It’s a conversation high school coaches across the country have discussed in great detail over the years. And there is no one-size-fits-all answer or solution. And opinions vary. Greatly.
Should there be a mandatory one week shut down period in high school wrestling?
Supporters of a shutdown say this could allow wrestlers a chance to get a mental and physical break, recover from injuries or skin infections and come back refresh and refocused for the stretch run. Those who object to a break say it could cause a wrestler to lose momentum built through hard work throughout the season and potentially do more harm than good because that week off could result in bad habits setting in, and set coaches, individuals and teams back.
Other questions arise: When would be the appropriate time for the shutdown? Who would mandate the decision (each state high school league/association for example)? What are some issues that would come up?
There are many questions that come up related to this topic and the only thing that is certain is everyone is going to have a difference of opinion on the topic.
Adam Tirapelle, assistant coach at national power Clovis High School of California, ranked No. 5 in the latest InterMat Fab 50 high school team rankings, isn’t so sure requiring a mandatory one week shut down is the right answer. But he’s all for supporting less wear and tear on wrestlers, both mentally and physically.
“My answer would be fewer grueling competitions and more balance between practice and less grueling competitions like duals and quads,” says Tirapelle. “Folkstyle wrestling, different from international wrestling, is truly a grind of a sport. And with kids starting earlier now, more wear and tear is placed on the body at younger ages. I’m a believer that bodies only have so much ‘mileage’ and starting early and grinding harder just wears young bodies out faster. Yes, it gets you to the top but often sacrifices the longevity of the wrestler. I’m not sure one week during the season does much to curb this behavior, when many kids are wrestling/training year-round, so in this case I think it’s pointless legislation to impose.”
Bobby Ferraro Jr. is the executive director of the National High School Coaches Association, an Easton, Pennsylvania-based organization whose mission is to provide leadership and support to coaches and administrators and their programs.
“In my opinion, I believe the scheduling decisions on practice and events should be left up to the school and the coach to make the decision to shut down or not,” says Ferraro. “The coach is the one that knows how banged up his team is and the type of schedule they’ve run prior to the holiday season. To legislate a holiday break doesn’t make any sense to me.”
In Kansas, the Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA) requires a mandatory 5-day break for all sports, not just wrestling, the week of Christmas. This mandate requires that no practices of any sort, including running or weight lifting sessions, take place in all sports. The KSHSAA mandate says this:
“December 23-27, 2015 are non-practice dates for all KSHSAA schools and activities. Students grades 7-12 may not be in member school owned or operated facilities during the Christmas moratorium for involvement in any activities under the jurisdiction of the KSHSAA. Weight rooms may not be open for student’s grades 7-12. Coaches may not open the gym for students to shoot or work out even if they are their own child Dec. 23-27. Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. “
“Personally I like that the state has required this,” says Nate Naasz, an assistant wrestling coach at Beloit High School in Beloit, Kanasas, and vice president of the Kansas Wrestling Coaches and the Kansas representative for the National Wrestling Coaches Association. “It is a much-needed break for our coaches and athletes. There is no pressure on whether or not to have a practice during the holiday season when the state just takes it out of our hands. I haven’t heard any winter sport coaches who have been upset with this rule.”
Naasz, also a football coach, says many high school wrestlers in Kansas play football, and those who make the playoffs, especially those teams that go deep into the playoffs, have only a couple of practices before the first meet.
“This constant training can take a huge toll on the teenage body and mind,” says Naasz.
That’s why he’d liked to see another change: Make wrestling a one-semester sport. This has been brought up at the collegiate level and is also something Naasz says could benefit high school wrestling.
“If wrestling would move to being a second semester sport this would completely kill the entire discussion regarding the state having to require days off over the Christmas break,” says Naasz. “I know that the collegiate level has discussed this and I have heard it mentioned several times at our NWCA Scholastic meetings in Florida.”
St. Michael-Albertville (Minn.) coach Dan Lefebvre is opposed to a mandatory shutdown.
“I am not in favor of a mandatory shutdown of wrestling for one week each year,” says Lefebvre. “If all coaches use good judgement of what is both best for their own team, and yet at the same time best for high school wrestling in general, then we can regulate our own programs. We do not need a governing body that may or may not what is best to regulate our sport.”
Many coaches have only had casual conversations about this. It makes for good banter and debate when coaches get together at conventions and coaches’ clinics.
Jim Clark, who coached 31 years at Pennsylvania’s Chestnut Ridge High School before retiring in 2008, says he is strongly against a mandatory shutdown.
“I realize that the season is quite long, however we must consider every school’s schedule,” says Clark, who wrestled for Penn State and was inducted into the Pennsylvania Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2008.
To stop matches and or tournaments for a certain week would be in many cases a nightmare for the athletics director, says Clark.
“We must also consider snow and other circumstances that interrupt an established season schedule,” says Clark. “Also at times, wrestlers who are coming of an injury may be in great need of a regular practice to get back to wrestling with skill and conditioning. Hopefully coaches already do alternative activities to break up the season at a time that fits their individual schedules. Most teams in our area already have time blocks of no competition at some point in the season.”
Many coaches are intrigued by the scenario but need more time to study the potential benefits or pitfalls.
“This is a very interesting topic,” says Jeff Hiner, head coach at Union City High School in Union, Pennsylvania, and president of the District X Chapter of the Pennsylvania Wrestling Coaches Association. “While it has never been discussed at length in my area, I am intrigued by it.”
Hiner continued: “Shutting down the sport for a week may provide wrestlers an opportunity to heal from injuries, re-energize or even have more time with family. Christmas break may be the ideal time to shut down. I realize that many of the top tournaments in not only our state, but the nation, happen over Christmas break. At this time Christmas break is near the midpoint of our season, which if there was to be a shutdown this may be the ideal time, the middle of the season.”
Using the shutdown period as a way to focus on health and healing could be one way to actually recruit and retain wrestlers.
“We expect our athletes to give one-hundred percent dedication to the sport, a very demanding sport at that, nearly all season,” says Hiner. “Many high school students shy away from wrestling due too it’s tough and competitive nature and with a break we may draw and some more athletes.”
The way it’s set up now, teams can’t afford to take time off over the holidays.
“It’s a family dilemma when it comes to travel at Christmas time to visit rarely-seen relatives or to stay home so your son or daughter does not miss a mandatory practice,” says Hiner. “With the current state, in order to stay competitive, teams must at least practice over the holiday. This provides a conundrum for both coaches and athletes. A mandatory shutdown may be the answer.”
But, like many coaches, Hiner just isn’t sure if this option is the right option.
“While I have never considered this option, I would need to do more research before I fully endorse this,” says Hiner.
What are your thoughts as a coach? Would you like to see a mandatory one week shutdown period? Why or why not? When should it be? Share and discuss.