Monique Cabrera: Encouraging New Athletes to the Wrestling Room

Male or female, how do you encourage a new wrestler when they step on the mat for the first time?

For the past decade, I have been coaching boys and girls high school wrestling. It has been easier enrolling girls to wrestle than boys because I myself am a woman, and wrestled for the high school where I am currently coaching. Feedback has been vital in order to encourage boys and girls to wrestle for the first time. It helps me understand how I can best support their goals and keep them coming back to the mat. Typically, I ask a new athlete why they want to join the sport. There are various reasons to why a young teen wants to join wrestling: from getting into shape, to being more confident, and my favorite to be a part of a family. Over the last five years I have reiterated to high school athletes that wrestling isn't just a team, but a family and a culture to help shape and support becoming a better individual all around.

Instilling values in a new wrestler

Wrestling isn’t just a sport but a lifestyle. How you approach wrestling is how you will most likely approach the rest of your life. I believe student athletes get value from others' experiences who they can relate to. With the support of past captains and alumni, I encourage many to visit the team and share how wrestling has influenced their everyday lives. They preach the importance of staying committed to yourself to get a task done, just like staying committed to finishing a wrestling season. Discipline is needed beyond high school when you decide to go to college, into the military, or to the workforce. Finally the values we have created speaks to supporting, inspiring and lifting each other up on and off the mat through sportsmanship and trust. Our student-athletes continuously do community service and volunteering their time and knowledge to younger kids who choose to participate in wrestling. They are involved in their local community centers and help put on bully boot camp seminars which are free in the Los Angeles area.

Monique's coaching values 

Over the course of my wrestling and coaching career, I have had amazing coaches. Thomas Griffith, Ray Castellanos (current boys coach at the South El Monte H.S.), Lee Allen, Donnie Stephens (Cumberlands), and Terry Steiner. These coaches have supported not only wrestling, but girls wrestling. I have been face to face with quite a few coaches who have told me “I don’t get paid to coach girls,” or “girls do not belong on the mat unless their keeping stats." This is why the coaches I've named have been stand outs for women's wrestling and great influences for me. I needed both the good, the bad, and the ugly coaches in order to develop my style and to have a better understanding of how to develop a girls league in Southern California, but still support boys wrestling at the same time. Wrestling is a win-lose when sport in a match. However, when it comes to promoting, developing, and growing a sport like wrestling, it must be a win-win for both the boys and girls wrestling programs. We have been able to do this successfully at South El Monte High School.

How coaches should encourage new kids to try the sport

The biggest success I have had was having my captains and returners talk to friends and peers to join them at Open Mats during the off season to try the sport to learn at their own pace and to see if they ultimately like it. At the same time We have partnered with BTSLA to run a youth wrestling program where we have our returners and captains volunteer coach and work with the 6th-8th graders that will be joining South El Monte High School soon. This creates a community and team culture so they are accepted and welcomed as incoming freshmen.

What goes around comes around

I am honored to give back to my community and the high school that I came from. When I wrestled for South El Monte High School (2002-2005) I was the only girl until my junior year. Myself and Teri Milkoff were the only two girls who placed at girls regionals and state while being part of an all boys team. In 2014, thanks to the support from my high school coach Ray Castellanos, I was given the platform to create an official girls team. This allowed me to become the first head coach for girls wrestling in the San Gabriel Valley and Southern California Region. I have been lucky to have the support system from my colleagues when I invite, instruct, and coach both the boys and girls on the team. The influence you have on your athletes, male or female, will affect how they decide to give back to this sport. 

photo by dana barsuhn

photo by dana barsuhn

Monique Cabrera wrestled in California and was a state placer. When she wrestled for Menlo College, she was varsity captain and a 2x WCWA All-American. She placed 7th and 8th at the Senior US Open in 2007 and 2008. She is currently on her 4th season as the head girls coach at South El Monte High School where she also heads the local Beat the Streets LA youth program.