When "Coach" is Also "Mom" or "Dad"
Being your son or daughter’s first wrestling coach is not always easy. Steve Thorpe, head coach at Sweet Home High School in Sweet Home, Oregon, has seen both sides of it. Thorpe has an eighth grade son he has coached for years. And Thorpe, who wrestled at Oregon State, was also coached by his father.
"The number one thing I always tell people is, he's going to be my son a lot longer than he's going to be my athlete," Thorpe says. "Don't personalize it," he adds. If your son or daughter doesn't wrestle well, it's not because they didn't get their chores done at home or they didn't do their homework. “Wrestling has to do with wrestling and wrestling only," he says.
Know your limits
Kevin Crutchmer, head coach of Union High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, coached two sons for much of their wrestling career. Kyle Crutchmer was a two-time Oklahoma state champion and a 174 pound All-American for Oklahoma State in 2015, while Brian Crutchmer was also a state champion who wrestled for the Cowboys last season at 133 pounds. When his two sons became sophomores in high school, however, Kevin decided that he could no longer coach them during their matches. He let the assistant coaches take over—even in state finals matches. Kevin was nearby, but not in the corner. He wanted to be dad, not coach, in those moments.
"I had to let go," Kevin Crutchmer says. "I noticed being dad interfered with being a coach and coaching interfered with being dad. So I let my assistants take over and I would coach the rest of the team. I had to support them like a father." He adds: "It's not easy to do and it's not for everyone, but it worked for us."
The key is to see the big picture. “Whatever emotions you are feeling, you are likely presenting to your child,” Crutchmer says. “If you are nervous, they are nervous. If you are overbearing, they will feel that and it all affects them on the mat."
Crutchmer’s sons say they were usually able to distinguish between the two roles. "When we were at practice I called him ‘Coach’ and respected him as coach," says son, Kyle. "When we were at home he was just ‘Dad’ and that's the way we wanted it to be."
It wasn't always easy to come home and just forget about wrestling, acknowledges Kyle’s dad. Sometimes those differences between dad and coach began to blur. That’s why it’s important to set ground rules and establish some boundaries when a parent is coaching their own children. For the Crutchmer’s, that's where mom came in, explains Kyle. "At the dinner table, she knew when it was time to change the topic and focus on something else. She helped keep us straight."
Thorpe has another message for parent-coaches: Don’t try to live vicariously through your child. "I am never going to wrestle another match in my life," he points out. So he warns dads and moms against pushing their unfulfilled goals onto their still developing youth athletes. That means when you’re at home, be a parent, not a coach—find other interests that your child likes and pursue those in that setting.
Tina Syer, the Chief Impact Officer at Positive Coaching Alliance, has coached at the high school, college,and Olympic Development levels. But the most challenging and most rewarding coaching jobin her career, she says, has been leading her son's U-8 soccer team. "I remember when my dad first coached me when I was eight,” Syer recalls. “I think the positive experience we had together back then helped create the foundation for the life-long friendship, and love of all things sports, we still share today.”
Now Syer is getting the chance to build that life-long relationship by coaching her own son. But she didn’t make the decision on her own. After all, coaching, like parenting, involves give and take.
“I made sure to ask my son if it was okay with him if I took on this role,” Syer says. And while it’s been a fantastic experience, Syer says she is still very careful of how she treats her son at practices and games. “The biggest challenge for me is not being harder on him than the other players, as I'd never want my players or their parents to think I'm favoring my own son,” she says. But she too admits that she often relies upon assistant coaches to take the lead when working with her son.
Enjoy it while it lasts
Combining parenting and coaching can difficult, both mentally and emotionally, acknowledges Thorpe. "The hardest part is, sometimes our heart will ache a little more for our child,” he says. "But it's worth it all to be there with the child and watch, learn, and grow with them."
Kyle Crutchmer agrees.
"Having a dad as a coach is something I viewed as a blessing," he says, looking back. "We spent so much time together from junior high, through high school. I have memories with my brother and dad that will last a lifetime, all because of wrestling.”
You Gotta Like it Tough
My college coach, the legendary Dale Thomas, used to drop this line on us every chance he had. Coach Thomas didn’t care much for proper English and often used some pretty “colorful” language, but his messages were usually pretty spot-on.
Dale Thomas was the head wrestling coach at Oregon State University for 34 years. He amassed 614 dual meet victories as a coach (a record that will likely never be broken). Coach Thomas was the “Father of Oregon Wrestling” for over three decades. Dale was an incredible character and perhaps the subject of a future Coaches’ Corner. Anyway...
