There is no such thing as knowing too many moves
One common trend that you will notice among higher level wrestlers is that they are all very dynamic. They have LOTS and LOTS of moves that work against top level competitors, and they are able to execute these moves from a variety of positions. Anyone who is trying to become better at wrestling should spend time focusing on expanding their repertoire of high-level moves. There is no such thing as knowing too many moves, in fact, the more moves you know, the better your general understanding of wrestling and body mechanics will be.
Learning from coaches:
If you want to expand your repertoire then you need to get new coaches, lots of them. The more sources you have to learn high-level moves, the better. Even if your HS has an amazing coach, there are still plenty of techniques which he does not know. No one knows everything.
It is important to learn from different coaches who have different coaching strategies. When I go to scrimmages, I can usually deduct what team an athlete wrestles for by watching the way that he moves. By focusing on a variety of styles, you will become a hybrid wrestler who can throw, defend, attack, score on top and bottom, stall, etc. You need to learn to attack from all possible positions, not just the ones your team focuses on.
Learning other styles:
Freestyle wrestling, Greco-Roman wrestling, Boxing, Grappling (Brazilian Jiu-jitsu), Judo, etc. will help a wrestler with folk style wrestling. There are so many positions/ideas that are more important in these styles that focusing on them will help you when you encounter them in scholastic wrestling.
I definitely suggest learning freestyle and BJJ, the others, although optional, will also help. Learning BJJ was one of the best decisions I ever made. It was very natural due to my wrestling background and helped me enormously with my crab-ride. Jiu-jitsu made me more comfortable in awkward scramble positions, and more importantly than anything, it shed clarity on my understanding of body mechanics.
Learning Nonsense moves:
It is more important to learn Upper-level moves but you should strive to LEARN EVERYTHING, even the moves that suck. Knowing a spladle, knowing a cutback, knowing a front-flip off the high single, etc. will add to your repertoire so that you can recognize when these moves are used against you. This will allow you to be ready with the proper response. It will also enable you to innovate by expanding your general knowledge of awkward positions.
You need to be nasty everywhere. Get sick at throwing, become amazing at scrambling, have a ridiculous offense with under-hooks, over-hooks, Russians, two on ones, etc. Be able to turn everyone on top, and be able to escape every time on bottom. Be able to score from the outside. Be able to finish every shot.Become Dynamic. If someone else has a move that looked good, STEAL IT. Copy and paste the best moves into your repertoire. Use mnemonics to make sure that you remember all of these moves (article on mnemonic support systems coming soon. It is very comprehensive and I am trying to make it as clear and concise as possible).
There is no ceiling to how good you can become or for how much you can know. HS national champions get tech’d in the first period when they wrestle at higher levels. Average Varsity wrestlers can dominate in JV, average JV wrestlers can dominate in middle school, average college wrestlers can dominate in HS, and average international wrestlers can dominate in college.Stop comparing yourself to the competition and start comparing yourself to what is possible.
I just wanted to add that you should not try to master one thing before moving on to the next (throws, shots, top, bottom, etc.). Attempt to learn everything simultaneously. This will slow down your learning for each individual area, but will greatly increase the speed that you learn overall.
If you do not wear headgear in practice and do not have cauliflower ear, you are not shooting hard enough. There is no question about this, it is impossible that you are shooting hard enough if you still have your ears (and don‘t wear headgear). Every double-leg or high-crotch that you shoot should result with the side of your head SLAMMING into your opponents hip. Very often your ear will get caught on the sharp hip bone, this is what causes cauliflower ear (your ear fills with blood, which eventually clots and hardens, unless drained).
You don’t want cauliflower ear; it’s not pretty. Although it’s a cool battle scar that lets everyone know you’re tough, the chicks don’t dig it, it’s really ugly, and worse: it hurts a lot. So protect your ears.
If you don’t wear headgear it should take less than a week to get really bad cauli; if not, you’re not shooting hard enough. SLAM INTO YOUR DRILL PARTNER WITH EVERY SHOT!
You should also wear your headgear because you don’t like to wear them!?!?
