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Hey Ref: What’s Your Experience With Youth Tournaments?

Youth Wrestling

Most officials I know start from the bottom and by bottom I mean they get their feet wet by officiating youth matches/tournaments. After a while you’ll do some Jr High then High School then some will take the leap to the NCAA. That’s the route I took. My first couple years officiating I only had youth assignments. Now I only do two youth tournaments a year, one in August and one in November for charity purposes. I was amazed back then and even more now at some of the things I see and I’m not necessarily talking about the actual wrestling itself.

I’ll start with the good:  Like most youth sports the best thing about youth wrestling is the “youth”.  The kids are always there to have fun. They’re funny, hard working, they support each other and always show great sportsmanship. If the kids are allowed to be kids it’s enjoyable, fun and just neat to be a part of. Then, of course, there’s the bad: Like most youth sports the worst thing is the parents/coaches as from time to time they seem to find a way to take the fun out of the kid’s efforts.

So, what kind of parents do we, or at least I, notice as officials?

I’ll start with what I call the wrestling uneducated parent.  I define them as a good-hearted parent or guardian who never wrestled and is trying to coach their nine-year-old. Those guys I tip my hat to. I have kids of my own and would never attempt to coach them in a sport I know nothing about. In dealing with them and watching their actions it seems the uneducated wrestling parent can be good or bad.

Here’s an example of each:

At one of the youth tournaments I recently officiated, the green wrestler was in the bottom position and I must have heard his dad scream 50 times “just get up”.  Obviously, the dad never wrestled, because in wrestling when someone’s sole purpose is to hold you down, it’s not easy to “just get up”. Again, my hats off to him for being there but after the match the father was so irate at his son because he didn’t “just get up” his son was in tears. That’s where the line was/is crossed. That, in my opinion, is where it starts to go from a kid wanting to wrestle again to wanting to go home.  So a bit of advice to moms and dads reading this, if you’re coaching your nine-year-old and you find yourself continuously screaming “just get up” find someone to teach them hand control.  It’s the first step in “just getting up”.  The same can be said for “get mad”.  Getting mad is not a wrestling move and young kids are not emotionally mature enough to “get mad” in a sensible manner, especially when they have a parent screaming it at them while some other nine-year-old is putting them in a cradle.

So if you’re new to the sport, welcome! We welcome you and your athlete with open arms. The sports needs and wants you, but we want you here to stay and the only way you will is if your athlete enjoys what they’re doing. So, if you’re screaming things like, “just get up” or “get mad” that’s ok until the next steps are figured out but please don’t berate your nine-year-old for not doing so.  It helps no-one, specifically your athletes’ growth in the sport.
On the flipside the good uneducated wrestling parents are awesome! At the same youth tournament I mentioned above, I watched a kid get tech-falled and as he was walking off the mat I could hear his dad say, “I would have never had the courage to step on that mat at your age, I’m proud of you”.  I then saw the dad at the head table asking the other kid’s dad if his son would show him a thing or two. Of course, the winning wrestler and his father were more than willing to help this wrestling uneducated dad and his new wrestler.  Now that new kid didn’t get much better at wrestling that day but I can almost guarantee that kid wouldn’t mind wrestling again.

So that’s the good and the bad of the uneducated wrestling parent.

The next type of parent, from my point of view as an official, is the hardest to deal with. I’m talking about the parent who feels everyone is out to get them or their kid. I assume they’re in all sports but wrestling seems to be a bit different in that it’s more of an individualized sport. It’s also the only school sponsored sport where nine-year-olds are put in headlocks, so I guess that could be part of it too.
Before I go any further, it’s important to know we officials can truly not care less who wins or loses a match. In all my years of officiating at every level, I’ve seen great officials who seem to call everything perfect. I’ve seen terrible officials who can’t make the easiest of calls. I’ve seen, and have been, a new official that blows or is afraid to make a call. You do this long enough, you see all types of officials, but never have I met one that purposely “screwed” a kid, never, not once.  Truthfully, every official I know can truly not care less if they’re raising red or green’s hand at the end of the match. Personally, I have two goals with every match. One: The athlete’s safety. Two: Hustling to get into position to make the best call I can. Who wins or loses is completely irrelevant to me and every official I’ve ever met.
I state that because every time I officiate a youth tournament I leave the gym with some parent thinking I purposely was out to “screw” their kid. It’s kind of crazy actually. The youth tournament I did back in August I had a parent so mad at me because I allowed the other wrestler to take injury time I thought he was going to fight me. It’s one of the few times I was on the mat and I felt I may have to defend myself and yes, all few of those times have been at youth tournaments.
Luckily or unluckily (depending on how you look at it) the coach of the kid who took injury time said something to the upset father and I ended breaking up an altercation between the two of them and not getting into one myself.  Of course, as the upset parent was being escorted out, he was screaming that we were screwing his kid. Yep, he claimed we were screwing his kid because I allowed the other eight-year-old wrestler take injury time to use his inhaler between the 2nd and 3rd period.
When my schedule was filled with nothing but youth tournaments it seemed something like that happened every other tournament. Why I’m not sure, maybe you guys could shed some light in the comments section below. Being that wrestling is the only sport I’ve ever really been a part of I’m not sure what it’s like in other sports. I’ve heard stories but have no firsthand knowledge so I won’t comment but am curious to read yours.  I just know those “you screwed my kid” parents aren’t good for wrestling or the lessons it could teach.

Another type of parent that I often hear of is the “live through their kid” parent. To be honest, though, as an official, those parents don’t seem to bother me too much.  I assume they’re in wrestling but I write this from an official’s point of view and I think those parents are more of an issue for coaches than officials.
Lastly, I’ll say this. Most coaches I see as an official are great, they truly are. I know a couple guys who run youth clubs and I’m amazed at what they do and the effort they put in. Those guys are creating the next state champs and All-Americans. The sport owes a lot to them. Most parents are great too and as a fan of the sport, thank you for traveling all over and spending the time and money on the sport we all love.  Our sport wouldn’t be the same without your support and effort. Unfortunately, especially at the youth level, it seems the bad sticks out more than the good. I guess it’s like driving.  You can drives thousands of uneventful miles a year and it’s that one time you get a flat tire that sticks out in your head.

The good news: We all know most if not all, flat tires can be fixed.

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