I have been a wrestler, a wrestling coach, an educator, a father of a wrestler, a father of a wrestling coach, the grandfather of a wrestler and a lifelong learner. Yesterday I attended a youth wrestling tournament. I witnessed some things that confused me. The young athletes, trying their best, were not the source of my confusion. The behavior of the parents was the source of my confusion. Allow me to explain.

While at the tournament I observed parents, who are not the coaches, leave the bleachers to stand or sit next to the mats for as long as they felt like it. Obviously, each of these self-appointed coaches didn’t honor the rights of the people in the bleachers to see the matches being wrestled.  Their presence at the mat was accompanied by their yelling at their wrestler. I thought motivating and guiding the athlete was the responsibility of the coach. How wrong I was.

In my forty plus years of coaching I have never discovered the value of having multiple adults, most of whom have never wrestled and cannot possibly identify with the demands and challenges of wrestling, yelling at a young wrestler. In fact, communication experts, who really know about verbal and non-verbal communication, would suggest the wrestler’s attentiveness and responsiveness to the task at hand, wrestling to the best of their ability, may become compromised by the distracting, unnecessary and very possibly, inaccurate advice the parents are providing.

I am a rational individual, but I have no rational explanation for the irrational adult behaviors I observed. I am irritated and saddened by selfish, self-serving adults, wanting to make the wrestling tournament, their experience. It is not the adult’s experience. It is the experience of the young athlete who has committed himself to hard work and is anxious to measure himself against another wrestler, who has made the same commitment.

If you are one of the parents I am referring to, I would suggest you change how you look at and interact with your child’s participation in youth sports. If you feel you have a right to behave in the irrational fashion I described in the previous paragraphs because you invested time, money and energy supporting your child’s participation, you do not.

Remind yourself that you voluntarily invested in your child. You let the proverbial, “Genie out of Bottle.” Accept the fact that you encouraged you child to enter the world of youth sports. Accept this fact also; you do not have the right to become part of the coaching staff on a part time basis. You do not have the right to become a human barrier, preventing others from enjoying the athletic performance they value, and paid their money to see.

Did it ever occur to you that your young wrestler might have chosen wrestling because he likes, and very possibly needs to be independent and on his own as he samples and collects life experiences? Why would you prevent him from success and failure on his own terms, and in doing so deny him the growth and development that accompanies each? What does that singular idea mean to you? Do you realize he is doing just fine experimenting with his independence in the middle of a mat?

Here’s what young wrestlers learn during their initial orientation to wrestling. They know this singular fact to be true. They are on the mat alone, and you, their parent, cannot change their potential for success because their opponent has a great deal more to say about it than you do. Yet they chose to be on the mat alone. What a thought to ponder!

Wrestlers choose to perform on a very visible stage, the center of a wrestling mat, comfortable with the rest of the world watching them. They choose to stand on a scale alone and deal with the scale. They also choose to deal with the energy demands of wrestling, the rules, their own talents, the talents, experiences, and competitive nature of their opponent, and the objective outcomes of wrestling. All of this is a solo choice they make. They are practicing self-reliance and self-responsibility, tools that will serve them well in the future.

Do you know the development and mastery of self-discipline is related to anything and everything wrestling? Young wrestlers are novices at life, yet they model self-discipline because the sport demands it, rewards it and honors it.

Would it be reasonable request to expect adults, who are experienced livers of life, to demonstrate and practice the same, highly valued self-discipline the sport of wrestling demands of it’s young wrestler? Is it possible for parents and adults to practice self-discipline by staying in the bleachers? Can you do your yelling from there? How many photographs taken from the side of the mat are necessary? Could you discipline yourself to allow the real coach to do the coaching?

Your young wrestler knows you love them. They know you want them to be safe and successful. They know that your encouragement from the bleachers will have the same impact on their performance as you standing and yelling at the side of the mat.

My request is for you to practice the same self-discipline as your son, the wrestler practices. It is a very reasonable request. I know you can do it.

Randy Hanson was the head wrestling coach at Robbinsdale Cooper High School from 1990-1995 and an assistant coach from 1975 -1982.

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