Kids Should Not Cut Weight (at all, not even a little) by Carl Fronhofer
Posted: July 20, 2021
I have spent my entire life in the sport of wrestling. I started at age five and continued to compete until I was 30. I have coached at every level, from youth to collegiate as head coach at Columbia University. I now have three sons: the oldest, at nine-years-old, has been wrestling for a couple years, and the younger two, at four and six-years-old, will be joining him in the sport soon enough.
All of the above experience tells me this: kids should not cut weight at all.
First, a few parameters. For this argument, I am referring to kids in the 12U age category and younger. I have a different position for high school kids that I will briefly lay out as well. Additionally, I am defining “cutting weight” as any weight loss for the purpose of competing in a weight class lower than one’s natural weight, to gain either a real or perceived competitive advantage. By any amount, I literally mean any (yes even a couple ounces).
Before I discuss why I take such a definitive position, I would like to clear up the most obvious potential confusion. You may know a kid who was overweight—potentially even obese—who started wrestling and eating better, and as a result lost weight in a positive way. I have seen this many times as well. This is not what I am discussing; I am referring to a healthy kid who practices on a regular basis.
As a kid, I did not cut any weight. While I eventually did start cutting weight in high school, college, and at the senior level, I was fortunate to have good coaches and wise, supportive parents. Now I am in the role of both coach and parent. As a result, I have reflected long and hard on this issue and have been asked for guidance by many parents on this topic. I tell them all the same thing: don’t have your kid cut any weight until high school. My own kids follow the same rule. I have multiple reasons for the position ranging from health and safety, retention in the sport, development in the sport, as well as sport psychology ramifications.
Let’s start with the ugly stuff: health and safety. Although it’s rare, some kids are forced to cut an amount of weight that could pose short-term health concerns. Dehydrating more than 5% of your body weight will negatively affect performance and begin to put a child into a potentially damaging situation. Dehydrating 10% of your body weight—especially for a child—is without question dangerous, and in my opinion, abuse. That means if you want your 90-pound ten-year-old to cut to 82 pounds, it is both potentially harmful and abusive. While I don’t think this amount of weight cutting at this young of an age happens a lot, I am sure it happens at times when it should never be the case.
What about cutting a “little” bit, like 3 to 4 pounds? What is the problem with that? I agree that it probably is not dangerous, but it is still miserable and likely not to help the uphill battle with retention wrestling already faces. But even if the kid seems to be handling it, you as the parent or coach are still missing the big picture. At these age groups, the entire focus should be on development. I recruited athletes in Division 1 athletics for 13 years; no coach is scouting or cares if a nine-year-old wins the local tournament or the RENO WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP! Competition results at this age should be downplayed as much as possible, with the focus being on learning, working hard, sportsmanship, and having fun. Any time thinking about losing weight or spent losing weight is just lost time and energy that could have been put into getting better. It takes a decade to get good at this sport; you have to keep the long game in mind.
Mental development is also critical at young ages. You want to motivate, encourage, and help kids build their confidence along with teaching technique and keeping them fit. How does cutting weight fit into this equation? What is the sole purpose of cutting weight? It is to gain a real or perceived competitive advantage. From a psychological perspective, when you tell a kid they should drop weight, you are sending the message that this will give them a better chance to win. But the message, whether you mean it or not, may be received as, “you are not good enough to win at your natural weight.”
Let’s say you have a kid cut weight; they win. This is the best case, and there still could be negatives. First, you reinforced that cutting weight is needed to win and that it works. What happens when they are in a line-up and they are needed to wrestle up for the team? How will this affect their confidence? Or, maybe they cannot beat the wrestler one weight below and decide, instead of moving up to make the line-up they need to cut even more, to a point that is now detrimental to performance and health.
Now let’s say you have a kid cut weight and they lose. Now they’ve had the miserable experience of the weight cut, the difficult experience of the loss, and a potential psychological hit that they really aren’t good enough considering they didn’t win even after losing all that weight. If you throw a little negativity on top of the situation coming from a parent or coach, you have a recipe for disaster. Maybe the kid sticks it out anyway, but the damage to the competitive mindset could take a lot to overcome. How long and how often is a kid going to continue to stick it out through a process like this?
I am not claiming that the above is guaranteed to happen, but it’s definitely a risk I don’t think is worth taking. I am sure there are multiple examples of kids who cut weight and are highly successful, but this doesn’t mean that cutting weight was what helped them develop. In fact, they probably just succeeded despite the fact, due to a combination of talent, hard work, and passion for the sport.
