It happens in every sport, at every level: Kids transfer from one school to another.
At the high school level, there can be numerous factors. A parent moves to a new city or new state to take a new job. A family isn’t happy with a child’s current situation, so they move them from one school to another. In some cases, kids get to know other kids through clubs, national teams, or camps, and want to join them at the high school level, and decide to transfer. While that isn’t technically reason enough to transfer by state high school association guidelines, the reality is, it happens.
At the collegiate level, kids don’t fit in the way they thought they would, they get homesick, don’t feel like the program is the right opportunity for them, have off the mat issues, or realize they may not see a lot of action in the lineup, so they seek other options.
Mark Reiland was a two-time Iowa state high school champion (Eagle Grove) and two-time All-American and 1991 NCAA champion at the University of Iowa under Dan Gable. Reiland has been the head wrestling coach at Iowa City West High School since 1999.
“It seems to be more common to see kids transferring at all levels,” said Reiland. “Not just at the high school level, but also at the college level.”
The reasons behind a transfer are always touchy, says Reiland, especially at the high school level. Sometimes transfers have to happen because of a parental job change, or move. Sometimes a family makes a decision that it’s in the best interest of a kid to pursue opportunities with another program.
“As a coach, not much can be done to block such a deal,” says Reiland. “In cases that don’t involve a job change, the wrestler likely fits in with the team he is going to, whether that be in the lineup or with the kids. My concern personally is how that person fits the group socially. The hope is to not have someone come in that will divide the team or become an energy vampire. But the reality is parents make the decision on what they think is best and as a coach, there is not much we can do to block such a change.”
Each state high school athletic association has its own guidelines and rules regarding transfers. Simply following those rules is about all a coach can do, said Steve Thorpe, head coach at Sweet Home High School in Sweet Home, Oregon.
“I don’t get many transfers but for our school it is very simple,” said Thorpe. “We follow the guidelines of the Oregon Scholastic Athletic Association. There are rules that govern what has to happen if a student transfers mid-season or during the summer.”
In most cases, Thorpe said transfers have been accepted by teammates, and the added competition in the room is part of the sport, and athletics.
“Wrestling is a sport where the best gets the spot and there is no argument on that,” said Thorpe, who did add “my experience is minimal with this area though.”
For some coaches at the high school level, it hurts to see a kid leave a program, especially because most coaches believe their program can make the type of impact on and off the mat that a kid needs. Danny Struck, head coach of the Jeffersonville High School (Jeffersonville, Ind.) wrestling team has had kids move into the program, and move out.
“Every time a kid leaves it hurts, you love your kids with all your heart, and try and do what is best for all of them as a whole,” says Struck. “Parents look at their kid and do what they believe is best for their kid. Rules are different now than they were when I was growing up. I think moving schools, for me, is something I never thought of, and most people in the 90’s didn’t either. I lived in my town, I wrestled for that town, I played football or wrestled for that town. It was my job to make myself the best I could be. So, coaches my age just see it different than today’s kids and parents.
There were several high-impact transfers at the collegiate level this year. That’s because Joey McKenna, an All-American at Stanford, and Te’Shan Campbell, an ACC champion at Pittsburgh, are now members of an already powerful Ohio State University wrestling team. Owen Webster, an All-American at Division III Augsburg last season, is now competing at Minnesota, filling in nicely at 184 for the Gophers. In January, Steve Bleise, a transfer from Northern Illinois who won 29 matches last season, is expected to compete at 149 for the Gophers. Chance Marsteller transferred to Lock Haven University after leaving Oklahoma State, while Thomas Haines also joined the Bald Eagles, after leaving Ohio State. Meanwhile, Pat Duggan left Lock Haven to wrestle at Iowa. Nick Suriano, an NCAA qualifier as a true freshman, left the powerful Penn State University wrestling program to compete for Rutgers, located in his home state of New Jersey. Notre Dame College, an NCAA Division II wrestling power, has had several transfers make an impact in recent years. Several other teams throughout the country had wrestlers leave, or join the program.
In the article The Impact of College Transfers, WIN Magazine editor Mike Finn stated, “Wrestlers transferring to different schools have always been part of the sport, but perhaps never more than this winter when several highly-ranked programs benefited … and suffered … after several highly-ranked wrestlers decided to exchange their singlets for another school’s color.”
In that same WIN Magazine article, Ohio State head coach Tom Ryan told Finn: “(Dealing with transfers) is very complicated,” said Ryan. “If you are one of the institutions that people are leaving, it’s a bad thing. If you are an institution, where kids are transferring to, it is not a bad thing.”