“You gotta like it tough”, Coach would say whenever things didn’t go our way, whenever we were faced with some kind of adversity, or if he just thought somebody wasn’t being tough enough that day. As wrestlers, we often laughed or made light of what Coach Thomas was preaching - at the time it seemed funny or amusing (especially if you were not the target of his sermon). As time passed I think we all learned to appreciate what Coach had to say and that his messages were rarely just about wrestling.
One day Coach changes his signature line and says, “you gotta like it tough...not just kinda tough”. “What does coach mean?”, we thought. I am not sure I really knew at the time - although I may have thought that I did. After 23 years of coaching and 25 years removed from Dale Thomas, I think I now know what he meant.
“You gotta like it tough...not just kinda tough”. Wrestling is hard. Life is hard too. That is what coach was saying. As I said earlier, Coach’s messages were rarely just about wrestling. Wrestling prepares us for what we are going to face for the rest of our lives. Most wrestlers will not compete beyond high school but the lessons they learn from wrestling will stay with them wherever they go. How to work, how to win, how to lose, how to set goals, how to struggle, etc… these are all lessons that wrestlers learn along the way.
Wrestling is the most physically demanding sport that one can find. Wrestling will also tax you mentally. It is tough on the mind and tough on the body. Everyone that has ever wrestled for any length of time has had a bloody nose, been poked in the eye, been “cranked” on mercilessly, had some kind of injury... or worse. Anyone that has ever competed has had their spirit crushed by a defeat, felt like they were cheated in a match, or has wanted to quit.
Because wrestling is demanding it is the reason some people are drawn to it. It is also the reason that some are scared to death of it and want nothing to do with it and also why they quit. Although I could provide a long list of reasons that I have heard over the years, the reality is that kids don’t want to wrestle because it is hard. One has to practice hard and push themselves if they want to be successful - training is tough. One has to wrestle the very best competition if they want to excel - competing is tough. One has to take risks and probably lose some matches along the way - losing is tough. It is just easier to quit and then come up with some kind of rationale that makes it sound better - but the reality is that wrestling is just too tough for most people.
We get a lot of kids that like it “kinda tough”. They will come to practice, go to some tournaments, maybe even stick it out for a year or more. They work hard for a while, do most or even all of the things that we ask them to do, and some even have success at tournaments.
As wrestlers get older wrestling gets tougher and competition gets better. Everyone seems to “level out” and the differences between the average wrestler and the great wrestler is really not very much. When our opponents are as technical as we are, as strong or stronger than we are, train just as hard as we do, and want to win just as bad as we do we must rise up. When all things are equal between you and your opponent - that is when “you gotta like it tough...not just kinda tough”.
As we get older life gets tougher and decisions become more important. We all have to get up and face the day, go to work, solve the problem, deal with the issue, etc… When life is whipping you and you don’t want to deal with those hard decisions, when everyone else seems to have their own problems to deal with and you feel overwhelmed or all alone - that is when “you gotta like it tough...not just kinda tough”. Aren’t you glad you wrestled?
The Power of Expectation and the
Art of Wrestling
I was lucky enough to be raised in a program that was very successful. Not in wrestling, as real success there came a few years after I had graduated high school. No, I was raised on football. The teams I was on lost just twice in all my years of football from Little Guy to high school. There were many reasons for this including great coaching and lots of hard work. But I have come to realize that a dominating factor was expectation. We expected to win. That’s just what we did. And, maybe more important, our opponents expected us to win.
The power of expectation translates to wrestling very well. In our sport, we seek to dominate another person through skill, speed, strength, stamina and the force of will. When all things are equal, it becomes that force of will that makes the difference. As coaches, we see this play out so often. Whether it is through a wrestler’s body language, or a change in the way he or she wrestles, there are so many matches that are won and lost due to the anticipation of the final result. We have all coached kids who dominate opponents they know they are going to beat. Of course, that cannot really be known until the match is wrestled. Not too long ago, I heard someone make a comment about one of Oregon’s great high school wrestlers. He said that the kid “isn’t as good as he thinks he is.” My response was, “OK, maybe, but that is what makes him great.”
As a high school wrestling coach, I am very much concerned about expectations as they relate to my program. Luckily, we inherited a winning tradition, even though it wasn’t a winning team. But any sort of success can be turned into “tradition.” No, your program is probably not Burns or Roseburg, but generally there are past successes that you can point to and say, “This is what we do…” Of course, you are responsible for giving them the tools to succeed, but without that inner belief, becoming a champion is a much harder animal. What do you do without that past history of success to point to? Set your own normal by constantly reinforcing it to your athletes. A good example of this was what my high school football coach used to say, “We’re gonna win because we work harder than they do.” Was that true? Not always. Did we believe it to be true? Absolutely.