If you don’t wear headgear in practice, and then all of a sudden are forced to wear them in a match, it can be very disorienting. They muffle sounds, they are uncomfortable, they get in your eyes… But since you have to wear them in a match, you might as well prepare yourself as much as possible for the real thing. Get used to it. Wrestling in a match should not be different from going live in practice; make practice as realistic as possible. If you get in the habit of wrestling with your headgear on, it eventually becomes comfortable.
Plus, as any of my wrestling partners can testify, it’s annoying to battle for head position with someone wearing headgear (they scratch).
It’s also a tell:
Any time you get to see your opponent before a match, be sure to check out his ears. Wrestlers tend to get cauli on the same side as their lead leg, so if you notice cauli in your opponents left ear during weigh-ins, you are probably wrestling a lefty. This can be helpful because it will tell you which shots to focus on when warming up (If you are a righty wrestling a lefty, drill singles, they will be more available).
One of the main reasons that the majority of my offense is snatch take-downs is because my knees are really bad. Over the years, the constant impact of drilling has really taken it’s toll on my knees. It’s so bad that I won’t dare take a single drop-step without wearing my knee-pads.
JUST BECAUSE IT DOES NOT HURT NOW, DOES NOT MEAN YOU ARE NOT HURTING YOURSELF. It’s a cumulative thing, and you won’t feel pain until it’s too late. When you start to get fluid in your knees, it becomes a recurring problem. Do not wait for this to happen, start wearing knee-pads now and never wrestle without them. EVER.
Anyway, if you don’t wear knee-pads and your knee’s aren’t hurting, it probably just means you’re not shooting hard enough…
The other important aspect of wearing knee-pads is the decrease in friction on your low/swing single. The little bit of extra slide that you get is worth the discomfort (which just like with headgear, you get used to and forget about quickly).
When an opponent knows that they cannot defeat you, they are always correct. Once they decide that you are superior they will play your game, fall for your traps, lack the confidence needed to execute their own moves, be unable to maintain physical/mental composure, and will get winded easily. This is all based on what your opponent believes, and is true if they believe it, regardless of whether it is actually true in reality.
I’m going to name a few strategies that can be used to get into a competitors head, but there are more, feel free to be creative. Once you have your opponent convinced that they cannot beat you, do not stop, dominate them to the point of total submission. It should be clear to everyone watching the match/practice/etc. that the other wrestler wants nothing to do with you. Total submission means that they no longer want to wrestle against you and are willing to do anything to get out of it. They may start crying, using injury time (when they aren’t physically injured), roll over and pin themselves, lie on the mat doing nothing, move in slow motion, etc. You probably already know which kids in the wrestling room don’t like wrestling with you (or who you don’t like to wrestle with), this is psychological dominance.
Caveat: Do not over-dominate your practice partners. If you do, it will be tough to get good partners and you will make enemies. Find a sweet spot, push it too far, pull back, etc. DO NOT BE A BULLY TO YOUR TEAMMATES.
Example: I only got to watch Jessie Jantzen’s father coach him once, and I’ll never forget it because I learned a lot. Jessie was in his second year of college and was leading a match by a point or two going into the third period. In the third period, after a really long scramble, Jessie slammed his opponent with a double (legally). It was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and it was obvious to everyone watching. Jessie’s father sat on the sideline repeatedly calling out things like, “you broke him, he’s broken, just have fun.” It was no longer the same two wrestlers. Jessie scored upwards of 10 points in that period, much more easily than his first few points. He no longer needed to go through long scrambles to score, one or two transitions were all it would take. His opponent knew he couldn’t win, and gave up. You could see it in his face, his posture, his demeanor, and his eyes… amazing.
Another reason I remember this match so well is because I wrestled the same guy in the wrestle backs, and he dominated me. It was my first college beating, and I was not prepared for the brutality and aggressiveness which is standard at the college level. I didn’t cry, but I wanted to… I just stalled for 7 minutes and was happy when it was over.
Strategies for psychological dominance:
Attacking: All focus should be on offense. You need to be in his face, aggressive, and vicious. Push him around the mat; the ref, crowd, and competitor all must know who is running from who. Be very physical. Keep it legal, don’t let it get to punches, but make it obvious that you are here to fight, and you aren’t going to stop until he completely submits.
