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How to keep wrestlers motivated on and off the mat

Motivating kids is an uphill battle. Jeff Saferite was recently joined by Chris Mance on the Raising Wrestlers Podcast where the two of them reflected on a wrestling tournament they both just attended and their stories on trying to keep wrestlers motivated in a healthy way.

This conversation started as a reflection on the VAC Holiday Duals in Virginia Beach, Virginia. If you aren’t familiar with the VAC Holiday Duals, they are one of the hardest youth duals in the country and take place every year around the holidays in Virginia Beach, VA.

This year the competition was fierce, and the tournament went smoothly due to the back-to-back matches and lack of byes. The VAC Holiday Duals offer competition that local champions can’t get at home. A lot of local champions go to VAC and get a rude awakening when they don’t win like they are used to doing.

Luckily kids are resilient and having a tough weekend could motivate a wrestler to make permanent changes and work harder, or it can just be another experience in the books.

Over time, if your wrestler really enjoys the sport, they will evolve, make changes, and get better… even if it isn’t until the next year at VAC!

At tough tournaments like this it is important to keep it fun and focus on the experience and not only winning. Winning is important and to define and pursue goals is also important but loving the sport and enjoying it should come first. Having constant pressure to be the best can take the fun away from the sport.

Motivating kids is an uphill battle. Kids will be kids and will say one thing and do another. As a parent, it is your job to know your child and help them find their own self-motivation, not to constantly be the motivating force. It is great for a parent to help their child figure out goals and set ways to meet them but knowing how to help them help themselves is a whole other level of parenting. To figure out what drives your child you need to be present. Fully present. You need to understand how the environment around them factors into their motivation. Does your wrestler love live wrestling but hates drills? Are they more competitive than social? Watch for these things at practice and tournaments. See how they react with different coaches if possible. It is a lot easier to know how your kid will act in certain situations and be prepared for it, than to be surprised and get upset with them. If you know that they really despise drills and the first thing coach says at practice is that they will be doing drills, you know you can expect your wrestler to slack, act up, or do the bare minimum required. You know it will happen so now you can sit back and let it happen without getting upset.

Kids are not going to give 100% all of the time. Sometimes you just have to know they are going to have a rough day and let it slide, maybe take some notes and video for a later conversation. Then when the time is right, talk to them about it. Discuss what happened and how to combat it.

Make it into a learning experience instead of a lecture opportunity. Also, consider things that may be affecting them outside of wrestling. Do they have a big test tomorrow? Did they have a sleep-over the weekend before and still haven’t fully recovered? If you are completely aware of their environment and what makes them tick, it will be easier to understand their moods and motivation.

Chris created an assessment to help parents better understand their kids. You can check out his blog about it HERE. It covers 9 different ways your child is motivated and it is a good idea to go through these with your kid every other year because kids change.

Jeff suggests looking into the 5 love languages to help better understand your child. He also recently listened to a podcast about an 80/20 rule for motivation. It said that motivation is a push and inspiration is a pull toward success. Cultivating a genuine love for the sport would fall under inspiration and should be 80% of the ways to be successful reaching goals. It is important to have motivation too, but that should only be about 20%. Balancing the push and the pull is ideal. Add inspiration to knowing yourself and your kids, figure out the pull, and do your best to surround them with the things that pull them.

Fill in the times you aren’t feeling that pull with motivation and you are setting your wrestler up for success. All in all, if you sit down with your kids and help them understand what makes them tick and inspires them want to keep wrestling, you will be able to help guide them to creating a successful journey in wrestling and in life.

About the Guest: Chris Mance has been involved in the wrestling community since he was eight years old and now is a blogger at

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