My son wrestles with the Salem Elite “National Team.” I have had the privilege of being around those boys (and girl) for the past couple years. Those kids embody the expectation of greatness. Just try to tell one of them that they WILL NOT be an All American. That confidence has allowed many of them to succeed beyond their skill level. Sure, the coaches provide all the tools to be successful, but what they give them the most of is the expectation that they will be exceptional.
Besides this mental game, how does this lead to a better athlete, or more important, a better person? Expectations seem to go hand-in-hand with the work needed to achieve those expectations. If producing college wrestlers is “what you do,” then you will tend to do those things that are needed to produce college wrestlers: promote off-season training opportunities, seek high level competition, emphasize schoolwork, etc. If not, then what you say just becomes talk, and your athletes are not going to believe someone who just talks.
Coaches! Support College Wrestling
by Changing Practice Routines
As coaches of the world’s oldest and greatest sport, we understand the importance of diligent practice. Commitment and daily training—that’s the only path to the top of the podium. I often tell my wrestlers, “This sport is a marathon, not a sprint! You need persistence and mental toughness to reach your ultimate potential.” Intensive training camps have many benefits, but if they’re punctuated by long periods off the mat, regression is almost guaranteed.
So I know how difficult it is to cancel a practice—or to replace it periodically with something that might be just as beneficial. But these days, wrestling is fighting for its life! College programs are disappearing at an alarming rate, and even the International Olympic Committee has recommended dropping the sport.
Supporting college wrestling is one way we can fight back. Even if you have to cancel a practice or travel several miles, taking your wrestlers to college matches will accomplish two important goals:
It will bolster college wrestling programs and help preserve those skill- and character-building opportunities for our best athletes. When they graduate from high school they cannot advance if too many colleges have dropped their programs.
It will inspire and motivate young wrestlers to compete at a higher level. In the old master-apprentice system, the apprentice learned a lot simply by watching the master. You might call it “observational practice.” I can promise you that kids will increase the intensity of their efforts if you routinely take them to college wrestling matches.
Everyone knows that to achieve our goals, coaches and wrestlers have to work hard. But we also have to work smart.
And one of the smartest things we can do is make sure our practice schedules include ATTENDING COLLEGE WRESTLING MATCHES!
A Parent's Return for the Investment in Money, Time, Blood, Sweat, and Tears.
I often hear from wrestling parents that their ultimate goal is a scholarship or NCAA and Olympic Gold. I understand how awesome these accomplishments are and I know we all want success for our offspring, but what wrestling provides us is a much richer gift. The sport of wrestling touches and changes each athlete in profound ways and not just the most accomplished.
Every kid who has the courage to wrestle through high school not only gets my respect but receives payment in full for the sacrifices endured in the process. The lost weekends, missed meals, thousands of dollars, agonizing defeats, anxiety, fear, injuries, rigorous workout schedules, and all the other precious hardships this sport offers. But for this we learn to be tough. We learn to pay for what we want, and that work brings us the “good stuff”.
My Father once said, “Scott, it’s real simple. There is good stuff and bad stuff. The bad stuff is all around us; homeless people, drugs, cigarette butts & pop tops. It’s all around, look at it.”He waved his hand to include everything around us. “ Then there is the good stuff; Championships, nice homes & cars, and hundred dollar bills. You won’t see hundred dollar bills just laying in the streets like an old pop top because you have to work for them. So don’t waste your time on the easy-to-get bad stuff, instead stretch for the good stuff.”
I will never forget my Dad’s words and to this day I see every obstacle as solvable through sacrifice/work. No defeat is final. My fathers advice is integral to the wrestlers mentality.
A concept that I love is the art of suffrage. This is the precious gift of our sport, not college scholarships or Olympic gold. We learn to suffer for what we want; we learn that stretching for the “good stuff” isn’t always fun, but is always rewarding. These character traits are deeply entrenched within each wrestler upon his completion of high school. Wrestling beyond is about wrestling accomplishments because by this time the wrestler’s character is set in stone.
So when your son steps onto the mat and you feel your jaw clenched tight and you’re unable to articulate because the air is sucked out of you, remember these things. No matter how tight your rear end is, it’s in the grand stands, and your wrestler is the one on the mat. You have no control over the outcome. Remember that it’s the preparation and sacrifice (suffrage) that is important and not the outcome. And most of all, remember that your wrestler has already WON for he is a WRESTLER.