Howdid Wrestling get so big in US?

How did wrestling get so big in the U.S.? How did it historically become part of practically every highschool and grade school sports program in the United States?

Wrestling isn't really very big in the US. How I wish it were! Certainly it's "big" in some areas, but that's far from the norm.

I was lucky enough to grow up in an area where there were good, competitive youth programs, good high school teams, most high school coaches had a solid background in college wrestling (Div. 1, 2, or 3), there were off-season clubs and tournaments, etc, etc. I was very fortunate, because I've since discovered that's it's not very common.

There are some areas that don't have wrestling at all. There are many areas that might have some high school wrestling, but since there are no youth leagues, the first exposure someone gets isn't until high school. (This is part of the reason why, in some very competitive areas, it's impressive as hell just to be a high school county champion, while in some other areas, a pud can be a state champ).

I occasionally will run into people who tell me of their experiences in wrestling. Often, they got a chance to wrestle for maybe 2 or 3 years in high school or something. It becomes pretty clear in talking to a lot of these guys that their coach was a well-meaning guy that had maybe wrestled for two or three years himself in high school, and it was 15 years ago at that, and didn't really know what he was doing. They'll describe their experiences to me saying stuff like, "Yeah, we used to run stairs for 30 minutes every practice, then we'd do 30 minutes of 'shark bait', then do 15 minutes of 'hit-its', then..."

I don't suppose there's anything "wrong" with that, but it's not really wrestling. Based on their experiences, wrestling is just a lot of calistenics (sp?) and some none-too-technical brawling. I actually feel bad for these guys and almost have the urge to apologize to them on behalf of wrestling for such a poor experience.

Ironically, these guys often remember it fondly: "Man, that was tough. I was in the best shape of my life," or comments like that. I guess that's fine. But unbeknowst to these guys, they missed out on so much! They never learned of a whole world of actual, real wrestling!

They missed out on so much wrestling technique and strategy; they didn't learn the art and the science of wrestling; the physical poetry that grants the sport and its competitors such beautiful, elegent, ferocity!

So, wrestling isn't anywhere near as "big" in the US as you seem to think. BUT...

It's growing. During the decade of the 90's, wrestling was THE fastest growing sport (in numbers of participants/competitors) at the youth league and high school level in the US. Which is great! On the downside, wrestling is one of the fastest dying sports (!) at the college level, due to Title IX, my favorite bullshit arbitrary political correctness law. hyperventilating at the mere thought of Title IX

But, anyway, to put words in your mouth (my apologies), I'll re-word your question this way: "Why has wrestling been growing so rapidly in the US, at least at the younger levels?"


Well, I'm glad you asked. ;)

To be honest, I'm not totally sure. The first reason might simply be that it's a cool friggin sport! A lot of kids (and adults, of course) simply enjoy it. I think many parents also think it's a good alternative for their kids because if Timmy is a little small for his age, he can compete on a level playing field (weight classes). Also, a lot of parents have commented to me that they don't like the general sporting culture of trash talk and poor sportsmanship (gloating winners, and tantrum-throwing losers), but love the etiquitte of wrestling - how wrestling is very sportsmanship concious, respect for opponent is a big deal, etc.

I think the rise of MMA has probably helped a bit. A few years ago, most people thought of wrestling as "just" a sport. Then when some wrestlers started competing in MMA, and many of them doing quite well, a lot of people said, "Whoa! Wrestling is actually a martial art too? Who'da thought?!" So I think MMA is giving wrestling a bit of a helping hand.

But still, I think the vast majority of the growth of wrestling has been from "purists" who do it for the love of the sport itself, and consider any MMA application or self-defense attributes as a secondary benefit, if they consider it at all. Certainly, a few (mostly at the adult level) get into it for MMA training/cross-training, but not most by a long shot.

One more reason that might explain the growth: the people. I have met so many wonderful people who devote enormous amounts of time and energy coaching youth league, high school, off-season clubs, helping out by being adminstrators organizing events and tournaments, etc. They pour so much of themselves into sharing their passion for and knowledge of the sport with others. None of these people receive a dime for the great things they do, except for the in-season high school coaches, who get get paid jack shit. One buddy of mine is a high school coach and figured out that the bonus he gets on top of his normal salary for coaching comes out to about 80 cents per hour for all of the time he spends in practices, matches, tournaments, etc. But there's nothing in the world he'd rather be doing.

Excellent post Chip, thanks for taking the time to write everything you did. I think its a shame too, to have a nontechnical (even if they are well meaning) coach and have been on both sides of the coin there with other sports.

