Are private lessons necessary in wrestling?

How a boy can become a man without killing a lion.
January 13, 2015

Private lessons are now offered in almost anything imaginable, from music to art to chess to sports. While the sport of wrestling has primarily been taught in team practice settings, private lessons in wrestling are growing in popularity.

Parents and wrestlers are often times faced with the decision of whether or not to pursue private lessons. Many parents wonder if private lessons are necessary for their son or daughter to reach his or her potential in wrestling.

“I believe that each individual is different,” says Kerry Boumans, director of Overtime School of Wrestling in Illinois. “There are some kids that are phenoms and can just compete. They don’t need private lessons. I think private lessons will help any wrestler with the right instructor who will give them what they need.”

Joe Kemmerer, a two-time NCAA champion at the Division II level for Kutztown University (Pennsylvania), coaches wrestlers from ages 6 to 18 and runs Hammer Wrestling Club, which has locations in Tennessee and Virginia. Kemmerer believes the decision process comes down to two things.

“It comes down to who is a real wrestler and who is a throwing dummy,” says Kemmerer, who was named Outstanding Wrestler at the NCAA Division II Wrestling Championships in 2009. “The real wrestlers want to learn as much as they can. They love it. The second aspect of it is money. Not everybody can afford it, even if the kid wants to do it.”

The cost of private lessons in wrestling varies from club-to-club and coach-to-coach. Most clubs and coaches set hourly rates and those rates differ by the number of wrestlers in the private lesson. A one-on-one lesson will likely cost more for a wrestler than a group lesson that includes two or more wrestlers.

Boumans, a 2000 U.S. Open champion and Olympic Team Trials runner-up, feels that sometimes wrestlers may be too young to see the benefits of private lessons.

“I feel like 12 years of age is probably the right time to really starting honing in,” says Boumans. “I think anything before that it’s a different mindset. Your brain is not really focused on what it needs to be focused on in a private setting. There are outliers for sure. There are kids who are 8 and 9 who for whatever reason way be more mentally mature, can regurgitate the information, can use it, can analyze it and actually executive it in live situations.”

Kemmerer believes wrestlers can benefit from private lessons at an early age if they can keep their focus during practices.

“I would recommend private lessons from the beginning if they are serious about wrestling and if they’re mentally ready for it,” says Kemmerer, who served as an assistant coach at the Division I level for Liberty and VMI. “If they can make it through the whole practice and keep their focus then they’re ready to go for a private lesson.”

Jason Layton coaches youth wrestling in Deer Park, N.Y. He is the founder and coach of Team Dynamic, which according to the website is “an all-star team of Long Island’s elite youth wrestlers.” Private lessons are at the root of his coaching philosophy. According to Layton, “Wrestling is a one-on-one sport, so it should be taught one-on-one.”

Layton believes many children are not ready to start wrestling at age 5 or 6, and those that do require private lessons.

“I don’t think a 5-year-old or 6-year-old can learn without one-on-one attention,” says Layton. “I really don’t.”

Layton says when conducting private lessons with his young wrestlers, the focus is different than it is for the older wrestlers.

“For the younger guys it’s more important to make them athletic than it is to teach them wrestling,” says Layton, a 2006 NJCAA All-American at Nassau Community College. “They can learn some wrestling, but I would rather just build athletes and make them wrestlers later.”

Most private lessons in wrestling focus on technique and drilling, and can include live wrestling. Many coaches who give private lessons incorporate video analysis.

“We’ll work on a lot of technique,” says Boumans of his private lessons. “We’ll go through scenarios. We’ll cover little details that maybe they’re not doing properly or they’re just missing completely. So I’ll watch some video with them. We’ll watch what their trends are. We’ll break down their base and what they’re doing. From there we’ll get into actual technical moves. If we build the right foundation for them from a detail standpoint you can do a lot more technically with that.”

Kemmerer, an undefeated PIAA state champion in 2004, believes it’s important to work on weaknesses in private lessons.

“I focus on technique,” says Kemmmer. “I will tailor a private lesson to their weak spots. Everybody that I do private lessons with I know very well. I know what they need. I focus on their weak spots, learning new technique, maybe going over stuff that they already know but aren’t doing correctly. But I’m not going over their bread and butter. We’re not repping out the stuff they use day in and day out. It’s the stuff they need, the stuff they don’t have yet.”

In many cases parents are prohibited from involvement in the private lessons.

“Parents are not allowed in the wrestling room during practices,” says Layton. “Certain parents I allow in the wrestling room during private lessons, although I try to keep most of them out. When I get the parent that just shuts his mouth and watches, those are the best. I love those parents. They can sit in the room the whole time. That’s no problem. But then I get the parents that are telling me what they want me to work on with their kids. I’ll do it for them, but I would rather have them just leave it up to me based on my evaluation.”

Kemmerer has a similar stance when it comes to parents.

“I allow parents in my lesson room and club room, but they’re not allowed on the mats and they’re not allowed to open their mouths,” says Kemmerer.

While many wrestling coaches are proponents of private lessons for youth wrestlers, there are also those coaches who oppose private lessons for youth wrestlers. Scott Green is one of them.

In 2010, Green became head wrestling coach at Wyoming Seminary, one of the nation’s top high school wrestling programs, and has since taken the program to new heights. Wyoming Seminary has finished in the top five nationally in each of the last three seasons. Green was previously an assistant coach at the Division I level for Binghamton University, and also founded Shamrock Wrestling, one of the largest and most successful wrestling clubs in the country. He has coached Team USA at the Junior World Championships.

“I think private lessons are counterproductive for youth kids,” says Green. “I think their benefits are limited for older kids. It is the ultimate nostrum for a parent who isn’t seeing results fast enough. This often creates conflict for the kid, who isn’t really sure who to listen to.”

Green recalls a recent conversation he had with a wrestling parent.

“Just this year I had a parent tell me he had August private lessons nine straight days for his just-turned 8-year-old because he was afraid he was falling behind,” says Green. “I asked him to repeat the sentence to me and tell me he didn’t sound like a lunatic. There is a lot of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ in youth wrestling.”

Green sees more benefits in developing skills in practice as opposed to private lessons.

“Regular practice for skill development is far superior,” says Green. “A good coach will utilize his staff to check kids’ technique and differentiate the instruction so that everyone learns at their own pace. We still utilize small group instruction and ability grouping, but the benefits of regular practice are far more numerous than privates. Full practices give the staff a long view of skill development and allow athletes to be evaluated longitudinally.”

Boumans understands there is a chance private lessons could be counterproductive, especially if a wrestler attends only one session. He tells parents that he needs the wrestler to commit to a certain amount of sessions in order to accomplish anything.

“One private session is always counterproductive,” says Boumans. “It never helps. It just confuses a kid.”

Boumans, though, believes in private lessons.

“I’m a fan of private lessons,” says Boumans. “I think in the proper context they work, with the right coach, right parent and right kid.”

 

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