Caveat: Although impenetrable defense demonstrates to your opponent that they cannot score, they still have a chance for victory by also focusing on their own defense and keeping the match close. No match should be close, either break them or get broken trying. Close matches only happen when both wrestlers are reserved.
DO NOT GIVE HIM TIME TO COLLECT HIS COMPOSURE.
If you want to break someone, this is the most important strategy of all. If you attack someone hard for 15 seconds, they may be able to defend you long enough, regain their mental state, and be prepared for the next 15 second burst. If you go after someone non-stop, without pauses, giving them no time to think, and being very physical, they will not be able to hold their concentration forever. No one can hold their concentration for long when they are getting thrown around, feeling pain, and are out of breathe.
With all of that said, remember that wrestling is just a game. Dominance is a tool that you can use to your advantage, but off of the mat you should be a calm and happy person. Keep in mind that most people don’t wrestle to be the best, but wrestle to have fun, to make friends, and to compete in a sport for their school. I hate bullies and so does everyone else. Do not bully those weaker than you, because Karma will come get you… and if it doesn’t, I will.
In chess, beginners often learn a 4 move checkmate that works great against other beginners. They are able to win lots of games with their new 4 move strategy, and they attempt to use it in every game that they play. When they play against intermediate players the strategy never works, and they quickly put themselves into bad position. You see, the 4 move checkmate is actually a bad strategy! It only works against beginners because they don’t know the proper response… Instead of learning a good strategy, the beginner chess player falls into the trap of always attempting the bad strategy and this retards their development……… Drum-roll………… Many, perhaps even most, varsity level wrestling moves are “4 move checkmates”.
As a coach, it is almost impossible to wean kids from their favorite nonsense-moves. They’ve had success with these moves, and they take it personally when I tell them, as gently as I can, that their favorite move sucks. Let’s attack a popular favorite, the double-bar-arm, to try to illustrate my point.
The double-bar-arm is a complete waste of time; the athlete is practicing something that is not going to work against a stud. All you need to turn someone is a bar-arm, you don’t even need a wrist if you know how to use it properly. A bar-arm should be guaranteed back points… But that’s not what usually happens. More often than not, I watch a kid lose his bar-arm because he is busy trying to secure double-bar-arms, or a reinforced-bar, a bar and a half, or other nonsense. You don’t need that stuff, it doesn’t help you, and it is never going to work against someone really good. In fact, it is going to hurt you because you will have not developed an effective repertoire from top. ONLY USE THE MOVES THAT WORK AGAINST THE GOOD GUYS. I don’t care how many pins you’ve gotten with your flying-backwards-ankle-pick-leg-cradle; If you’re beating a bunch of fish it doesn’t matter. The only feedback you care about is what works against good guys.
Unfortunately, when a wrestler gets some success with a nonsense move against a fish, it reinforces the move. Watching good kids use the same move amplifies this effect. Even worse, these nonsense moves take away time that should be spent developing the moves that do work, like the half.
Your half nelson is probably not good enough; I know you don’t think I could possibly be talking to you… but yea, I am. Half-nelson = pin every time… If you don’t get it 100% of the time, you’re doing it wrong… end of story.
So how do you differentiate which moves are legit and which aren’t? Perhaps the move is good and you’re just not doing it right? Perhaps you haven’t learned the setup it needs?… Perhaps you haven’t invented the setup it needs?… Experimentation against good competition is the only way to find out what works. If it doesn’t work for you, but it does for someone else (against champions), you’re probably doing it wrong. You’re best bet is talking to the best wrestlers you can find and asking them which of their moves work against the best wrestlers they‘ve wrestled. Then ask them to teach it to you. Then continue doing it until you’re NAAAAASTY at it.
Here is my top repertoire:
Legs (power half and Jacobs only. Cross-body-ride = nonsense)
Bar-arms (only when they present themselves)
Ankle lace attacks
That’s it…. I’ve learned at least 10 times that, but most of what I knew in HS turned out to be nonsense in college. DROP THE NONSENSE!
