virtual children by Scott Warnock

Dear Palmyra Junior Wrestling families…

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This is my eighth year as head coach of Palmyra Jr. Wrestling. We have a great group of people who coach, administer, and care for the club. It’s a youth sport for 40 or so wrestlers, but it’s also a community of parents and friends. This position has been a big part of my life for nearly a decade. As I’ve written in this very space, much of youth coaching involves working with parents (and working with yourself). I take that seriously. Below is the 2015-16 version — slightly edited — of a letter I’ve sent out each year to our parents before our first match. It’s my effort to talk about what youth sports mean to me and how wrestling parents can help their young athletes.

Dear Palmyra Junior Wrestling families,

I hope you’re having a nice holiday. Wrestling season is about to get into full gear! We had a great workout with about 24 wrestlers today. Don’t forget, we have a team workout at Riverton Park from 8:30 to 9:30 this Thursday.

Sunday we have our first Grapevine League Match at Robbinsville. Leah and Cara have sent you more information about the logistics. Our Grapevine matches are for all wrestlers. Below is a 1000+ word message. Yeah, it’s long. I’ve sent a version of it for the past few years. It provides my thoughts about wrestling competition, and it’s designed to help all of you, but mainly new parents, get ready for this weekend.

What does my wrestler need? Wrestlers need their singlets, wrestling shoes, headgear, and Palmyra Jr. Wrestling gear. Wrestlers may NOT wear T-shirts under their singlets, although they may wear a tight-fitting Underarmor-type shirt. Wrestlers must have their nails clipped, and those with long hair must have a hairnet built into their headgear. There’s almost always food for sale, but make sure the kids have something decent to eat—a banana is the best thing—and that they have water.

How long should the meet take? These meets vary based on how good the home team is at hosting. Think three to five hours. We, by the way, are very good at hosting.

What if I have questions during the match? Ask a coach, but please be patient. As coaches, we love match day. It’s fun and fast-paced but busy. I will have 50 things going through my mind. If you ask me a question and I appear rude, don’t take it personally. The coaches will coach about a hundred matches on Sunday, and we will barely have time to eat lunch. So please bear with us if you have a question we don’t answer immediately.

When will my child wrestle? Typically, in a Grapevine match your child will get one to three matches against an opponent with a similar age, weight, and skill ranking (as determined by the coaches). All teams submit their rosters, and then a computer creates match-ups. Your child’s match will have a number. The match list will also be posted on the wall. PLEASE tell your kids not to ask the coaches when they are going to wrestle. If your child, for whatever reason, does not get a match right away, our coaches will find a “hand match,” which means we match them up by talking with other coaches. We will confirm any overt hand-match mismatches with parents before we agree to them.

How should I prepare my wrestler for the match? The coaches will help the kids prepare, but you can help. When your match is approaching, make sure your wrestler has headgear and is up and getting warmed-up. Make sure they don’t have a belly full of cupcakes. The worst thing the kids can do is sit in the stands playing video games and then stumble onto the mat when it’s their turn. Make sure your wrestlers have a coach before they go out on the mat.

What should the wrestlers do when they are not wrestling? I want the kids to root for each other and pay attention to what’s going on with their teammates. Please do not let them run wild.

What should I do during my child’s match? This is the longest part of this email, but I wanted, especially for new parents, to share my thoughts with you about how you interact with your wrestlers when they are competing. I have been coaching since 1990, and I’ve had a range of experiences. Those experiences have led me to believe that parents who scream at, shout at, or make frustrated comments to kids while they wrestle do far more harm than good. A kid in the middle of a match is not prepared to answer, “Why did you do that?” In fact, if you freak out at mat side, kids, especially little ones, may think there is something wrong. Some of us may think by screaming that we are helping a child — getting them psyched up or making them tougher — but my experiences have shown that usually we simply hurt their chances to succeed. The kids listen and even look at people who are screaming, and at that point it is difficult to coach them. Let the coaches do what they are there to do: Coach!

I have tried to base my coaching–and sports parenting–on what a writer once said about former NFL head coach Tony Dungy: “I think the best motivation the players can have is to see their coach calm and in control, and most important, appearing to know what he is doing.”

Remember that wrestlers prepare to compete during practice. Some kids are tougher and more competitive than others and will be able to tap into those traits during matches, but the coaching and the learning has happened in practice. (By the way, after Sunday, you will see many kids focus more in practice: They will now understand what they need to do.)

Wrestling is an exciting sport, and restraint is one of the hardest things about being a wrestling parent. I recommend that you encourage your child with a stream of positive cheering: “Good job, Jim!” “Looking good, Jim!”, but when those comments start to take the form of screaming or pleading, even comments like, “C’mon, Jim!” can be excessive.

Of course I am not perfect in this way. Sometimes, your kid goes out flat, and it’s frustrating. Some days we have to walk away. Realize that if professional sports teams can play flat one week (uh, the Philadelphia Eagles), of course young children will not always be on their “A “game. Adjust your expectations.

My coaching goal is to keep the kids wrestling, because by wrestling they will get better and improve their fitness, confidence, and, if we’re lucky, life outlook. They will become young people with character. If wrestling becomes a mission to keep mom off my back or make dad respect me by winning or make my coach not yell at me, they will burn out. They will not win every match. They will not wrestle their best in every match. But we are coaching them so that they will break through and come out sharp and focused at the right time. Our practices are designed to help them capture that moment.

I’m looking forward to seeing these kids in action on Sunday. They have worked hard, and they are ready to go out and show their stuff.

Coach Scott

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the University Writing Program. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.

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2 Responses to “Dear Palmyra Junior Wrestling families…”

  1. Scott, wonderful message! You have effected so many lives young and old including mine.

    Btw, that might be the last sentimental thing I say about you till your eulogy.

  2. Scott, your messages written, as well as spoken is always from the heart. Thank you for that Dr. Boy I surely do miss those Palmyra Jr. Wrestling Families!

    I was just telling my middle child last night, “I need to reach out to Scott Warnock for some guidance” and I wake up to your email…. coincidence? Think not…

    Talk to you soon Dr.

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