What Age Should Kids Start Wrestling?

For this edition of wadeschalles.com I would like to share an email thread between myself and a father who was wondering at what age is a young man ready to tackle wrestling.

“In your opinion coach, how long should I wait before starting my son in wrestling?”

I responded:

Starting your son in the sport depends not on his age as much as his level of maturity and observed toughness. Some 10 year olds aren’t ready for wrestling while some 6 year olds are.

As a gauge, when your son is on a playground or in the back yard with his friends, does he enthusiastically engage in physical activities or does he tend to shy away from activities that are rough and tumble in nature? Does he enjoy the physicalness of competition or does he give ground when contact is imminent? Does your son typically end up on top when wrestling matches break out or is he usually on the bottom? You should consider his aggressive tendencies when deciding if he’s ready for the sport.  

Basically, if your child is naturally aggressive he’s probably ready to start. If he ends up on top in scuffles with the neighborhood kids he’s probably ready for competition as well. However, if he cries over every scrape and bruise and prefers crayons to climbing trees, it’s probably best to wait another year.

If you decide to wait, that’s not a bad thing. It’s far more important to wait than start too early.

As a piece of mind, mental toughness is an aptitude that everyone develops over time and physical aggression is a skill that is best learned in small doses. Conservative approaches to wrestling should be the norm in the beginning.  

When the decision is made to get involved, may I issue a warning? Never allow your son to compete in tournaments that he doesn’t have at least a 40% chance of winning matches. Don’t always rely on the coach’s opinion here. Many of them have different agenda’s from what parents who are responsible for their child’s well being have. Nothing chases a beginner out of the sport quicker than going 0-2 three weekends in a row. You don’t want that and your son doesn’t deserve it.

My personal opinion is competition borders on child abuse when the child isn’t ready for the level of competition he’s being thrown into. I’m not being overdramatic here. Continually feeling the stings of defeat often leave permanent and unflattering scars in the young.  

That doesn’t mean the sport is bad but throwing a child into situations that he’s not ready for borders on the criminal. A parent’s job is to protect.  

If your child isn’t currently the aggressive type, but you still want to get him involved at some level that’s all right. But look long and hard at finding a wrestling club that uses the power of laughter and fun as developmental tools. There’s not many of those around but they’re very good as a place of initiation. Ask questions first, talk to parents of children already in the programs you’re investigating. Choose wisely; watch out for coaches who put their team’s medal count above their athlete’s best interest. Programs that typically tout championships won and personal accomplishments achieved aren’t the best places for beginners to cut their teeth. 

Whatever you decide, when it’s time to get started, above all don’t rush home after practices. Find time to bond with God’s little creature, your son. Stop at a DQ on the way home for an ice cream cone or 7/11 and buy him a Slurpee. It’s those times together with Dad that he’ll remember most, the two of you sharing stories, smiles and purple colored tongues.    

I hope this helped . . . Wade

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8 thoughts on “What Age Should Kids Start Wrestling?

  1. I am fortunate that Freestyle Olympian Jake Herbert is available as he lives near me and his views on youth competition echo yours. He traveled to Russia and found out that the country that is known for getting the most medals does not emphasize competition very much at the youth level.

    On a personal level I have noticed that people are quick to blame parents for the burn out kids get that causes them to leave the sport, but I have seen so many kids go to wrestling practices and not learn enough of the functioning basics in order to be able to compete effectively. And that responsibility lies particularly with the coaches. There is an ongoing trend I notice over and over and over that the youth wrestlers who do well almost always have a parent who wrestled themselves who is following up to ensure that their child gets the techniques that kids miss during practices. And for those kids who don’t have this resource they are at an incredible disadvantage.

    One advantage that the martial arts based tournaments like Judo, BJJ, etc have is the colored belt rank system so that kids can be matched based on what they have LEARNED and MASTERED rather then just by years of participation. While I don’t think we should use colored belts, Wrestling could use a rank system with a curriculum of what moves you have to master to move on.

  2. Thank you for your comments. Although I almost cried reading it. I put my son in wrestling at 6 because he was always tackling or roughhousing with kids and I got tired of pulling him off people. He seemed to have a need to wrestle and I wanted to give him some safe and controlled area to do it in. However, the coaches encourage the kids to go to meets and he always seems to be put with kids who are more experienced. He almost always loses. I have tried to keep him positive and to focus on learning techniques rather than winning. He started saying he didn’t want to wrestle anymore and I thought I would be a “weak” or “coddling” mom by pulling him out. Now, I will keep him from meets until he wants to go and has more of a chance of winning. Of course, I always encourage him to do a wide variety of other sports and other activities. Thank you for this.

  3. In my area wrestling programs have been destroyed by youth wrestling. 85% of the youth wrestlers will not be in the sport when they are seniors. I have coached in high school and jr hi. If this isn’t enough reasons then consider the damage done to growth plates and early concussions.
    Pediatricians will tell you the younger kids bodies haven’t developed enough to handle the competition. I have seen too many dislocated limbs. The kids can wait until 7th grade….take up dog fighting until then. It is a better sport than youth wrestling.

    • I am all for putting kids into a sport when they are ready, yet it is a far stretch to blame youth wrestling for destroying HS programs. In fact youth sports are a great way for kids to try things out and see where they can excel, be it wrestling, baseball, or any sport. I do agree that 85% of youth wrestlers will not make to seniors nor do 85% of youth baseball players participate in HS ball. The whole growth plate “not being able to handle competition” is a wives tale. You insult many youth who work hard in their sport and are extremely talented in what they do, and considering Wade holds camps geared towards these kids I don’t think you fully understood his comments.

  4. Wow. I wish more elementary coaches would pay attention to these statements. Maybe my grandson wouldn’t have given up so easily if he would have been having fun instead of being bullied at practice. Well said Wade.

  5. Nailed it Coach!!! :)

  6. Well said. I think we have lost a lot of young kids because they started before they were ready or the right coaching was not used.

  7. so true – good words from a responsible coach, in my opinion…

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