It is Monday morning and I have been melding over many issues and thoughts from this past weekend’s tournament. I was going to write about having the end in mind and wrestling with the intent on improving aspects of your wrestling to prepare for the end. When I sat down to write though, the thought of why I love wrestling came to me. Why am I hooked? The answer is because I’m curious. I am playing the master game of wrestling. I ask why, what and how? They are my coaches.
Curiosity is an extremely useful tool for a wrestler and a coach. If you can learn how to pique the curiosity of your wrestlers you can open up the floodgates of motivation. When a wrestler truly wants to know why something is like this or why it works, what they can do to counter a position, your job is simply to guide them or get out of their way and let them figure it out. When you start to think about it, there are so many techniques and positions out there that mastering them would be impossible. Further on if you wander into the sparsely known realm of scrambling you will keep going forever. This seems to be the main job of the coach, to motivate and then guide.
If you get your wrestlers in the right mindset they will want to know these for themselves. If you begin to present questions, ask why things work, or how could it be done better in time your wrestlers will wonder the same thing. I have yet to come across a wrestler who will not thrive in this environment of curiosity. The benefits of their new outlet of energy will become apparent too in time. Wrestling with curiosity will provide three essential aspects for them: fun, growth and longevity in the sport.
Think about it for a bit. Wrestling slow and playing around while trying to figure out different positions allows the guys to have fun and enjoy wrestling. If they see it is okay to fail, they will try new things, make mistakes, and learn how to become a more complete wrestler. Having kids that look forward to the practice room because they want to figure out a position they have been thinking about or not wanting to leave, knowing that if they keep tinkering with their position they will understand, this is how champions can be born. This is how you will get a wrestler hooked and unable to imagine living without wrestling.
In his search for why he will figure out the position and learn why it works, that seems easy enough, but then something grander will happen. You start seeing that position reoccurring in other situations. Then they will find out how to get to the position from that situation. This is how kids grow as a wrestler. They learn new techniques and begin applying them to situations that are already known. This is the opposite from the guy you see graduating high school doing the same techniques they did when they were in 5th grade. The same thing over and over for how many years and people wonder why they don’t want to wrestle in the off-season. Growth is something that is essential for enjoyment.
Lastly their time in the sport will last longer first off because they enjoy it, but then mostly, because their bodies will be much more able to handle it. When you work hard mentally you don’t have to work as hard physically. In this day and age with kids wrestling year round there is very little benefit of how good of shape you can get the off-season. You can only be in such good shape and then at some point you become over-worked. The off-season is much more about how much you can learn as opposed to getting in better shape. Getting better technically it will provide for you for years to come. This also makes it so wrestlers aren’t so beat up physically and will be able to wrestle more often and push their technique even further.
There is a downside though. To be curious you must think more often and harder. This will make your drilling and playing slower and this tends to be a problem with most wrestling coaches. Common sense would tell you the slower someone is working the less they are doing and thus learning. If you take a step back and think about it you would realize that this isn’t the case. If you were attending a chess championship, is it the guys who move faster or slower who think more? How about when a test is being taken? Is it the faster you finish, the better you have done? Thought takes time. If you are trying to get kids to be productive mentally you don’t want them to move quickly. By concentrating and going slow, you actually will learn at a much faster rate and more than likely learn more precisely as well. This type of learning takes time, but after doing it more and more, your thought processes will take less time and reaction time will diminish as things seem to come instantaneous and without thought.
As coaches we need to take the time to think about this issue and try and see if our wrestler is putting effort into thought or just plain goofing around. At first it seems like everyone gets crazy when you try and slow them down because it’s something unfamiliar. After time though they realize it’s okay to play around and fall into a pretty consistent slow spar.
We need to create the right atmosphere for our wrestlers to learn. One in which they can make mistakes, take their time and have fun. We need to find a balance between strenuous work and intelligent work. I believe that we would be far better off if the majority of the work was intelligent as opposed to strenuous.
I am looking forward to a point in time where I will no longer be a coach with some of my students. Thinking about this day excites, it is one which is rapidly approaching. They will join me in the master game of wrestling and we will continue to create and adapt. This is the wrestling that I love. This is what I can’t foresee giving up.