So why do coaches teach the nonsense?
The simple answer is because it works; the team is likely to win more matches as a result. Many nonsense moves, especially at the youth and middle school level, begin working right away against other newbies. If you had a move that would work against 90% of competitors, wouldn’t you teach it? I regrettably am forced to adopt a “team strategy” when I coach my youth team; it is frustrating for me to teach things that I would not teach an individual, but there are no better alternatives.
A counter example is when a wrestler first learns the crab-ride. He is going to lose a lot as a result of attempting to master this difficult ride. I was constantly being reversed to my back during my first 6 months attempting the crab-ride, and from time to time it was quite discouraging… but after a few months it became a huge asset for me. It was worth getting pinned a few times to learn the move that I scored with in almost every one of my college matches. I see so many kids give up on it before they get the benefits; they are too concerned with short-term winning. Also, many coaches don’t like watching their varsity starter get pinned… This is the private coach V.S. team coach can of worms, and I’m not opening it. I tell all of my guys to respect their coaches wishes, and if the coach is against it, you will learn it in the off-season.
What is more important: winning or improving?
I’ve got 1 kid, out of the 80 or so that I coach at mat-side, who comes up to me for feedback after all of his matches. Win or lose, we talk about what unfolded, and what step he needs to take next to improve. After I show him 1 or 2 things, he grabs a partner and drills the new stuff for about 5 minutes while he’s still sweating. He does not care about the outcome of his match, to him the matches are simply stepping stones on his path of development. The other 79 either leave smiling to get hotdogs, busy gloating over their victories, or sulk about their defeat and don’t want to talk about it. I try to talk to them about what went wrong, but they are not interested in learning right now. I just smile and don’t say anything, but my inner monologue is going “what an idiot.” Needless to say, the one kid who comes to me for feedback is learning faster than everyone else… it’s only a matter of time before he catches them, surpasses them, and leaves them all in the dust. I wish more of you would understand that. When you lose, don’t lose the lesson!
Improving is 100x’s more important than winning…
“Hey coach, can you teach me something you think I need to learn,” If only I heard that more often.
Avoidable problems with youth wrestling
I just got home from a pretty major youth tournament in New Jersey. I watched close to 200 matches between some of the best youth wrestlers in the country… Figured I would talk a bit about my personal opinions on youth wrestling, both the positive and the negative.
I am a youth coach and I think youth wrestling is great for kids. It teaches them so much about themselves, about the way the world works, about discipline, learning, toughness, responsibility; I could go on… but it can also be destructive. This article is about the negative aspects of youth wrestling so that parents and coaches can do their best to give kids a positive experience.
Before I get into it I want to state my opinion on something: I do not think youth wrestling is effective for building college national champions; if the goal is to get your child into a great college and have a successful wrestling career at that level, youth wrestling will not be much of an advantage. Youth wrestling is good for learning about yourself, learning about the world, and introducing kids to the sport…
Common problems with youth wrestling:
Pressure to win:
Pressure to win is very confusing for little kids, especially at the younger end of the spectrum (5-8 years old). I often see young wrestlers in their first wrestling matches looking scared and confused; they don’t really know what is going on. From their young perspectives, they are in a FIGHT. Soccer, baseball, football… these sports are games, but wrestling is closer to a fight than a game (losing is painful, someone is throwing you down and beating you up. The same physical sensations you would get before a fight occur [fight or flight]; you become nervous, sweaty, uneasy, etc). To make things worse, their dad/mom is often in the corner screaming at them while the match is going on. To a little kid, their daddy is making them fight, and he wants them to win. In fact, they are so emphatic about them winning, that they are yelling at them during the match. Worse, some parents express disappointment when their little guy doesn’t perform well. Can you imagine the psychological repercussions of such experiences? A withdrawal of love from your parents because you didn’t win the fight (often against an opponent who is psychologically and/or physically dominant to them). It is very confusing for them; many of these little kids still play pretend, write letters to santa, and see the world as a magical place. They are not yet mature enough to benefit from this type of pressure.
