The Ottawa wrestling club’s focus is involving youth in a fun activity and not on the results of matches.

Ottawa Mat Masters coach Jay Wieneke takes a hands-on approach in guiding the wrestlers through drills and techniques, but more importantly teaching life skills.

“My goal is to encourage children to believe in something,” Wieneke said. “Whatever they believe in, they can accomplish. If you want to be a state champion, you can be a state champion. If you want to be a straight ‘A’ student, you can. You have to work at it. All that repetition, believing in themselves, putting forth the effort, next thing you know you can rise to any challenge. Wrestling is about discipline and believing in yourself. To be able to compete and get better every day and to show who you are to yourself, it will take you anywhere you want to go.”

The club started preseason practices this week and it is not too late to join the fun.

“Come to a practice and watch,” Wieneke said. “Come see if that is something that would interest you.”

The wrestlers practice from 6-7 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday for first- and second-year wrestlers and 7-8:30 p.m. for all others in the Ottawa High School wrestling room.

Wieneke creates a fun atmosphere.

“No kid in the world does not want to have fun doing something,” he said. “Winning is fun. You can learn to lose and still have fun by knowing you are getting better. Wrestling teaches you how to lose, but also to be able to pick yourself back up in a short time and compete again with the intent to win. I believe kids benefit from wrestling because it’s a one-on-one sport with no one out there but yourself. You have teammates and partners to help you get better and you help them get better, but at the end of the day, it’s your drive and determination on how good you wanna be. It is a sport that helps you in general life situations and how to respect others.”

Wieneke said the start of a new season is always fun.

“Bringing in the new families and seeing the new excitement,” he said. “Just seeing in one day how many little kids we were able to show how to take a shot. They learn so fast. It shows — if you give yourself an opportunity — anything can happen.

"So many people steer away from this sport because they feel it is violent. Truly, it is not. It is a very technical sport. We are an art. We are not out there trying to injure each other. We are out there trying to beat each other in a match of technical difficulty. Who has the best technique and strength that day will win.”

Wieneke said parents need to believe in the process.

“You guys did not think your kid could wrestle, but you get out here and you can wrestle,” he said. “It takes a little courage, motivation and want to do something different.”

The coaches make sure the wrestlers are versed in the basics before entering competition.

“The basic fundamentals is what we go over right off the bat,” Wieneke said. “Wrestlers should expect to learn the basic fundamentals of stance, proper technique on shots and take downs, to learn how to control top position, going for the pin and get out from bottom. Wrestling is a technique and it takes time.”

Wrestling is not just for boys. The Kansas State High School Activities Association added girls wrestling to its lineup this season. Colleges are adding women’s wrestling programs. Wieneke said the opportunities for females are wide open.

“Major colleges are bringing in women because they are tough,” he said. “I find female wrestlers more mentally tough than the boys. They are focused. They are looking at the technical side of it. For girls to get in at a young age is huge. For me with the boys, my main focus is getting their attention, believing and trusting in me and having a bond. The moment I have a bond with them, they will do anything for me and listen to me. Girls want to pay attention. The way the sport is going, you can open yourself up to any college and pay your way in a sport that is so new. You would be crazy not to try it. It is a great sport to get in.

“It’s a great sport for self-defense and also teaches them technique and proper discipline and respect of others while building their self-confidence. Wrestling is a family sport while building the respect of others. Learning how to win and lose with dignity.”