May WIN Article #101 Building a Wrestling Programs


Building Up Vulnerable Wrestling Programs
By Ben Peterson #101
Those who have been involved with college wrestling for more than two decades can clearly see the improved quality of wrestling and yet the decrease in the number of college wrestling programs. This has saddened us.
Without a doubt the techniques, physical strength, and knowledge of wrestlers has increased and matured in several ways. Ease of travel and the emphasis on lifting and conditioning has created an over all stronger and more experienced wrestler. As a whole, college wrestlers are bringing wrestling to new levels. It is enjoyable and exciting to witness this.
Our Concerns:
While the top teams and athletes continue to advance, there also continues to be an inability to stop the weaker programs from struggling and too often they drop the sport. It is not right that they are dropped and there is often a variety of factors that bring on weaker programs. It is sad to hear of scholarship programs being dropped and teams from the top divisions lost. But what about the smaller nonscholarship programs that have been dropped? They often are dropped and hardly anyone notices. This all concerns us.
Big programs can get the recruits, the press, and the money. But developing and rebuilding programs and their coaches and athletes can find themselves in a very lonely discouraging setting. These teams may find it hard to find competition. They need entry level events.
When I started coaching at Maranatha in the 1970’s there were plenty of teams to compete with that were from less than 2,000 enrollment colleges and Junior Colleges. A major number of those teams no longer exist. So now teams are laboring to find competition. Slowly the former average programs are becoming the weak programs and are being eliminated. The teams at the bottom of each division become extra vulnerable. We need to work at helping these teams
My Experiences:
I believe I have the experience and perspective to address some of these issues because of 3 diverse programs I have experienced.
1) Iowa State University: My college team won 3 National Championships and placed 2nd once. This indeed was a blessed experience. I also spent 2 years as a grad assistant there.
2) Maranatha Baptist Bible College (Now Maranatha Baptist University): After coaching for 28 years at this small college of less than 1,000 students, I understand what most coaches of smaller programs face. A limited ability to recruit and raise money are huge factors in maintaining such programs.
3) University of Wisconsin Whitewater: Coach Tim Fader has a strong program at the DIII level having finished 3rd and 2nd the past two years. I was honored to assist him and his staff these two seasons. He has permitted me to be a part of a vibrant growing tradition. Recruiting and fund raising is huge compared to what could be done at Maranatha. When I joined their staff I told them I wanted to be able to help other programs and athletes. Through camps, clinics, and past coaching I know a lot of wrestlers in other programs. Coach Fader urged me to continue my work with other wrestlers and stated, “We want other college teams to be strong. If other teams are weak it won’t help us get better.” That perspective impressed me.
Some Recommendations:
1) Wrestler’s Expectations:
Don’t think of college wrestling as: “If I get a scholarship, I will wrestle in college.” High school seniors have said that to me many times. If I was a coach with a scholarship I would not like that attitude. I would be asking what else will make you quit? I urge you to get a passion to find a college to wrestle at no matter what.
Do you have a desire to continue to wrestle? Then find a place that has your desired degree and a campus setting you like and that also has wrestling. In fact, do as my high school coach did. He found all the places where architecture and wrestling were offered. We checked them all out. I was ready to attend one of a couple other colleges until I saw Iowa State and enjoyed my visit and all they offered. I wanted to go there even before the partial scholarship was offered.
Please remember that most of college wrestling is done by those who just plain love it. Determine to wrestle in college and add a lot of spice to what can otherwise be a drab academic experience. My college wrestlers regularly tell me years after their graduation that wrestling gave them the most positive memories of their college experience.
Sure, it is fun being a part of a top winning program and be in the limelight. But I can also tell you that the quiet labors of a diligent wrestler will bring a huge smile to his face at every level. It is a ton of fun to be a part of a building and developing team!
2) Coaches Perspective:
Be realistic about your program’s level. While you are developing and building your team, attend competitions that build the confidence of the weaker wrestlers. Be innovative. Build your team unity. Then when you have some standout or better wrestlers, bring them to some tougher meets. When I coached Jim Gruenwald at Maranatha we did just that. He loved to compete with his team at events where most of them could find some success. But we also brought Jim to the toughest events. At the Midlands, he was a four-time place winner. Jim is very positive about his experiences in the classroom, campus life, and the wrestling that prepared him to become a two time Greco Roman Olympian.
3) The NCAA and NAIA Procedures:
We need to build a way for merging and rebuilding programs to enter. I believe there is limited mechanism for teams like Grand Valley State to work into DI and Maranatha to be helped by DIII. It is such a huge leap for these programs that it is hard for the coaches, athletes and administration to keep their hope alive while they are building their team to be visible on a national level. Some possible considerations include:
A fourth division as a means for nonscholarship programs to enter. Non scholarship teams have a huge diversity at this time.
Expand non varsity levels of wrestling. Some coaches are doing well at this.
Rethink the practice of freshmen wrestling a full season of varsity. I have always struggled with putting freshmen into full varsity competition before they fully establish themselves academically. Yes, some big names have been ready to compete as freshmen, but most need to learn to be students and mature before heading into full varsity level competition. Freshman have taken on a mentality of, “If I make the team as a freshman I will continue or I will accept your scholarship.” I had little if any thought of making the team as a college freshman. I knew the level of the upperclassmen and trained a full year to catch up with them. That was so positive for me. To me, the attitude of freshman wrestlers is a huge issue for programs at all levels
I ask if full freshmen eligibility and the NCAA development of 3 divisions are sport-building methods. After all, college wrestling teams have been dropping ever since those policies were enacted. Maybe they had something to do with the dilemma we see today.
An Important Principle:
In the animal world there are many examples of the strong taking care of the weak. And in our homes the strong mature parents take care of the vulnerable children. The Apostle Paul said in Acts 20:35 “…you must support the weak.” This principle is everywhere. Therefore, I urge stronger larger teams to embrace one or more smaller schools and partner to strengthen them. Overnight retreats and trips can be shared to help all teams with expenses and opportunities for diverse experiences. Scrimmages, 2nd team matches, traveling together and other creative ideas could make memories that will last a lifetime for both your team and smaller programs.
My desire here is not to be critical. But, it is my desire to get people thinking about the critical value and the vulnerability of smaller and newer programs.
You can find other articles by Ben at these web sites: & Today Ben & John run Camp of Champs Wrestling Camps. Contact them at: PO Box 222 Watertown, WI 53094; 800-505-5099 or

Asics USA Wrestling The Competitor
USA Wrestling
National Wrestling Hall of Fame
"The COMPLETE camp encompassing top notch technique, awesome food, incredible spirituality, and just plain old fashioned fun! Camp of Champs not only teaches these boys how to wrestle, it teaches them how to live."
... Carl Skeps

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. ©2022 Camp of Champs, Inc. All rights reserved Admin