MatBoss Q&A: Mike Krause on youth wrestling
Posted by Andrew Hipps on Monday, October 9, 2023 12:04 PM UTC

Mike Krause, a nationally renowned youth wrestling coach, passed away unexpectedly this week. Krause, a former Michigan State wrestler, was known for his high-energy, positive coaching style. He made a lasting impact on many in the wrestling community. A GoFundMe page (link underlined text to has been set up to help his family during this difficult time. 

MatBoss talked to Krause prior to his death about various topics related to youth wrestling.

You wrestled at Michigan State. What drew you to coaching youth wrestling?

Krause: I truly feel like it’s my calling. I started wrestling in ninth grade. Two weeks into the season I was at a National Honor Society meeting. One of my buddies told me if I wanted to get muscles that I should wrestle. I had no idea wrestling was even a sport. I walked in and watched the practice. The coach goes, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m just watching.’ He goes, ‘Get in here.’ I was like, ‘I’m playing baseball.’ I was freaked out. The guy was like a drill sergeant. I took his advice and got in there, and got my ass kicked for the first two weeks. The first day I thought about maybe not coming back. But something inside of me snapped, so I went back the next couple days. I told my parents I need to get some wrestling shoes because I’m going to be a wrestler. I was the first all-state kid in the history of my school, which was a huge accomplishment for me. I walked on at Michigan State and earned a tuition scholarship because I basically didn’t quit. I just kept plugging away. And then when I was done I wanted to coach.

You mentioned that you started wrestling in ninth grade. I’m sure parents ask you, ‘What’s a good age for someone to start wrestling?’ How do you answer that question?

Krause: When they’re old enough to pay attention, give a hundred percent, try not to cry, don’t talk when I’m talking and show respect. I have had this discussion with a bunch of my friends, what’s the formula to being great in high school and great in college. We’ve all seen some high-level youth wrestlers, high-level high school wrestlers get into bad things, burn out, beat out, whatever you want to call it. I truly think any age you want to start is a good age. My good friend Brian Krenzelak, a middle school coach at Canon-McMillan in PA, says that he uses a 75 percent win-loss record your whole youth career. So you have wins and losses. You’re not like, ‘I’m undefeated. I’m 185-0 going into high school’ … and then all of a sudden you get beat by some kid and you’re like, ‘I quit.’ The formula I think is start when you want. Have fun. Don’t get too serious until you get to seventh or eighth grade and start going through puberty. Then when you get to high school you have had that balance of wins and losses, so you don’t go in with that undefeated-type attitude. You’re just trying to get better every year. So to answer your question, ‘When should you start?’ Whenever you want to start.

There are a lot of major youth wrestling events like Tulsa Nationals and Reno Worlds. Some people are critical of huge national events for youth wrestlers. What’s your take on those types of events?

Krause: I do warmups for Jack Roller over at Tulsa. I do warmups for the USJOC. I think they’re phenomenal if you take them properly. I think they should be the crown jewel of your year. Then again, there is no true formula. I’ve seen Marky Hall wrestle since he was 5 years old. He used to have at least 285 matches a year. I would see Marky at Tulsa, and then I would fly back to Michigan. He and his dad would drive their Winnebago, and I would see them at a local tournament, double entered in weight classes and ages. You would think that would be a bad formula, but Marky Hall is doing pretty well. I truly think you need to have a good win-loss balance. 

You coach Team Shamrock, a feeder program for Detroit Catholic Central. How important is having a strong youth wrestling program, or feeder program, to the success of a high school wrestling program?

Krause: If you want to be a top program nationally, it’s huge. I coached high school from ’93 to ’99 at Livonia Stevenson (Mich.) with absolutely no feeder program. We had some success, a couple all-state teams, maybe 30 or so all-state wrestlers, five or so state champs, but it’s such a different atmosphere handing kids off to DCC and some of the surrounding schools. They can walk right in and make an immediate impact. Some are actually state champs their freshman year. It’s an absolute humongous advantage.

You keep wrestling practices light and fun. You’re energetic. How did you develop your coaching style?

Krause: I started coaching youth wrestling about 10 years ago because I had a real job and I couldn’t make it to the high school wrestling practices, so I had to go at night. I found out really quickly the kids were not paying attention. I have talked to Ben Askren about this. We have done a few camps together and Ben’s technique is so different. I tell Ben, ‘I make kids raise their hands and show me what I showed. I go, ‘Who’s paying attention here?’ And then I go into my five rules that I have: pay attention, give a hundred percent, try not to cry, don’t talk when I’m talking and show respect. That pretty much covers everything. I’ve got my whole race to the line thing. I’ve got my callback system that I use. ‘Who’s tired?’ ‘Not me.’ ‘How many pushups was that?’ ‘Who cares.’ Fun stuff like that. I didn’t realize what I was actually doing until I had teachers tell me, ‘Oh, you’re doing this.’ They actually know the term for it, and I had no idea what the term was. Something inside of me realized that I needed to get these kids talking, moving and actually helping me coach the room. One of the things I do is tell the kids that everybody here is my assistant coach. I empower these little guys to be my helpers. You’re either with me or you’re not.

How do you talk to youth wrestlers about handling losses and setbacks?

