I had a conversation this weekend with a parent over whether or not he should put his child into wrestling. I think my thoughts are evolving over time on the subject so I thought to write them down. If you had asked me 8 years ago when I first started teaching full-time whether a teenager who does BJJ should do wrestling I almost always answered yes. Now I get parents who ask me this question not just about their high schooler, but also about their kids who are 8 years old and sometimes even younger
Wrestling for me was a big part of my high school experience. It taught me a ton about work ethic, toughness, competition, success as both a team and an individual. I found wrestling in 8th grade after our Tae Kwon Do school started showing us some judo and submissions. I was sparring with the adults which was a getting a little frustrating as a 12 year old due to the power difference and with the UFC coming out I was a bit disillusioned by Tae Kwon Do so when my mom enrolled me in a wrestling summer camp I was excited. I went to the summer camp for a number of weeks and did pretty well, the only issue was that the summer camp was at the rival high school and not my own. They were bummed that I would be joining the "other team". Luckily for me the other team was the vastly better high school for wrestling so I quickly learned the difference betwen good coaching and bad coaching for wrestling. My high school had two great coaches, the first was a Michigan Wrestling Hall of Fame coach, made a lot of state champs and was pretty old school. When he retired he was replaced by an Olympic alternate, Junior World Champion and 2x NCAA runner up for the University of Michigan. He taught more about how to succeed as an individual.
I bring this up because looking back, I had great wrestling coaches. This allowed me to probably value the amazing instructors I had in Saulo and Xande. I guess I am finding it frustrating as a coach to recommend to parents that they send their kids off to wrestle because of all the value and experience that I got out of it and then they send them to the nearest school (usually the only option) and they get subpar coaching for 4 months out of the year. So I am becoming more and more reluctant to send my athletes to wrestling programs because I am not seeing a high level of high school coaches in this area. Wrestling is a lot more popular and competitive in the midwest and even in Michigan there are just such wide gaps in wrestling coaching. So I am getting to the opinion that would I rather have your kid learn Jiu-Jitsu from a highly decorated competitor and full-time coach or to take time away from that to learn from a part-time coach who probably didn't go very far in the sport (especially when you are talking about younger kids).
The other thing I always caution with wrestling is burn out. I saw it a lot in high school wrestling from kids who started wrestling when they were in elementary school. They have been competing for so long and cutting weight for so long that they are done with it by the time high school ends. There is so much focus on success in high school, which would give them a chance at a university team that the kids don't love the sport anymore. The sad thing is it takes so long to get good at wrestling and grappling in general that aren't giving our kids a chance to succeed at an international level. We put so much focus on high school success, that college success seems unbelieveable, but really the college wrestlers are just kids to the adults who are trying for the olympics usually. Watch some of the matches that flowrestling puts on between Daniel Cormier and current NCAA champions or Ben Askren facing Quinten Wright (Penn State champ). The older former olympians who have been focusing solely on MMA for years can toy with the college kids. The Russian wrestling team is so much older than the USA team because it takes so long to get good at this stuff. That is something that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu allows for and USA wrestling doesn't really.
So in general I won't say that kids should or shouldn't stop wrestling for BJJ because the level of the coaches vary dramatically in each. There are coaches in Colorado that I would love to eventually work with my son. But I would also hesitate to take him out of program with world class instruction for one with less than that. Please don't think that I dislike wrestling, I still get on the mat as a wrestler at least once a week, but I am learning from world class guys and I highly value that experience.
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