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How do you keep very young wrestlers motivated?

People often wonder how to keep four and five-year olds motivated for a 1.5 hour wrestling practice. According to podcast guest Jason Kiessling, the trick is to not have a lot of down time.

Jason is building one of the most respected youth wrestling clubs in southern Maryland. In this episode of the Raising Wrestlers Podcast, we discussed the progress of his program as well as his thoughts on youth development in general.

Jason is the founder of the Rampage Wrestling Academy and accepts kids aged 4 and up and allow them to try it before they buy it. They have practice for Folkstyle and Freestyle depending on the time of year and also offer camps in June and July. The practices are split into beginners and advanced. The beginner classes are 1.5 hours long and are focused on basics and fundamentals. Some things they do are stance and motion, penetration focus, sprawl, double legs, halves, and escapes. Technique is easier to learn than the foundations, so these foundations are focused on until they become second nature. Without the balance and basics, the techniques will be hard to grasp. Most of the time the advanced wrestlers will come into the room early to help out and they get the extra exposure of helping the younger kids as well as getting back to basics.

A lot of people wonder how to keep four and five-year olds motivated for 1.5 hours of practice. The trick is to not have a lot of down time. They are quickly shown the move, then they drill it, then they get put into a situation to use the move. When issues are recognized, they quickly go over it, adjust, and do it again. They also play “wrestling games,” which are really wrestling situations and drills. As to when it is best to start competing, it is really when they are ready, and that depends on the kid. You can find more details about Rampage Wrestling Academy on their website.

Wrestling is a tough sport. Kids start struggling with the passion of the sport, especially if all they do is lose. When this starts happening it is important as a parent to watch what you are showing your kids your expectations are. It isn’t necessarily what you are saying, but what they are feeling from your actions. Kids can pick up on the slightest clues. It is good to be consistent, and to focus on their effort at practice and in matches. If they are giving their full effort at both of those, then there is nothing to be ashamed of or upset about for them or you.

If your wrestler is ready to start competing, choose your tournaments wisely. Give them the opportunity to win some and to lose some. Winning is what will motivate them and keep them coming back. If all they do is lose, they will get discouraged so it is vital to find the right level of success.

Strength and conditioning is a common part of wrestling. There are different opinions on when the best age is to focus more on strength and conditioning than wrestling. The goal for younger wrestlers, under 6th or 7th grade, should be more wrestling and technique. This doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have any strength and conditioning, it just shouldn’t be the main focus.

They should be focusing on anything that uses their body weight. Some examples are pull-ups, pushups, box-jumps, and using resistance bands. All kids should be doing some sort of strength and conditioning, especially if they are doing larger tournaments. If they don’t have a good balance of this and techniques, you are not properly preparing them for the larger tournaments.

Learning wrestling techniques at a younger age is more important than strength and conditioning at a younger age. Growing as a wrestler, to where your wrestler has intuition and can flow from move to move without thinking about it, will give them more advantages in their wrestling career than being the strongest wrestler when they are younger.

Something to think about when you are working with your wrestler is that wrestling is a marathon, not a sprint. It is a way of life of eating and exercising regularly, getting good grades, sleeping right, being respectful, being humble, and living your life the right way. If your wrestler is taught this at a younger age, when they get to high school and college, they are ahead of the game. It can’t be one thing or the other thing… it has to be a healthy balance of all of these things. If your kid loves it, let them do it, but teach them how to do it right and how to live a healthy life.

About the Guest: Jason Kiessling started wrestling at 9 years old. He wrestled through high school but didn’t go undefeated until he was a senior. He was recruited by the University of Maryland and he didn’t do very well as a freshman, but then Pat Santoro came in as the coach his sophomore year. He gives credit for his continued wrestling career to the fact that Pat came to coach. Had he not come to the school Jason feels he would not have continued on that path. He won the ACC Championship and qualified for the nationals. He founded the Rampage Wrestling Academy after college.

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