Thoughts on High School Wrestling

By Steve Aughinbaugh – February 15, 2002

Note: The following is a collection of my personal thoughts on wrestling in general and some specifics about my experience with helping to coach the Richardson Berkner High School wrestling team during the 2000-2001 and 2001-2002 school years.

Wrestling is a unique sport at which anyone can excel at. In most other high school sports size matters, wrestling matches you with opponents of your same size. It is also an individual sport but with team spirit. The importance of your teammates comes from them supporting you and you supporting them with encouragement, pushing and teaching each other during practice. But once you step on the mat, it is all up to you. It does not matter what anyone else does and to a great extent it does not matter what the referee does. It is all up to you. If you have trained well, learned good skills and positioning and have a positive mental attitude, you, no matter who your are, can win consistently. All of this can be developed by anyone with the right work ethic and an investment of time. You can even learn techniques without a coach. A good coach is still great to have, but not required. There are some very good books on techniques to learn with. Try finding books on football technique; most of the football books that I have found are about strategy and plays, not individual techniques. For wrestling there are a number of good books. One of my favorites is “Winning Wrestling Moves” written by three great wrestlers; Mark Mysnyk, Barry Davis and Brooks Simpson.

Wrestling is an aggressive sport, but because of the intimate contact with your opponent and the rules of the sport, it is very respectful. Wrestling teaches you respect. Respect for your opponent and his safety. Respect for the rules. And respect for the authority of the referee. Referees will stop moves that become potentially dangerous before they get to the point of hurting someone. I am not saying that you cannot get hurt wrestling, you can. Accidents happen and wrestlers have purposely hurt their opponents. But that is the exception. Part of the rules of wrestling is for the referee and YOU to protect your opponent. You don’t see this much respect in some other popular sports. In some sports part of the “unwritten rules” are to hurt your opponent. Even the idea that wrestlers compete with each other in narrow weight classes so that opponents are about the same size contributes to the safety and respect. The intimidation of size is not present in wrestling.

Because wrestling is an individual sport it can be a great confidence builder. Success is based upon your own actions and success can happen in small increments. Each takedown, escape, reversal or near fall is a success and even if the match is not won a wrestler can build upon these little successes. For some beginning wrestlers, just lasting through the first 2-minute period without getting pinned can be a success! Not the best outcome, but a success for some. The confidence comes from having these successes and the knowledge that with more practice you will improve. There are no cards stacked against you.

So what can you do to become a better wrestler?

Being able to wrestle a full 6-plus minutes at full speed with high intensity can be a big step forward. Conditioning is important because a 6 full minutes wrestling match is a lot harder than any football or basketball game you will ever play. Throw in an overtime period or two and you will really understand the endurance wrestling requires. And then think about doing this 4 or 5 times in one day for a tournament! Conditioning for endurance is a simple matter. It is simply a boring matter of pushing yourself several days a week until you are tired and then push yourself it a bit further. I don’t believe that we conditioned the Berkner wrestling team well enough last year and I would love to see the team come into the season next year better conditioned. Running 30 to 40 minutes a day is a great way to build up your conditioning. Working on the stair machine for 20 to 30 minutes is also an option. A stationary or real bicycle for 40 to 60 minutes can help a great deal as well. Do this at least 5 days and preferably 6 days a week and you will start the season ready to go to the next level.

And while you are doing this simple, boring conditioning, entertain and improve your wrestling performance by visualizing yourself doing moves. See yourself in your mind doing a double leg takedown. Visualize your stance, feet slightly wider than your shoulders, knees bent; you are on your toes, shoulders over your knees, elbows in at your sides with your hands in front of you. Your forearm moves into your opponent’s shoulder and you tug on the back of his neck with your right hand. As he resists and pulls back, you release him and push him back with your forearm. Then you see yourself change levels dropping down and driving forcefully into him.  You see that your shoulders remain over your knees and your head is up as it slides by his stomach to his right side. You visualize your arms clamping behind his thighs. He collapses over you from the force of you driving through him. You see yourself extend your back lifting him slightly off the mat then using your head to push him over as you raise his right leg with your left arm and sweep his other leg with your right arm.  As he goes to the mat you hear the referee call out “take-down, two points!”  Exciting, yes? That boring 5-mile run is not so boring now.

