The average athlete in each of the four major North American professional sports leagues, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League, weighs more than 200 pounds. In fact, if you look at the chart on this page plotting the height and weight of every athlete in each of those leagues, you’ll find that very few are under 160 with the vast majority being over 220. This is not a surprise. At the highest levels of most sports uncommonly large men with uncommon athleticism rule. Weight class sports, such as wrestling, on the other hand, have a place for those not blessed with size. This is a rare advantage that our sport has over many others. We should do more to take advantage of it.
I’ll admit to it right out of the gate, I was a little guy. I played every sport in the book, except football, but my lack of size meant I got far more opportunities in wrestling than in anything else. By the time I got to high school, my path was clear. My ability to make the lowest weights got me to Fargo and onto Team Oklahoma for Junior Duals. It kept me competing in college when I probably wouldn’t have made the cut in another sport. I didn’t start out in wrestling because I was small. I got started because I was up for any sport. My Dad and I walked past a table signing people up for youth wrestling and that was that. Certainly, the people there that day were taking anyone that was interested, as it always should be, but we can do a better job seeking out smaller kids and getting them involved.
I cannot count the number of times I have heard someone talking about their kid or someone else’s kid say, “They aren’t into sports because they’re too small.” This is maddening to me on so many levels, but I never fail to make the case that they should try wrestling. We all are well versed in the great things wrestling teaches, but so many outside our sport don’t understand that this is a sport for any size and body type. For some reason, they have this idea that all wrestlers are muscle-bound meat-heads that can bench press a car.
While we certainly have those too, we see a tremendous array of different body types winning at the high school and college level. I was a 103 my senior year in high school. While I walked around at 110, what other sport was a kid my size going to excel in? Sure, if you are in the top 0.0001% of athletes you might be able to make up for your size, but for most of us smaller folk, wrestling is a golden ticket.
We need to get this message out beyond our own community. We need to talk to elementary school gym teachers, parenting groups, other youth sports organizations and, really, anyone who will listen. We can preach the benefits of wrestling to everyone, but we should make it clear that we are one of the only sports around where a 135-pound college athlete can win a national title. We must sell the idea that such an athlete can be the best in the world in our sport. We must embrace this aspect of our sport. We live in a time when our sport is marginalized at many turns, but this is one instance where we have the high ground.
Will we be able to convince every kid that they’re never going to be LeBron James, even though their parents are both 5’5”? Of course not. Similarly, we’ll never convince every parent that their baby won’t be the one to defy the odds and play in the NFL at 145 pounds. Still, there are reasonable people out there who just don’t know that wrestling would be a great fit for their smaller athlete. These are the people we need to reach. I’m calling on everyone who sees this article, find someplace outside of the wrestling community to post it. Send it around to every group of kids and parents you can find. Let them hear from a former small kid who got to travel the country, go to college, and found a passion for the rest of his life all because he found his way to wrestling. We need to grow wrestling and this is a great selling point to get more kids on the mat!