This week — and in the coming weeks — wrestlers across the country will be on a holiday break from school. For many high school and college wrestling programs, the holiday break signifies a midway point on the wrestling calendar. How wrestling programs treat the holiday break can vary significantly.
Lockport (Ill.) High School, one of the nation’s top 20 high school wrestling programs, will compete in two high-level, out-of-state individual tournaments over the holiday break, Powerade in Pennsylvania on Dec. 29-30, and the Cheesehead Invitational in Wisconsin on Jan. 6-7.
“Having those competitions in there is nice,” said Lockport head wrestling coach Josh Oster. “We have a week, week and a half gap where we can just concentrate on those two individual competitions. We don’t have to worry about how we might shuffle our lineup for a dual meet, and we get to do a lot more individualizing over break.”
New Hampton (Iowa) High School, a program currently ranked No. 39 in InterMat’s Fab 50, competed in the Battle of Waterloo, one of Iowa’s premier dual meet events, this past weekend, and on Tuesday wrestled in a quad. The Chickasaws will now be off from competition until Jan. 5.
“We do a lot of fun things over Christmas break,” said New Hampton head wrestling coach Nick Hemann. “On Monday we started our Secret Santa. On Thursday, the coaches’ wives make a big Christmas meal for the team. Wrestlers give their $10 present and reveal the Secret Santa.”
Hemann says he gives the team practice off from Dec. 23 through Dec. 25 before “getting right back to it” on Dec. 26. Since the wrestlers are off from school, holiday break practices take place in the morning as opposed to the usual afternoon practice time.
Hemann likes to schedule scrimmages with other teams over the holiday break. Two teams will come to his school. He’s also bringing a group of 17 wrestlers to Des Moines to scrimmage with Southeast Polk over two days.
Southeast Polk is currently ranked No. 35 in the InterMat Fab 50. Last season the Rams won their second consecutive (and third in four years) state traditional championship.
“We can get some real good workouts with them,” Hemann said of scrimmaging with Southeast Polk. “It’s just another opportunity for us to get another workout partner, exploit some weaknesses that we can bring back and work on, and train with the best. Obviously, they are doing the right things. They win the state title year in and year out. They’re 3A, a class above us. It’s really perfect. We’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be fun. I’m looking forward to learning from their coaching staff as well.”
Hemann often times invites former wrestlers from the program into practice over the holiday break.
“A lot of times I will have them speak to the team,” said Hemann. “Just tell them what New Hampton wrestling means to them, what our program has done for them, how grateful they are, what life lessons they can give us. It’s a different voice to hear from.”
Baldwin Wallace, a Division III program situated 20 minutes south of Cleveland, Ohio, competed this past weekend, and now does not have another competition until the National Duals on Jan. 5. Head coach Jamie Gibbs is giving his team over a week off from official practice over the holiday break.
“They get from the 20th to the 30th off, or on their own as we call it,” said Gibbs. “They’re at home with their lifting program and workout plans, but it’s also a time to heal up and get a little break and some family time. Our local kids will contact us to come back and work out. For the most part they need to go home, be self-motivated and hold themselves accountable. And then we come back and go right to the National Duals without a lot of training time.”
Gibbs believes the holiday break does one of two things for wrestling teams.
“Teams come back and they get stronger, or they go the other direction,” said Gibbs. “They come back and let that Christmas break become a distraction. They get caught up in going out with their friends. It’s hard for them to come back. It’s always a difficult time for freshmen. They go back home and their friends are all back living the good life. Then they have to come back to training, practicing, wrestling in some important competitions, and need to make that next big jump. I think the teams handle the break the best peak at the right time in March.”
Oster has also seen the holiday break negatively affect certain wrestlers in certain situations.
“We find the biggest drift, especially on the lower levels, comes during the holiday season,” said Oster. “Kids leave and don’t come back until after break, and they’re like, ‘This wrestling thing is kind of hard.'”
For many wrestlers, weight management can become a challenge during the holiday season because of the break and holiday meals.
“The individuals that struggle disciplining themselves throughout the year might struggle a little bit more just because there are more opportunities there,” said Oster. “We sit down and tell the team, ‘Go eat a Christmas dinner. Just eat a dinner. Not four dinners. This group has competed all over. They know what it takes to compete at the top levels of wrestling, so they know that it’s part of the deal if they want to achieve those things, then there are some sacrifices that get made. Not that you can’t enjoy yourself, you just have to do it correctly.”
Hemann said regardless of what the holiday schedule brings, the goal for holiday break remains the same every year.
“Improve,” said Hemann. “That’s the biggest thing. Improve where we need to improve. In my opinion, it’s not so much conditioning. It’s focusing on what we saw in the first half of the season that we need to improve on. It’s more individual over Christmas, just because we have the time. We obviously do the big practice in the morning with everybody, and then we just really focus on improvement in those extra workouts.”