Before I briefly cover older high school kids, I would like to address a couple common rebuttals. One usually goes something like this: ‘If a kid doesn’t cut weight, they may really get their ass kicked and that could be just as damaging.’ First, nobody gets smashed simply because the other wrestler is a few pounds heavier. At the youth ages, the biggest risk of this happening is the disparity in experience, along with talent, and coupled by the fact that being even one year older when you are eight can be a massive advantage from both a physical and emotional perspective. Bottom line is, if your nine-year-old gets smashed, it was not a three-pound difference that caused it. The second common rebuttal I hear is this: ‘Cutting weight is part of the sport, they’ll have to learn sometime.’ Again, this position for me is just a non-starter. High school students will eventually have to learn Algebra and Trigonometry too, but you start out with adding and subtracting.
My oldest son Xander started wrestling at seven. After a handful of practices, I tossed him in a tournament where he got beat up and pinned by two kids, but managed a 5-4 win in his last match of the day. That squeaker earned him the 3rd place medal. He was immediately hooked and excited to put that piece of hardware around his neck. The first two kids that beat him up did not do so because they were bigger, they just had more experience and were more aggressive.
After about a year of practice and about 10 tournaments, Xander asked me one morning on the way to a CAGWA tournament why they always put him on the scale before the tournament. I laughed and explained that they check your weight so that you wrestle kids close to your size to make sure it is fair and safe. I wrestled for 25 years, coached for 20 years, have a son that competes, and I currently do not own a scale! Xander has eaten breakfast on the way to weigh-ins for every tournament he has ever entered.
Recently he competed at the Western Regionals in Utah. Due to the pandemic, he had not competed in over a year. About a month before the tournament, I put him on the scale at a friend’s house so I could pick a weight to register him at. He weighed 83.5 pounds. The weights at 10U are 77, 84, and 93 pounds. I registered him for 84 pounds. As we got closer to the tournament, I had a suspicion that he may have grown, so I popped him back on the scale, when sure enough, he weighed 86 pounds. For a moment, I considered having him skip a meal and get an extra workout in, and told myself that isn’t really “cutting weight.” I quickly snapped out of it, we flew to Utah, and went and grabbed some lunch before heading over to weigh-ins. Xander tipped the scales at a solid 85.6 pounds and would now be competing in the 93-pound class. He had a grand total of four little competitors to contend with, but he had prepared and was excited to compete. He ended up going 4-0 on the weekend, winning both styles, scoring technical falls in all his bouts, and not relinquishing a single point. He was stoked, and I got to give him the, “I am so proud of your hard work and hard work pays off” speech. As it turns out, weighing a few pounds more than your opponent does not guarantee that you will be able to stop a well-executed leg lace.
OK, I am done bragging about the kid and did want to make a couple points on weight cutting in high school. At this age, I think kids are mature enough in general to manage and cut a little weight. My general rule of thumb is 5%. If you walk around hydrated at 149 pounds, that means you can cut about seven pounds without it crushing your performance. I would knock a couple pounds off with diet and training, then cut the remaining water weight. Attempting to cut to 135 pounds would be too much in my opinion, and depending on the type of athlete and the team’s needs, staying at 145 or even 152 pounds may be the better move.
From my own personal experience, the most weight I ever cut in one day was 17 pounds. It was brutal and I blacked out twice; it was dangerous. In high school I cut a good amount of weight as a sophomore and junior. I placed second in the state as a sophomore and first as a junior. I did not cut any weight my senior year and won the state championship again. In college, I cut a ton my sophomore and junior seasons. I did win a conference title and qualified for NCAA’s, but didn’t All-American, which was a very realistic goal for me. The next year, I moved up a weight class and made the NCAA Division 1 National finals before falling to Robbie Waller from Oklahoma. Without cutting weight, I had my best postseason result by far. On the senior freestyle circuit, I decided to go back to the old weight cutting routine for a couple years and had decent results, placing at the US Open and hovering around fifth or sixth on the ladder. Eventually I decided to move up a weight class and I made the National Team for the first time ever in 2009. I was never the number one guy, but I guarantee you, it was not because I was too small. I just got out-wrestled.
If you are a parent or coach of a kid in the 12U age group or younger, and are trying to figure out what weight they should wrestle, stop and think about a couple questions first. What is the purpose of cutting weight? Answer: to gain a competitive advantage. You can do this by practicing more, watching film, and getting in better shape. All of these things enhance your development and have lasting positive effects. What should the primary goal of competition be at this age? Answer: to develop skills, learn, and improve. Cutting weight does not help with this. After looking at every situation based on a risk reward analysis, it all boils down to this: having kids cut any weight is just a bad bet.
Carl Fronhofer is the current Director of Development for Beat the Streets Los Angeles. Before joining Beat the Streets LA, Carl was a collegiate wrestling coach for 13 seasons. His last stop as a college coach was at Columbia University where he served as the Andrew F. Barth Head Coach of wrestling for five seasons.
Carl is married to Dr. Claire Azzam, they have three sons, Xander, Wolfgang, and Hendrix.