Coach Gabe takes down the myths on wrestling for kids in Singapore

Gabriel Huang Meerkats Wrestling Club Honeykids Asia Singapore
Wrestling can seem scary, but it’s no more dangerous than any other sport. We talk to Gabriel Huang, or Coach Gabe, about the pros and cons of wrestling...

We know all about martial arts and its benefits in helping kids let off steam as well as imparting some useful self-defence skills, but wrestling is one that’s often left off the ‘sports for kids’ radar. But thanks to the ever-popular World Wrestling Federation, you may well think this combat sport is a bit too much high contact for your little ones. All that grappling, joint locking, pins, throws and other flashy manoeuvres can definitely worry a parent! But while we ourselves wouldn’t be too keen on letting our kiddos take part in a sport that encourages them to fling themselves around a ring or throw chairs, we’ve found out after a chat with Coach Gabe from Meerkats Wrestling Club tells us, that it’s all fake! All those dangerous actions and risky manoeuvres you see on the TV are banned in real competitions. It actually turns out that wrestling is a really good sport for kids to pick up because it develops their gross motor skills while they have a whole heap of fun. Here’s what else Coach Gabe had to say…

Hi Gabe! Tell us a bit about yourself…

I’m Gabriel, but my athletes and their parents call me Coach Gabe. I’m 31 years old soon and I have been coaching wrestling for about nine years. I have a Bachelor’s degree in sport and exercise science as well as a university diploma in coaching wrestling.

Can you tell us about your martial arts journey from when you first started wrestling until now?

I actually started wrestling really late when I was 20 years old but my interest in martial arts began when I was 15 years old. My grandfather was a pioneer in the local Taekwondo scene and he used to show me old training photos as well as his martial art book collection. Naturally, my first martial art was Taekwondo. At age 16, after my O levels, I signed up for a traditional jujitsu class and since then dabbled in a whole array of combative sports like Jeet Kune Do, Boxing, Muay Thai, Judo and BJJ. I picked up wrestling while preparing for an amateur MMA bout. My first overseas wrestling competition was at the Commonwealth Wrestling Championships in the lovely countryside city of Jalandar in Punjab. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity through wrestling to travel and study, train, compete and coach across three continents.

So why wrestling?

Among all the combative sports I’ve trained and participated in, wrestling is the most demanding, challenging and technical one and I guess that’s what drew me to it. I sucked so bad initially at it, that I wanted to be good. My wrestling coach at that time, Sergei Beloglazov, was a two-time Olympic and six-time World Champion. He deeply inspired and instilled in me my love for wrestling.

Gabriel Huang Meerkats Wrestling Club Honeykids Asia Singapore

Wrestling can help kids develop gross motor skills, as well as acrobatic skills and how to fall safely. Photography courtesy of Gabriel Huang

We hear you started a wrestling club for kids, can you tell us a little more about that?

I’ve always enjoyed coaching kids and after I had semi-retired from wrestling competitively, I was selected for an Olympic Solidarity Scholarship to study coaching for three months at the University of Physical Education in Budapest, Hungary. During my time there, I was amazed at the ability of the kids and learnt the importance of developing gross motor skills from a young age in order to build great athletes down the line. After I graduated, I decided to start a wrestling club dedicated towards youth wrestling, although we also run adults classes. Hence, Meerkats Wrestling Club was born. We wanted a name that was not overly masculine and also in-line with our club goals of keeping wrestling fun and educational for kids.

Wrestling is such a high intensity sport, why do you think it’s suitable for kids?

I cannot emphasise enough the importance of gross motor skill development in training kids, whether they continue as wrestlers or pursue other athletic endeavours. Wrestling is the perfect sport to develop your gross motor skills as you have to use all your body parts, This in turn develops qualities such as coordination, balance, speed, strength, stamina and cognitive skills. On top of that, kids will also learn acrobatic skills and learn how to fall safely: pretty handy skills!

Wrestling is also a great teacher of life, where you can learn hard lessons in a safe and easy way. Everything you learn in wrestling, like hard work, or perseverance, can be used in life. You can see your shortfalls and build yourself up from the times you fail. Wrestling is often referred to as physical chess. To be a good wrestler, you must be a good critical thinker as well as a great athlete, and someone who is able to take calculated risks.

Should parents be worried about kids getting hurt?

Like any sport, wrestling carries a risk of injury, however it’s rare to face injuries more serious than a common sprain. Kids who begin training in wrestling from a younger age develop amazing coordination and motor skills which leads to having the best injury prevention intervention possible.

Proper safety equipment such as high-cut wrestling shoes and headgear are encouraged and potentially dangerous actions such as strikes, chokes and joint-locks are illegal. Risky manoeuvres that involve lifting your opponent off the ground are disallowed for younger age groups. During the last Olympic Games, wrestling also had one of the lowest incident rates across all sports.

Gabriel Huang Meerkats Wrestling Club Honeykids Asia Singapore

Practise makes perfect! Photography courtesy of Gabriel Huang

Do you have any fun stories to share?

There are a lot but the most memorable one for me was from my first overseas competition in India. My teammate and I had absolutely no idea what we were in for and were checking the rulebook right up until the competition started. But the spectator crowd was huge and everyone there was crazy about wrestling and cheering for all the competitors. We were also lucky that the Scottish team took us under their wing during that trip and invited us to train and warm up with them leading up to the competition.

Last year, we brought our team of kids aged nine to 14 years to train and compete in Taipei. There were over 500 athletes from Taiwan, Japan, Philippines and Singapore. We got to climb a beautiful mountain and train with athletes of all levels. The kids all gained valuable experience as part of this adventure.

Any advice for kids who want to start wrestling themselves?

Join a class, go there and have fun! We’d love for you to join us at Meerkats Wrestling Club located at Tanglin CC, but my advice would be to pick a club that is most convenient for you to attend so you don’t miss practice. The more sessions you’re able to attend, the better you’ll get at it. All our coaches are highly qualified and your perception of wrestling is likely to be different from the actual sport. You can find out more information on local wrestling clubs at www.singaporewrestling.com.

Finally, it can be difficult for people to pursue their passions, how do you do it?

I am in a fortunate position where my work in wrestling pays my bills. There are parts of my job that I’m absolutely not passionate about, but I believe that whatever you do, you need to find a purpose and challenge in doing it otherwise it will never truly be fulfilling regardless of how much you earn.

Meerkats Wrestling Club, Tanglin Community Club, 245 Whitley Rd, Singapore 297829; www.meerkatswrestling.com. Classes available for kids aged five and up

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