Matt Azevedo started his collegiate wrestling career at Arizona State, and then transferred to Iowa State. Both experiences were positive, said Azevedo, now the head wrestling coach at Drexel. And he learned greatly from both.
“I was transfer wrestler myself and I enjoyed my experience at both universities,” said Azevedo. “I have lifelong friends from both teams. I had a lot of success at both universities. Looking back, now being a college coach myself, I feel I was treated fairly as an athlete and I had every opportunity to succeed. I think my point of view about my situation was a little skewed and thought I needed a change. I don’t regret my decisions, because my experiences made me a better athlete and coach. But as a former transfer wrestler, I would say the grass isn’t always greener and a higher ranked team doesn’t automatically equal better individual results. Sometimes an environmental change is needed and sometimes an internal change is needed.”
Transferring within Division I universities is difficult, said Azevedo.
“It takes time for the individual to adapt to the new environment,” says Azevedo. “Everything is different: Coaches, teammates/roommates, practice and academics. Whether you realize it or not, these factors take a toll.”
For coaches, deciding to accept a transfer student-athlete shouldn’t be taken lightly. For starters, it’s important for coaches to understand why the individual wants to transfer.
“You need to get the root of the decision,” says Azevedo. Then, consider elements, says Azevedo:
Ensure the transfer is a fit for the team and culture: “Obviously, you don’t want to take on a kid that is going to disrupt the team chemistry and culture,” says Azevedo.
Don’t expect everything to be the same: “Don’t assume that the wrestler will be the same athletically as they were at the other university,” says Azevedo. “The new environment is going to create new challenges.”
As a coach, Azevedo has seen kids transfer and take at least a year to get comfortable and driving on all cylinders. Even though a kid is excited about a transfer, they still must adjust on and off the mat. Every situation is different.
Do your due diligence: “Transfers can add a lot of value to your team and lineup, but they can also cause potential issues,” says Azevedo. “Do your homework on the kid. Talk to his high school coaches and his college coaches. Make sure it’s going to be a good fit for him and your program.”
If a team does accept a transfer, Azevedo suggests bringing in a transfer in the summer before officially starting in the fall to get ahead of the acclamation process. Also, coaches should lay down team guidelines and rules during the recruiting process, to make sure the transfer athlete knows what it’s going to be like to be a part of your team. You don’t want someone to come into a program and be surprised at how things work, or that the previous issues won’t be resolved with the new team.
“If everyone is on the same page before the athlete steps on camps, I think the acclimation will be smoother,” says Azevedo.
Joe Russell was an assistant coach at the University of Minnesota and head coach at George Mason University before accepting a new position as Manager of Freestyle Programs for USA Wrestling in May of 2017. He has been a part of kids transferring into, and out of, a collegiate wrestling program. Russell offers this advice for college coaches dealing with transfer situations:
Listen: “If confronted with a team member who wants to transfer, I think it is important to listen,” says Russell. “Find out the reasoning. Once the reasons have been laid out, you can discuss pros and cons.”
Offer advice: As a college coach Russell said he would try to remind the wrestler he has biases. He wants what is best for the athlete and program, and tries to share what he has learned over the years to advise properly. “Ultimately, it will be the athlete’s decision, but I feel it is important they have as much foresight as possible before pulling the trigger,” says Russell. “The reasons for leaving should outweigh the reasons for staying.”
Do your research: If an athlete wants to transfer to your team, it is important to do your research. The athlete is a transfer for a reason. “Sometimes it is best to steer clear due the baggage the athlete will bring to your team,” says Russell. “More often than not, they are just looking for a better fit.”
Consider team dynamics: Team dynamics are important. Team culture is important. “It is important that a transfer brings more to the team than the transfer takes from the team,” says Russell.
Get the team on board: It’s important to get the team on board to accept the new team member even if the new member will be challenging for a starting spot. “Make sure individuals understand as the team gets better, individuals should get better,” says Russell. “Iron sharpens iron principle.”
Transfers always have been and always will be a part of athletics at both the high school and collegiate level. When it does happen, coaches should use these tips to help guide them, and make sure the best decisions are made for individuals, and the team. Even if it is difficult, coaches need to try and make the best of the situation.
“In the end I have to teach myself to do the best I can with what I have and who I have, and allow others to do what they believe is best,” says Struck. “I learn as I grow too, and I have learned after the initial hurt, I need to wish them the best.”
in every sport, at every level: Kids transfer from one school to another.