WIN Article #114 Seeking a Wrestler Friendly Practice


Seeking a Wrestler Friendly Practice
By Ben Peterson

Coaches and captains, are you prepared for the wrestling season? Think about and prepare the following elements of your wrestling practice. Your choices should develop a friendly, consistent atmosphere that encourages learning and hard work. Our leadership as coaches should seek a pleasant experience for our team that encourages them to work very hard.

Start at a specific time: The more stable and consistent practice time is the more your wrestlers will be able to schedule things away from “practice time.” That period of the day should become a must, an almost sacred time set aside just for their wrestling team.

Avoid the temptation to change the daily practice more than a couple times a year. You may find you lose more than you gain by changing for someone’s schedule. And avoid the temptation of running your athlete’s lives by changing for your schedule. You will find resentment builds and you lose those on the edge with those kinds of changes.

At the same time, I urge you to listen and make adjustments if necessary. Seek consistency whenever possible. Kid’s lives are already crazy enough with the changing schedules of their family members. Emails, texting, facebook, etc. permit us to stay in close touch with our team. We should use those communication tools to bring stability and not more change. Their wrestling and school should bring stability and confidence to their lives.

Consistent practice length: As a college coach I found 90 minutes was sufficient, if I was organized. Coach Harold Nichols at Iowa State held that for many Championship Teams. We also found that it is much easier to get wrestlers to work extra on their own. Jerry Wagner’s dynasty at Athens, Wisconsin told John and me his first tip for coaching was to, “Make sure your wrestling practice is shorter than the basketball practice.” Wagner understood efficiency and the need to get his boys home since several of them helped with farm chores.

At times I see teams being led in 2 ½ hour practices and I wonder how efficient that really is. You might need to do this occasionally, but not every day. Organize yourself better and labor to use your assistants to help practices go more quickly. Some coach(s) can teach individually and to small groups while someone else is teaching the larger group. When we are not organized we tend to teach everyone together what often only a few need.

We may gain by using the two room school approach, which I grew up with. One teacher had periods with each of her four classes at the front table while the others were doing individual assignments. We practiced a lot of math, writing, and reading that way. Then she would have some teaching and projects for everyone. We learned to take ownership and leadership of our class and of our learning.

Elements of the Practice time: Regularly I get asked for ideas about practice time. So here are a few of my thoughts regarding each aspect of a practice.

1. Greeting & Warmup: Let the athletes briefly greet each other. They will want to laugh, play and get acquainted with each other. In former days we would stretch first while the team talked, joked, discussed what was happening in their school and their lives and just plain enjoyed each other. Today we warm-up by running. They can talk some then too. A time to laugh and visit is healthy, so encourage it. Occasionally planning an active game for warm-up will let them play and work while they laugh and talk. Even basketball with your own rules can work. Be sure to keep it short with a definite end time or it will steal time from practice and could get too intense until someone gets hurt.

2. Team talks: You may also want to address various issues for a few minutes as a group. Don’t do it every day. But strategies and motivating talks are good every week or two. Serious wrestlers want to get to work. Our talking should make them work smarter. The following topics can be addressed: mat strategies, weight control, weight lifting, team unity, motivation and character traits. Do not assume anyone on the team does not need to be reminded and taught in these areas.

3. Techniques, instruction and drilling time: First, compile a simple list of the techniques you want your team to know by the end of the season. Then set up a weekly/daily schedule. Major on teaching these in the early weeks. Later in the season you will also need to review and address match situations. Again some instruction is for everyone and some should be for smaller groups. Here I will just give you the categories and the number of key moves I have listed to teach in each technique area: 12 takedowns, 8 takedown counters, 4 throws, 7 rides, 7 pins, and 7 escapes and reversals.

4. Hard Wrestling: Plan a specific time and format for this. Sometimes just let them wrestle for several minutes. Other times break it up with round robins of various time lengths, like shark bate. Start in the fall with small intensity and increase it with time. Remember “They sign up for wrestling to wrestle”, Kevin Black, Wisconsin’s 4x undefeated State Champion. (Be sure not to discuss techniques too long so there is no time for hard wrestling.)

5. Conditioning finish: At Iowa State we ran in place for 30 second spurts every day. That consistency was good. But now I like a bit of variety. Corner to corner bursts in even the smallest wrestling rooms can work. Run sprints in a hallway, gym or track. Finishing by lifting, climbing ropes, doing pullups, etc. are great ways to increase strength, condition and confidence.

6. Team roar: Give quick schedule reminders and then do some kind of team cheer/breakdown. Conclude with excitement and energy.

7. Meet with individuals and help them. Hopefully your team leaders/upper classmen will want to stay extra and invite others to join them. Encourage this, talk it up. Get upperclassmen/captains to lead in something like “one more takedown challenges”.

Preparing something consistent and special in each of the above areas will make a difference in your team this season. Be sure to think through how you are doing each element and how you could do it better. Remember, a few minutes in planning will make a more effective and exciting practice. It will also save your wrestlers a lot of time. Let me know what methods you find are helpful.

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