Wrestling is good for football players

There have always been certain stigmas when it comes to wrestling.

And no, I’m not talking about how pro wrestlers take steroids. That’s not a stigma. That’s as obvious as their terrible attempts at acting.

I’m talking about high school wrestling, and the specific stigma of weight loss.

Yes, some wrestlers diet. The practice rooms can be pretty warm, and there are kids who drop weight in an unhealthy manner. Back in the day, they used to wear garbage bags and multiple layers of clothing in a scorching hot room, often losing five pounds (sometimes more) in a single practice. There might be a few who still do that.

These kids and their coaches are foolish — and they are in the extreme minority. The sad part is people actually think otherwise, and a lot of them seem to be football coaches.

The truth is most kids wrestle at a healthy weight. Instead of eating fast food five to seven days a week and feasting on portions that could adequately fill up hot dog-eating champion Joey Chestnut, they eat quality, nutritious foods. They train at a level most high school kids have never seen, and they unlock athleticism they didn’t know existed.

I know this because I’ve been around the sport most of my life. I took part in the sport from fourth grade until my senior year of high school and have been a coach at some level every year since (that’s 18 years … thanks for making me feel old).

You know what else I did? I played football, and I wasn’t bad despite being 5-foot-9 and 130 pounds. Wrestling was the reason why … not to mention my incredible, yet often-overlooked, athleticism (no, not really).

Wrestling coaches have been trying to convince football coaches that wrestling is a major benefit for their players for decades, and football coaches often scoff at the idea and deter kids from participating so they’ll “hit the weight room.” I couldn’t let another year go by without pleading my case.

Whether you’re a big, husky lineman on his way to a Division I scholarship or a scrawny little skill player trying to find a way onto the field, like me 20 years ago, wrestling can help you get there. Don’t believe me and my possibly biased opinion? OK, well ask any college football coach whether being a wrestler will hurt or help a player during the recruiting process. I guarantee I know what his answer will be.

The sport has a way of teaching kids dexterity. They realize the limits of their body. They find out how important leverage is to winning a one-on-one battle and they discover their strengths and weaknesses — because they’re on display for everyone to see.

Then there’s the improved footwork, hand-fighting skills, confidence in one-on-one situations and, for those who are looking to drop a few pounds, you can learn healthy ways to diet. If not, eat up, and take away the other physical benefits.

The mental strength gained from wrestling may be of even more importance. When someone first starts wrestling, they’re going to lose, and at first, they’re probably going to lose a lot more than they’re going to win. That’s just how it works. The ability to face adversity over and over again and continue to come back and fight is a skill coaches can’t teach.

Players must learn how to work through those situations, and the ones who do end up being great leaders. It’s one of the many skills gained from the sport, regardless of whether a kid is a state champion or a below-average wrestler who wins a handful of matches in their career.

Wrestling will absolutely, 100-percent positively make you a better football player, but that’s not why kids should do it. It’s a sport where kids earn more than physical skills. They earn each other’s respect.

The best wrestlers remember how hard it is to win just as much as the worst kid on the team, which is why there are dozens of videos online of star wrestlers letting those with certain debilitating conditions beat them. They realize that while winning isn’t everything, a win might mean everything to that kid. Wrestling helped them realize that — along with a kind heart.

A certain humility comes along with being a wrestler — not to mention keen athleticism and a gritty work ethic. If you want to be a better football player … no, if you want to be a better person, you should do it. It’ll help you in more ways than you know.