In the sport of wrestling, summer is prime freestyle and Greco-Roman season. With the Cadet and Junior Nationals taking place at the end of July, top wrestlers from across the country are preparing to compete against the nation’s best and for the right to be called a freestyle or Greco-Roman All-American or national champion. Other youth wrestlers are competing in local, state and national summer freestyle and Greco-Roman events.
But even the most dedicated wrestlers take time away from the mat and participate in other sports and today’s top coaches fully endorse young wrestlers doing just that. But finding the balance between freestyle and Greco-Roman practice and competition and participation in sports such as baseball, soccer, football, lacrosse, golf, cross country, weight training and summer camps is a challenge all coaches, parents and wrestlers face.
“I believe there is enough evidence to support having youth athletes participate in multiple sports,” says Joe Russell, head coach at George Mason University. “Specialization is not for everyone. In fact, it can do more harm than good. Having young athletes participate in multiple sports can help their overall development.”
Kevin Roberts, assistant coach at Oregon State University, has a 12-year old son who is starting to find success in the sport of wrestling. But growing up to this point he’s played football, basketball and baseball, competed in cross country and track and spent time training in gymnastics.
Cornell head coach Rob Koll once caused a stir when he referenced the fact that many schoolboy national champions are ex-wrestlers by the age of 16 because they were burnt out and spent so much time focused on doing whatever it takes to achieve wrestling success at a young age. They never took a break and never experienced other sports. This can cause burnout and in some cases, many talented wrestlers quit before they reach their prime high school years.
“In my opinion, the kids that only wrestle year-round are more susceptible to peaking younger and sort of dropping off as they get to the high school and college level,” says Roberts. “If the goal is to be a good high school wrestler and possibly wrestle at the college level and beyond, I would encourage participating in a wide array of sports while growing up.”
Russell says there is a way to find a balance between summer freestyle/Greco training and participation in other sports. Athletes should be able to find a way to get into the wrestling room a few days a week and practice and train, yet still participate on the local baseball team or with the soccer club.
“As a wrestling coach, we need to be understanding of other commitments, while also teaching young athletes discipline,” says Russell. “I think participating in wrestling clubs that practice a few times a week is acceptable. It is also good to encourage those athletes to compete in the Olympic Styles of wrestling (freestyle and Greco-Roman).
Russell continued, saying “athletes can get reenergized and learn new skills by competing in the Olympic Styles. Working with the athletes and their coaches in other sports is important to help them balance the various commitments. Hopefully, coaches and athletes can come to a mutual understanding with training and competition schedules to benefit each other’s programs and facilitate the athlete’s development.”
Roberts says competing in a few freestyle or Greco-Roman tournaments in the summer, along with weight training and focusing on technique a few practice sessions a week, can help wrestlers develop as a complete wrestler. He’s also found that his athletes “train better and are more focused when they come in to workout, run and lift weights, if they are training specifically for an upcoming competition,” he says.
Coaches who are trying to find balance with their athletes could pick a couple of tournaments or events for team or club members to prepare for. They can set practice times and schedules around those events and plan the competitions around other summer athletic events and competition and family vacation schedules. Wrestlers and their families can then plan summer events/schedules around those competition, practices and event/tournament dates.
Adam Tirapelle, assistant coach at perennial national power Clovis High School (Clovis, California), says offseason training for wrestlers in the Clovis program is short and intense. Many of the Clovis wrestlers also play football, so coaches and wrestlers with both programs try to find a balance between the two.
“We support them doing other things,” says Tirapelle. “As long as everyone has reasonable expectations and time commitments for the kids, it can work. And I find that the kids who don’t just focus on wrestling 12 months a year are a little more refreshed when they get on the mats and excited to learn and compete. If you never take a break, you start to take wrestling for granted and forget why you’re in the sport — because you love to wrestle. I think it’s important to use your time wisely in the room. It’s better to take a break and be focused and intense with the time you have, than just go through the motions.”
Paul Rothenberg, a coach with the Cypress Lakes Wrestling Club in Fort Myers, Florida, says training in freestyle and Greco-Roman helps expand the wrestlers skill set. Focusing on these styles helps develop a complete wrestler.
“Control is the name of the game in folkstyle, but precision and power are what freestyle and Greco are about,” says Rothenberg. “Expand your horizons and challenge your mind to think outside the box about technical aspects of the sport, body mechanics and develop a feel for how to move within the rules of each style. Being aware of how to make slight changes in position and strategy will help with overall body awareness.”
Good coaches show they care about their athletes on and off the mat, during the season and in the offseason says Eric Moore, head wrestling coach at Cary Academy in Cary, North Carolina. Support them participating in other events/activities and work with them to find balance in wrestling, other sports and life.
“I recommend still staying engaged with wrestlers whether they are playing (other) sports or just getting back in the weight room to train,” says Moore. “Attend some of the games, meets or matches. They will recognize this and not forget it when the time comes to get back into wrestling full time.”