NEW ULM - It doesn't look like wrestling practice but that's the point.
Worried about boys and girls burning out of the sport by the time he gets them, New Ulm wrestling coach Dan Kurth decided to go a different route with the youngest would be wrestlers.
In October, he started wrestling practice for kindergarten through third graders but there is never any actual wrestling that goes on.
Students in the Southern Minnesota Wrestling Club’s kindergarten through third grade program try to pull an exercise ball away from each other during a core strength and balance game. Looking on is wrestling coach Dan Kurth (background).
Instead, Kurth has designed a program that incorporates the science of the body's movement with games and other activities.
"There are a couple of national movements and programs that are based on breaking sports down to a science of basic movements," Kurth said. "You are training the movements individually rather than training the sport where the movement is relevant."
Kurth says it's new to New Ulm but it's gaining steam across the country.
"This kind of movement - youth sports development movement - is starting to grow across the country," he said. "The theory is, if you catch them at this age and you take them all the way through the progression, you make them as good as athletes as they can possibly be as seniors in high school and beyond. Instead of catching them when they are in 10th grade and having to fix the things that were mistaught."
According to Kurth, the best part is the children don't even know there is anything scientific about it, they think they are just having fun.
"All they know is that they love to come to practice because they have fun here," Kurth said. "They show up here and they have fun but they are learning wrestling skills - they are broken down wrestling skills - but they are still learning them."
Kurth runs his program out of his Southern Minnesota Wrestling Club at 1815 N. Spring St. in New Ulm. The facility has been open since the beginning of June and he runs several different programs there throughout the year.
But it's the K-3rd Grade program that is different then any program likely to be seen in Minnesota.
The children do activities with exercise balls and different agility drills. There are different versions of tag and keep away and in one case the children are paired up, they chase after a ball thrown by Kurth and they try to take the ball away from the other or prevent the other from returning with the ball.
The kids stay active and Kurth says they learn important skills for wrestling later in life.
"The K-3 group, they aren't psychologically ready for face-to-face competition yet," Kurth said. "So pulling the balls away and things like that, it trains the same skills but it's not putting them out there one-on-one.
"I've noticed with especially the real young ones, they will shy away if you put them in real close quarters. But if they are playing a game, then they naturally get in there and start doing the wrestling things with each other."
In another drill, the children hug the exercise ball and chase each other along the circle of the wrestling mat.
"It puts them in proper position," Kurth said. "When you hold the exercise ball in front, it puts them in the proper position to hold their hands. They have to keep their feet apart and move without crossing their feet so they basically stay in a good stance. They keep the ball in their hands and are in the right position and the feet are in the right position, it's a good athletic stance for any sport."
The child's mind might not be ready for competition at this age but Kurth want's their bodys to be ready by the time the competition stage comes around.
"It's knee and ankle stabilization. You are building core balance and core strength," he said. "The whole key is to keep them moving, keep them in activities that are developing core strength and balance and stabilizing their joints and really getting them into those athletic movements and they don't know what they are doing other than having fun."
And to Kurth, having fun is the key. He wants wrestling to be something the children enjoy, not something they dread.
"If all they know by the time that they get to third grade is that they love to go to wrestling practice than I've accomplished a lot," he said. "Then we transition them in fourth through sixth grade to actual wrestling. If we can keep that half and half - half wrestling and half games - still developing skills without head-to-head competition then we get them into the seventh grade room and progress them into what most people actually consider wrestling."
His fear is that starting kids too young in competition will burn them out and they won't want to compete in that sport by the time they get to the higher levels.
"I think all too often, when you get the head-to-head competition, you lose them forever because they equate wrestling with something they do not enjoy," Kurth said. "My mission with this age isn't so much that 100 percent make it into the wrestling room at some point - although that would be nice - but to make sure that when they leave here they have skills that will get them to a higher level."
He is starting his program for fourth through sixth graders Dec. 10. That is designed for the more traditional wrestling.
"It's going to be more stage wrestling but it's also going to be incorporating this stuff," Kurth said. "Again the goal is going to be let the kids enjoy it. By sixth grade, wrestling should not be a job for them. It should not feel like it's a drudgery to go to wrestling practice. So we will make sure when they come here they are learning the skills and learning how to wrestle but they don't walk out of here thinking, 'Ugh, I have to do this for another six years.'"
Kurth knows he is going to have some detractors, but that's fine, he just hopes people will at least be open-minded to an alternative.
"This is just different and it's not for everybody," he said. "Some people like competition and think that's important but I don't. I just believe that if a kid doesn't compete in something until he is in sixth or seventh grade its not a big deal.
"The message has been sent in youth sports that if you're not in it by the time you are a kindergartner you're done, there is no way you are going to recover. And that's just simply not the case."
For more information about the Southern Minnesota Wrestling Club go to www.smwclub.com