Krause: At our club we have a rule. If you get caught crying on a weekend, you have to come in on a Monday or Tuesday, or the next time you’re there, and stand up and talk about it. I won’t try to humiliate them, but I want them to talk about it. They hate standing up and talking about it. So I have kids come in and say, ‘Coach Krause, I lost 9-8 and I didn’t cry.’ I’m like, ‘Perfect.’ It just changes their brain.

At what age can wrestlers benefit from film study?

Krause: I think once your technique is solid and you understand how to hold position in all situations, then I think looking at film can be an advantage.

Sometimes youth wrestlers are successful with techniques that may not work at a higher level of wrestling. How do you balance wanting your wrestlers to have success, yet also develop as a wrestler for success at a higher level, long term?

Krause: When I first started coaching youth wrestling I was totally against the cow catcher. I was totally against headlocks. I was against cement mixers. Then my buddy Roy Hall told me, ‘Krause, man, you have to give these kids tools to win right off the bat.’ I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ And he’s like, ‘Wrestling is no fun if you have to wait five years to get a win.’ I’m like, ‘I get your point.’ I tell kids they can do cow catchers, mixers, headlocks … of course I have to show horrible headlocks in order to do horrible headlock defense. But I very rarely have kids who are stuck on headlocks or cow catchers. But like my buddy Roy advised me and now I’m doing, you’ve got to give them these tools to win and beat kids they can’t normally beat, or just get wins in general off the bat. Then tell them, ‘We need to start working on single legs, double legs, snap downs and your leg defense this year. I very rarely have kids who are stuck on hitting mixers and cow catchers all day long. But you have to talk about it. You have to show them early on because it can be an easy win. That’s fun, to get your hand raised and get a medal.

What’s your advice to youth wrestling parents who want to see their children have success in the sport?

Krause: Here’s the advice: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. We have all heard that cliché, and it is so true. In my room I have a few rules. One is you can’t coach your own kid. I always say this: ‘I don’t want to step on your father-son bond, but I’m pretty sure your son doesn’t want you yelling at him during practice. They’re like, ‘Oh, oh …” And I’m like, ‘I’m sure you’re probably a special case, but it’s my generic rule for the whole room. And they’re like, ‘Oh, OK.’ If the dad wants to help out coaching, I say you can walk around, but you can’t be a helicopter dad and just stand over your kid. That is totally horrible.

What’s your take on private lessons? Do you do them?

Krause: I think they’re awesome. I don’t personally do too many of them. I know of my friends, high-level coaches, who do them. I’ve done them. You can really turn the corner if you do a few privates now and then. I think private lessons are huge, but I personally don’t do them because I’m a clinic guy and I’m always doing mass clinics.

How important are wrestling camps to the development of a youth wrestler?

Krause: Being a camp guy, I will tell you that you’re going to get a lot better in your actual practice room. I think camps are awesome to have a second voice. People will say, ‘Coach Krause, you’re the best youth coach.’ I’ll say, ‘No, I’m not the best youth coach. I’m the second best youth coach. Your coach is the best. I’m second best.’ I like to be known as the second best voice. Even at my club I will tell wrestlers to go see other coaches, but come back. I think they’re real important. Improve one percent here, one percent there … and camps are fun.

How important is it for a youth wrestler to wrestle more than one style?

Krause: I think it’s huge. You have to do freestyle. I was big into freestyle back when I was a high school kid. In the summer there was nothing else but freestyle and Greco, so we had no choice. Now that folkstyle goes all year long, some parents are apprehensive and say things like, ‘I don’t want his freestyle to hurt his folkstyle. It’s going to confuse him.’  My response is, ‘Well, does his addition hurt his subtraction? Does that confuse him? I don’t think it will. Let’s go.’ Plus, freestyle is fun. It’s fast. And it’s mostly on your feet. Once kids get into freestyle they love it. So I think it’s greatly important. Plus, if you want to get a college wrestling scholarship, you better place in Fargo.

How important are breaks from wrestling to avoid burnout?

Krause: I think breaks from wrestling are important. I was a three-sport athlete as a kid. I played football and baseball my whole life. They’re kids. You only live once. Play some other sports. Have some fun. I’m not a fan at all of cutting weight as a little kid. You need to take a three or four-month break when you just pig out and grow.

When do you think it’s acceptable for a wrestler to start cutting weight?

Krause: If you’re a little kid and you’re like a pound over and have to skip a lunch or something, that’s not going to kill you. That’s OK. But we’ve all seen this … Johnny is four pounds over. He weighs 60 pounds. That’s like me cutting 20 pounds. I’m not a doctor, but my opinion is once you go through puberty and actually have some bulk on you, then you can start cutting a little weight. Don’t take the fun out of the sport.

Obviously, technique in wrestling is always evolving. How can youth wrestling coaches stay current with technique?
Krause: I watch a lot of wrestling. You’ve got to watch video. Then you actually have to have the gumption, wherewithal and fortitude to actually take that technique and coach it for a period of time because you can’t just give up on something if it doesn’t work. I’ve been coaching elbow off now for two years, and not one kid has hit it, but they’re going to hit it sometime in their life. I guarantee it.