Wednesday March 6th 2024

A couple of weeks ago, two major tournaments were held in Quebec; the GMAA/RSEQ Wrestling Finals and the Provincial Championships. Normally, for both those tournaments, I end up leaving between 5:30 and 6:00 when all the wrestling is done and the Medal presentations have finished. This makes for a long, but manageable day. This year however was different. Having booked our bus for 6:00 pm to leave from the GMAA Championships, we ended up leaving finally at 7:30 after all our athletes were done, bypassing completely the final team standings and medal presentations. When it was all done, the last athletes and teams left the venue at 9:30!

The GMAA/RSEQ Championships were big

For the Provincials, this was even longer as I left the tournament at 8:40 pm and matches were still being finished up. Both the GMAAs and the Provincials experienced the highest athlete count than they had seen in over a decade (Nearly two hundred for the GMAAs and over two hundred and fifty for the Provincials). What makes the latter more significant is that the provincials tend to be smaller than the GMAAs, with most schools wrapping up for the season before the Provincials have been held. Add to that, the Quebec Open reportedly having higher numbers than they’ve had in a long time, and we could be witnessing a mini-renaissance of the sport of the sport at the youth level. The obvious question to this, is why?

But the Provincials were even bigger

Now, let’s be clear. Numbers are nowhere near what they were in the 90s and through conversations that I’ve had with several coaches who have been in the sport far longer than I have, nowhere near the numbers of the 60s, 70s and 80s. And yet, growth has to begin somewhere and it’s far better than being in a period of decline as we had been for quite some time.

So what can attribute to the increased numbers that we’re seeing in wrestling? Is it the presence of more clubs? Not quite sure if that’s the case as for every new club that we may see pop up, another one disappears. Is it greater participation at the high school level? This is a possibility but one that bears closer scrutiny as numbers and participant schools are up from what they were in the past. However, the fact that we now have girls wrestling obviously helps to pad that statistic.

 Girls wrestling has been a great addition to our sport

What would seem to contradict that point is that the student populations at most English schools is on the decline. The English schools is where the bulk of the high school programs are concentrated, and if those populations are decreasing, then you have a pattern that would seem to indicate otherwise. Finally, did the Pandemic have an effect on on school wrestling by having  people re-examine their options during their isolation and see wrestling as a viable and worthwhile sport? Unfortunately, nothing that I’ve heard would seem to indicate this. In the end, who knows as only time will be able to give us an accurate assessment.

Some people that I spoke to cite the rise of popularity of combat sports as a possible reason for the increased numbers that we’ve seen in recent years. Referencing the pandemic once again, one of the first sports to get back up and running when the rest of world was shut down was the UFC. Being an individual sport, with the ability to control their venues, allowed the UFC to hold events whereas other professional sports didn’t have the same flexibility.

With no other sports to tune into, many people became fans of the UFC whereas before they might not have even considered watching an event. These same people who spend some time on social media and the marketing aspect associated with it, said that when you go to UFC videos on such platforms such as TikTok and Instagram, the algorithm will suggest wrestling videos as the next to watch. These days, our society that is heavily involved in social media. In addition to this, the usage of social media on the various platforms would have probably increased during the time of the pandemic, which may in turn be almost uniquely responsible for the resurgence in numbers.

Could Social Media be one of the main reasons for the resurgent numbers?

When speaking to some parents, another reason that may account for the rise in numbers is parents that are more willing to let their kids try different things, even if those things may seem more risky. In the past, parents would outright dismiss their child participating in wrestling because they would see it as too dangerous, even though their child may have been involved in sports such as hockey or football. I should also note that though there may have been studies done on the the inherent risks of these two sports, they aren’t widely available and don’t show up in any searches on sites that would be considered vetted and reliable.

As more parents become more educated about the sport, the more they’re likely to let them wrestle

I would suspect that this lack of available information is probably done in order to not discourage parents from registering their kids into these sports at a young age. A line from the movie “Concussion” springs to mind in which one character states that should the results of his research be published (ie. the link to progressive brain damage related to continual trauma caused by impacts), this would destroy the participation at the youth level for football would seem to reinforce this point. Given the fact that the NFL and the NCAA are multi-billion dollar industries, and you can understand why academic institutions are reticent to publish any new findings in that area. While this may make sense, it should also be noted that now these findings are nothing new, and it doesn’t seem to have hurt the participation in football as a whole.

In the end, I don’t think that we can pinpoint any single reason for the increase we have seen in the number of wrestlers as it’s just too soon. What we can hope to do, is build upon it and look for the numbers to keep going up for the foreseeable future.