Wednesday January 10th 2024

With the beginning of the New Year, I thought it be a good idea to take a look that the change that is happening in sports as a whole. While my end of the year wrap up was a reflection of things that happened in the last calendar year, change is upon us, and has been for a long time.

We always assume that things will stay the same throughout our lives. Human beings are creatures of habit and when our routine is disrupted, we tend to get discombobulated. Wrestlers are also creatures of habit. We spend hours and hours repeating technique and drills. We train for weeks on end, practicing situations in the hopes that one day we will master it and be able to move on to more advanced techniques and drills. As coaches, we can often fall back to traditions, especially if its yielded success in the past. However, what we also must come to realize is the the more we stay in the game, the more change will come and the prospect of this isn’t always pleasant.

As coaches, the way we run our practices doesn’t change all that much from year to year

Change can take on many forms. In the past years, we have seen that attitudes towards sports have changed, with many people’s focus seemingly becoming more recreational as sports seem to take on a lesser role in our society. I believe that other than the sports that have a huge following or sports that may one day lead to some type of professional contract, parents seem to be pushing their kids more and more to abandon different sports as they don’t see value in continuing on if there’s no “payoff” in the end. We’ve also seen the emergence of new sports that may not have as high a learning curve but will have more participation and widespread appeal (games such as spike ball and pickle ball spring to mind).

We’ve also seen a change in the attitude of parents as the emergence of the “Helicopter Parent” is becoming the norm rather than the exception. This has manifested itself in parents interfering with coaches, harassing referees and trying to create an almost unrealistic environment in which their kids won’t experience any risk or adversity. By doing this, they hope to create an environment in which they might enable their child to have the maximum success with the least amount of challenge. This type of enabling is not only damaging to young athletes going forward but simply unrealistic.

This year, we saw the changing of the guard as younger wrestlers took their place on the National stage (Photo property of Wrestling Canada Lutte/Rob Hislop)

I saw the beginnings of this type of interference of parents trying to have absolute control over their environment from an article I read ten years years ago. I remember reading in disbelief when the article stated how some elementary schools had started to ban balls during recess for the concern of concussions as well as other safety concerns. This came about as parents became overly involved with the day to day happenings in the school. Some further research has not indicated that this decision has been reversed either. I remember thinking that by eliminating free play, kids will turn to other things that may not be as healthy or productive. With the rise of digital devices, we start to see that maybe this probably wasn’t for the best.

So how does this all apply to wrestling? Well, I’ve been around for quite a while, both as an athlete and as a coach. I’ll be one of the first people to admit that I may be a little stuck in tradition and that change may not come as easily for me. However, some of the changes that I’ve noticed haven’t been for the betterment of some sports. While increased choice for activities is a good thing, some sports have felt this more profoundly as parents would rather their kids do something else. Wrestling is just one of the casualties of this overemphasis on controlling the environment, helicopter parenting and not seeing the potential payoff in the end.

Other reasons for not wanting their kids to wrestle range from the danger factor to it’s just not glamorous enough. While combat sports may never have been as glamorous to some people, Brazilian Jujitsu has experienced a surge in popularity in recent years  as parents see this as an acceptable form of combat sports and parents look more to that venue than wrestling. In short, change is affecting us and we need to evolve and adapt as we move on.

Linda Morais representing the previous generation, still has a lot to offer as she attempts to qualify for the Olympics (Photo property of Wrestling Canada Lutte/Rob Hislop)

Lastly, looking at change in our sport, I think from a developmental level, we need to get more schools involved. The GMAA/RSEQ. As I mentioned in a previous blog, the amount of schools participating has increased and the amount of athletes per team seems to be on the rise as well. Results from the ongoing negotiations from the school wides strikes will definitely have an impact on our sport moving forward.

So the final thing that we can look at is the change that’s happening in our sport. While I’ve pointed out some of the more negative aspects from a broader perspective, I think that focusing on some of the other things that may not be emphasized but warrant a look should be focused on. The change in the attitude of parents is something that I’ve mentioned, but I think the change in the athlete themselves has to also be considered.

I’ve heard coaches say from time to time that finding the right kid to wrestle is getting harder and harder. Whether it’s due to getting kids that have been sedentary for too much of the beginning of their lives (no free play in conjunction with the rise in digital devices) or that attention spans seem to be getting lower, finding a kid that has the focus and perseverance to wrestle well seems to be getting more difficult. While I don’t have the research to back this up, I think that we can probably trace its origins to when schools started to eliminate activities such as gymnastics from their curriculum. This was probably the beginning of our youth starting to lose their ability to be able to do more physical sports. I won’t expand on this now, but instead save it for part 2 of this blog as this deserves a whole section to itself.

With that in mind, the New Year brings about change, and with change we can reflect upon the previous year and what it brought for us. I will probably do a Part 2 halfway through the year to see what changes have occurred and if they were positive. Best of luck to all who reading this for 2024!