Yesterday, I had the opportunity to teach wrestling to elementary age and middle school kids from North Minneapolis. Redeemer Lutheran Church in North Minneapolis did their two-day Vacation Bible School (VBS for you church types) on the campus of Augsburg College.
There I was, in the Augsburg wrestling room, with about 10-15 kids, trying to keep them organized and focused, running them through drills and teaching moves; wrestling a little live and playing a game. We had a blast during those 50 minutes, even though I had to constantly work to hold their attention.
There was one moment though, when their attention was held 100%: I ran into one of our wrestlers getting a lift in about an hour earlier, and I asked him to come in and talk about where he came from, how he got started in the sport, and why he loved it, and loved wrestling for Augsburg. And he came in and talked, and the kids listened to every.single.word. It was incredible.
It got me thinking: we’re trying so hard to promote the sport of wrestling these days. With the sport trying to gain inclusion into the 2020 Olympics after being eliminated from the program, and with college wrestling programs always being threatened with elimination because of revenue and Title IX, we’re looking for all sorts of ways to grow the sport.
In my mind, I wonder if as college coaches, and even high school ones, if we need to expose young kids, parents, and adult to our athletes more. I wonder if we let our athletes tell their stories and why the sport means so much to them, perhaps that is the best PR we have, and thus the best way to promote the sport.
It was interesting too, because there was a parent in the room, and as much as she appreciated my working with the kids, she appreciated more what my wrestler had to say to the kids. “Our kids need to hear more messages like that from college kids.” she said.
Our athletes are already front and center – they’re the ones competing. I wonder if we put them front and center in promoting the sport – in ways like this – as much as possible, we might just generate even more interest in our great sport. Maybe it’s less about coaches and other upper level folks in wrestling being the ones promoting the sport. I say, let’s use our best asset: our athletes and their amazing stories.