Most dads can’t remember what life was like at eleven or twelve, but they remember clearly what it was like to be an eighteen year old wrestler. Those years are a chasm, my friend. A twelve year-old and an eighteen year-old are completely different people. They don’t even have the same kind of brain. The point is this: the twelve year-old and the eighteen year-old are motivated by completely different things. Therefore, you cannot get the best out of one by using the methods meant for the other.
Words of Wisdom: Don’t Try to Duplicate the Varsity Experience
Many young Middle School coaches try to duplicate their own high school practice experience. They think it will toughen their kids up and secure the competitive advantage, but more than likely it will just make them miserable. For older boys, high school sports are a proving ground for their manhood. They are physically and emotionally ready for the varsity experience, but most Middle School boys just aren’t. Middle School boys are just looking for friendship, to find a place in the pack, and hopefully, to be successful. They lack confidence and need to know their coach is behind them. Having that positive relationship is an absolute must, so, as one principal told me, “love on ’em a lot.”
Lift the Burden of Adult Expectations
Raised hands, medals, and trophies are all byproducts of doing things the right way. Most Middle School boys don’t care about them as much as you might think. It’s only when we adults make the mistake of putting our wants ahead of the kids’ needs that we ruin things for them. Middle School boys just want to wrestle. It’s as simple as that. Give them matches, and then the kids will decide how far they want to take things. When the desire is coming from them and not you and their parents, then you will have achieved true success. Your wrestlers will come to practice every day with joy in their hearts and they will work like demons because the burden of adult expectations has been lifted. They will set their own goals and judge their own successes, and all a coach has to do is craft the framework for achieving those desires.
Confidence is Everything
With Middle Schoolers, morale and confidence are everything. If I wanted to get the best out of my kids in the classroom, would I beat them down repeatedly? No way. Middle School kids are too fragile. Success breeds confidence, and failure breeds withdrawal. Your Middle School wrestler, who can sometimes seem so big and strong, is mentally and emotionally fragile on the inside. He needs that bond with the coach to survive and flourish. A Middle School child needs to know that Coach loves him through thick and thin. Then he will go out and pull down the moon for you.
One of Coach John Wooden’s most famous inspirational quotes is, “Success is the peace of mind derived from making the absolute and complete effort to do the best of which you are capable.” If you can understand these truths about the Middle School mind, you will know how to bring out the best in your Middle School wrestlers.