I'm going to take a wild, leaping uneducated theory.. pay me no mind unless you agree ;-)

Up until the industrial revolution (and for the large part of americans that didn't live near large urban cities where the manufacturing factories were) We came from rural farming roots. Farmers have lots of kids. Farmers lead hard, boring lives, (trust me..) What else are you gonna do besides "Wrassle" with your many brothers or friends to prove how tough you are? generations of kids grew up wrestling and taught their kids. truly the origin of "folkstyle"

I could be wrong..

Bull - good point, I've heard that before and it's probably true. Hmmm, any coincidence that wrestling has historically been biggest in a lot of rural areas...? E.g. - PA coal mining/steel mill areas, midwest farm states, etc.

FatBuddha - yeah, it kind of stinks, but I give those coaches a lot of credit. I've met a few, and although they don't know what they're doing, most really do try their best for the sake of the kids. :)

By the way, I just figured out a way to sum up my long-winded dissertation above: Yes, wrestling has a fairly good "breadth" in the US, but the "depth" of wrestling skill/knowledge is widely variable from place to place.

I figured I should go ahead and write that before BruceL comes and posts a clear summary and embarrasses me for rambling again. :O)

Dammit!! See? See?!

Now I feel like I have to apologize to yet one more person for their crappy experience in wrestling! I'm also sorry if you never realized that your experience wasn't so great until just now.

Seriously, I feel bad about it, mma2004.

frank gotch and the golden age of pro wrestling from 1900 to 1912
popularized wrestling,many colleges and universities formed teams in this era. There was also a jiu jitsu craze around the same time that helped

Insightful as always,Mr. Chip!

What is Title IX?


Title IX (pronounced "Title 9")is a gender equity law. The THEORY of the law is great: to increase the opportunities for women to compete in sports to the same level of men's. This is great!!

Unfortunately, in real life what happens is that in a college administration boardroom, the conversation goes like this...

Person A: "We're not in compliance with Title IX and we have NOW (National Organization of Women) and/or a female student threatening a lawsuit. We should spend a few million over the course of several years on adding some women's sports teams, which may or may not be a successful venture, in an attempt to bring them up to the level of men's sports in terms of participants."

Person B: "Nah, it'd be a hell of a lot easier to just hack a couple men's sports. I'm thinking wrestling, men's gymnastics and water polo are great places to start. Problem solved."

Person A: "Nice work, Clive!"

Person B: "Thanks Palmer. Isn't it great the *spirit* of the law is to improve things for women, but the *letter* of the law only requires us to screw over men, which makes our lives soooo much easier?!"

Person A: "Talk about 'path of least resistance', huh Clive?" *chuckle*

Person B: *snicker* "Darn right! Now let's go make out, Palmer."

Person A: "You're on, Mister!!"

And that... is how Title IX works in the real world.

Actually, I could write much, much more on the subject. But that serves as a quick intro.


I think you made an excellent point. I think it is a matter of the level of coaching in regards to the "experience" one would have in wrestling.

Truth be told, mediocre or poor coaching is common in alot of youth sports. This is because most coaches including coaches in the school system are volunteers who had some experience in the sport. But this experience usually means "I wrestle when I was in high school or junior high" and this translates into developing or implementing a program which was based on that experience. In other words teaching and training kids to wrestle in the exact same way the coaches were taught and trained.

The better coaches have a background in Physical Education and because of that have a better understanding as to how to not only teach the sport but also how to prepare their athletes. BUT because there isn't much money in teaching youth sports alot of people who would be good coaches are actually doing something else "professionally" instead of coaching.

Sports like wrestling do have an way to make up for poor coaching in the schools and that is the availability of "camps" specifically designed to develop better wrestlers but these camps depend on the popularity of the sport in the area.

Here in Colorado wrestling is pretty popular. The HS state championship draws huge numbers in regards to spectators. It isn't very hard to find many good wrestling camps here.

Title 9 = The road to hell is paved with good intentions

Title 9 is a way to try to equalize athletic opportunities for each gender. The problem with it is that it is much easier and FAAAR cheaper for colleges to simply remove mens athletic programs then it is to add additional opportunities for the women.

I think one of the main reasons that wrestling has managed to stick around so well is that it inspires more passion in the atheletes than any sport I've encountered. Take me for example, I was an undersized, mediocre highschool wrestler but I still love watching competitive matches and the sport in general. Alas, there is no organization for mediocre highschool-level wrestlers and so my physical involvment seems to be at an end.
When most people are first exposed to wrestling, it is the hardest thing they have ever done. In order to succeed at all you must be dedicated to your goals. When the season is over, you're still in wrestling mode and I think that never really wears off.

Nice post Poz!

Chip is very correct.

that blows! damm shame for wrestling!

how can this be posible? is there a big uproar in the US over this?