Advice for parents/kids just starting out in the sport of wrestling

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Do you want your child to become a champion wrestler? Here are some tips!

I recently received this email:

Jason, I am new to the sport of wrestling so I have been looking on the web to try to learn, and in turn, help my son Jayson (8yrs old, first year wrestler) with wrestling. I found your videos and website and really find them excellent.  First of all, thank you for your passion and willingness to work hard to share your knowledge with everyone. My son’s wrestling coaches all appear to be very good and are good teachers.  But I wanted to ask your advice if you have the time.

1. If you had a son who was interested in wrestling, what would you do in order to help him develop into the best wrestler he could become?

2. What techniques do you suggest a new wrestler learn/drill first in their development and then what techniques would you progress to?

Forgive me if you have already addressed these types of questions in your blog, as I have not read all of your material yet. Thanks again for what you are doing and thanks for your time!

I get these questions a lot, let’s get down to it:

1. If you had a son who was interested in wrestling, what would you do in order to help him develop into the best wrestler he could become?

To develop a child into the best wrestler that he or she can become, the most important thing to cultivate is passion for the sport. They have to like it, it has to be fun, it should be challenging but not to the point of discouragement, and most importantly they have to enjoy the learning process. To become a champion wrestler you have to be able to focus intensely, not only during matches and live wrestling, but during instruction and drilling where a vast majority of practice time is spent. Depending on how mature the athlete is will determine how much focus is realistic for them, but the sooner a child learns that focusing pays off, and to enjoy that process of focusing, the quicker they will develop into a good wrestler. Can you cultivate focus? If you can, your athlete will make rapid improvements. The first step is to get them to LOVE wrestling practice!

2. What techniques do you suggest a new wrestler learn/drill first in their development and then what techniques would you progress to?

To answer this question, let’s break it down by experience:

The first time wrestler:
I don’t believe in learning any wrestling for the first several hours of a wrestler’s career. All wrestling moves are too advanced for the first time wrestler. Spending time learning basic gymnastics and doing different basic movement drills will pay off more than learning wrestling moves or strategy! Crab walking, bear crawling, tumble-saults, diving rolls, backwards rolls, cart wheels, hands in the box drill, spinning drill, jumping to your feet from your knees, back bridging, sprawling, pushups, sit-ups, burpees, army crawls, attempting to walk on your hands, etc. are great ways to begin fostering the many basic mechanics the athlete will need during their wrestling career.

Key concept: You need to learn basic athleticism before you learn wrestling moves. It is easy to teach wrestling to a good athlete, but until your child is a good athlete, work solely on athleticism. If your child can’t do a backwards roll, it is a bad idea for them to try to learn a double leg or any other wrestling move. Let them learn to control their own bodies first.

Don’t forget to make it fun!

The young athlete, now ready to learn wrestling:
Once a fair amount of athleticism is acquired, basics are the first and most important thing to learn.

There is no correct answer of what basics to learn first, but here are some suggestions. Remember that the basic skills acquired from drilling these moves are more important than the moves themselves.

How to do a level change
How to do a drop step
How to do a sprawl
How to do a double leg takedown keeping your head up, with a lifting-finish (it is important that kids learn lifting-finishes early on, so that they are practicing movements that foster strength development)
How to have a very defensive stance, so that the other guy can’t get your legs.
How to do a snap-down spin-behind
How to prevent someone from spinning behind you when you get snapped down
How to do a far ankle far knee breakdown
How to do a half nelson
How to do a mat-return from the rear-standing position
How to bridge out when you are being pinned (in my opinion, this skill alone is the largest determinate of how good a kid will be in his first few years. The ability to bridge teaches good hips. This skill teaches them how to finish on top during scrambles)
How to body lock and lift (This is a very important skill. New wrestlers probably won’t use this move for years down the line, but they will benefit from practicing it [it is very tiring, and helps make them strong)
How to clear your wrists when the other guy grabs them.
How to do a stand-up
How to do a switch
The basic rules of wrestling
How to do a cement mixer
How to do a russian tie-up (I’ve surprisingly had a lot of success teaching this to 5 year olds; it’s simple enough for them to learn and they do well with it quickly. Moves from the russian-tie-up may be advanced, but the position is easy and new wrestlers quickly learn of its power.)
Live wrestling from specific learning positions like the whizzer, under/over, rear-standing, etc.

That right there is enough to spend the first couple months of your career mastering. There are other things that could be incorporated, but that is a good start. At this time practice should still have a big focus on basic athleticism. They also can begin live sparring at this point.

The intermediate wrestler and beyond:
Due to the nature of age divisions (bantam, intermediate, novice, middle school, high school, college, and open), each level can be thought of as a technique plateau; as you get to the older and more advanced divisions many moves that were once effective become ineffective as your opponent’s defensive systems get more complex. The style and the moves that work change with each age/skill division. Picking up an ankle and pushing the guy over onto his back works well for kindergarteners, but this isn’t going to be very effective by the time they are in 3rd grade.

Instead of focusing on beating your rivals, focus on becoming a competitive wrestler at the next level up. Every level has dead-end moves that work there, but are mistakes at the level above (I like to make the comparison of a 4 move checkmate in chess. It is a good strategy to learn for brand new players, but a weak strategy for beating intermediate players). If you focus on acquiring the moves that work on the next level up, and replacing your low level responses with higher level responses, you will learn and develop very quickly. Many times, you will need to take a step backwards, as the higher level responses are more difficult to learn. This is the number one stumbling block I see with developing wrestlers. To take a step-backwards will result in your performing worse as you learn a new system. To do this requires foresight, patience, will-power, and good control over your ego. It is very tempting to continue using what is working against the weaker opponents, don’t! Begin preparing for the upper levels early, and avoid dead-end moves (anything that will be a mistake at higher levels of wrestling).

How to decide what to learn:
I suggest finding a mentor who can wrestle with you and correct your mistakes. The habits I learned from wrestling and drilling with my mentors were the most important. If you want to improve rapidly, let someone who knows better than you shape your development; they have already traveled the road you are traveling and know of its pitfalls. My best mentor was only 3 years older than me. He wrestled with me constantly and showed me why some of my current movements were mistakes (I could not figure this out on my own, as they worked against wrestling partners of my ability). He constantly beat me up, but was always supportive and encouraging.

1) Focus on athleticism first!
2) Learn the basics (make them stupid-simple).
3) Progress to more complicated moves and levels of wrestling when ready.
4) Find a mentor.
5) Always make it fun. Enjoying the process is far more important than talent.

Lastly, do not be disappointed in your children if they aren’t performing well. Expressing your disapproval does nothing to foster passion for the sport. Be encouraging and use positive reinforcement; everything will come together with time and practice.

~Jason Layton
516 996 9922

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