This is completely different when kids get older. Somewhere around 12 boys start liking girls, they start to recognize that their is a fight for positioning in the dominance hierarchy, and they become much more socially intelligent. At this age, young men get into wrestling because it is a fight, not because it is a game. They get tougher, and stronger, and become men as a result. They want this because they see how important it is in the real world. They are autonomous in their decision to wrestle, and they push themselves because THEY want it (something we will get into more in a bit). This is the type of attitude that yields champions.
Another problem with youth wrestling is the level of competition. An overwhelming amount of moves that work well at the youth level are disastrous mistakes at the upper levels of wrestling. This is because the most common response to a position is often not the best. When a non-optimal-move yields positive results, the incorrect response is reinforced. One of the worst things that can happen to a wrestler’s development is to have success with a nonsense-move. It is very common to see a dominant high school wrestler get to college and find out that many of their favorite moves no longer work for them; this is why so many high school state champions fizzle out.
Additionally, since most youth coaches are concerned with winning at the youth level (and not building college national champions 10 years down the road), these are the exact moves that they teach… of course they work! I don’t blame the coaches for teaching like this, It is probably the best way to build a winning youth team.
Throughout my career, an overwhelming majority of moves that I’ve learned are garbage. They look cool, and may work against weaker opponents, but they are not positionally sound and will either lose or be ineffective against smarter wrestlers.
I should mention that this happens at every level of wrestling… Wrestling talent is shaped like pyramid with the best in the world at the top, and the majority of the people towards the bottom. At the bottom of the pyramid, a lot of moves will work… but as you go up and get to better wrestlers, fewer techniques work against their better positioning.
Techniques are not the only bad habits young wrestlers form… bad drilling habits are destructive as well. The entire point of drilling is to program your instincts. You teach yourself the smartest (as opposed to the most natural) ways to move/respond to specific positions, and you program yourself to execute these movements immediately and explosively. When a youth wrestler practices 2000 shots without their head up, it becomes a very difficult habit to reprogram. When they spend years practicing lackadaisically, it is very difficult to teach them the discipline and focus required during drilling to become a champion
The other bad habit I want to talk about is that kids get used to forgetting moves… They take what they are learning with a self-serve, you choose which moves you like attitude. They don’t understand that every single detail must be memorized and committed to memory, exactly as it is shown. So for years techniques go in one ear, and out the other. This becomes a habit; one which will greatly hinder there learning. Remember how I said that moves get more complicated when you get to the upper levels… because the best responses aren’t always the easiest or most natural responses… Well kids who have spent their lives learning like this never develop the fortitude to pickup these techniques. I like to use the analogy of learning to play a complex symphony on the piano; it’s going to take desperate deliberate work, day in day out, before it will sound perfect (wrestling moves will not work till they are perfect). A move might not make realistic sense until it has been drilled 500 times (why do so many kids not shoot?) Since this level of commitment is not needed to have success at the younger levels, but is needed at the upper levels, these bad habits can hinder many kid’s potential.
Weight cutting is really stupid at younger ages, it is a quick way to suck a kids passion right out of him. Some rare kids will want to do it themselves; but most kids who are forced to cut weight by their parents will resent the sport for it. I highly suggest staying away from weight cutting completely, at least till they are done growing and mature enough to handle it.
It doesn’t matter how hard you push them, how much you want it for them, how much they train, or who they are trained by. The kid being pushed will NEVER be able to reach the same level as the passionate kid who wants it for himself. Nothing can beat obsession. That’s why I think the most important thing youth wrestling can do is instill passion in them. If you get the psychology right, they will love it, and will want it on their own. They will push themselves harder than you ever would have been able to, and they will like how hard it is. You cannot build a child into a champion adult wrestler. You can only hope to instill the right mindset so that when they are autonomous adults they go out and get it FOR THEMSELVES.
Youth wrestling can be destructive for grooming adult champions… but who cares! No one gets involved in wrestling to become a champion, that’s a decision that they will make on their own long after they start wrestling. Keep it fun, keep it about learning, and just maybe they will decide to become champions on their own.