Visualizing yourself is a great learning experience. I used this technique to learn moves and good positioning. I lived on a farm and would run to town and back (about 10 miles) all the while repeating “head back, elbows in, hips underneath, don’t get high” over and over and over. I would also visualize moves: takedowns, stand-ups, switches, half nelsons and more. And there was one more thing that I visualized, me standing on the top, 1st place podium getting my medal at a tournament. All of this helps to reinforce what you have been learned and it gives you more success building up your confidence. If you think like a winner, you are more likely to really become one. Worrying about things is not very productive, but visualizing successes will help you through out your life. Even today, I visualize myself doing presentations in my day-to-day job. I visualize the potential questions from the audience or managers and me answering them successfully. Visualization should be a part of your wrestling development and training.

I have talked a lot about the mental part of wrestling to this point. I believe this is a very important aspect of winning. You have to be mentally prepared. I believe that you should approach every match with the belief that you will win it. I don’t mean you should have an arrogant attitude but a respectful confidence that you are as good as your opponent is. BUT, you also believe that you have trained harder, worked harder, have more endurance and in the end you will win. If it turns out that you lose, then your opponent must have trained harder or worked harder or had more endurance than you. Shake his hand and congratulation him then resolve to work and train harder. Your winning attitude and mindset go hand in hand with your training. I have already noted the importance of conditioning. In addition, weight training is also very helpful.

Many beginning wrestlers believe that you have to be really strong to compete. Strength is more of a safety net in wrestling than a primary need. Your strength can help you get out of situations where you are in trouble, but with good technique and positioning you should not be getting into trouble. Strength training also develops quickness. Explosive quickness is important to becoming competitive wrestler. So working the weights is important. Your goal should be to increase the amount of weight that you lift over time. Pick weights where you can do about 12 reps and as you become stronger, add more weight, 5 or 10 pounds at a time. Doing push-ups, chin-ups and crunches can be used if you don’t have access to any weights. Milk jugs full of water or sand can also be used. There is the weight room at Berkner that can be used. And during the summer The Athletes Course (TAC) is offered for weight training. It is important in weight training to start with a given weight and then set a higher goal. Once you reach the goal, move it higher.

Back to learning techniques, in my personal experience during my high school wrestling career I had 3 different head coaches of various levels. My first year we had two guys from the local college that volunteered to stepped in when the previous wrestling coach left suddenly. They were full of energy and enthusiasm and taught us some skills but mostly to believe in ourselves. My next coach was gruff taskmaster on the outside but a teddy bear on the inside once you got to know him. He drove us to always be in top condition and encouraged us to go all out, all the time. By my senior year I was mostly coaching myself and helping our newest coach lead the team. Another source of coaching are wrestling camps. I attended a wrestling camps run by Doug Blubaugh, the head wrestling coach at Indiana University who was a goal medallist in the 160.5-pound class at the 1960 Olympics. There are a lot of great summer wrestling camps, which are very helpful and fun experiences.  Search the Internet for wrestling camps and you will find many to choose from, most reasonably priced. There will also be local camps in the area. Contact Coach Martinez if you are interested.

If you have not noticed, I have a love and a passion for the sport of wrestling. I loved the sport during high school and my one year with it in college. I refereed wrestling for about five years after that. When I made the move from Indiana to Texas I got away from the sport except for watching it every four years during the Olympics. I am glad that Coach Martinez has allowed me to help coach the Berkner team these past two years and I hope to be able help next year. If you are a wrestler reading this I hope that you are inspired to invest the time and energy that it takes to reach your goals whatever they may be. If you are a wrestling parent reading this I hope that you will encourage and guide your son (or daughter) to reach for lofty goals and to understand that anything worth doing, is worth doing poorly at first. There is no shame in trying and failing. But if you decide to pursue a goal then attack it with all that you have, believe that you will win but back it up with hard work. 

Cheers, Steve

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