Thoughts on Coaching A Novice High School Heavyweight Wrestler

I came across a few notes I made when I was a volunteer wrestling coach at  Mandeville High School.  It was a very rewarding experience, but I am sharing these as I thought there were some useful nuggets regarding training in general.

 

Who is likely to be a heavyweight wrestler in high school:

  • An athletic football player – tends to have already played sports and can understand coaching
  • A boy who has just grown into his body, so he will be very awkward when he has gained two inches and 25 pounds. I think of them as the big puppy as they do not necessarily understand their new growth.  
  • The kid who grew up fast, so he experienced a big advantage when he was younger. So while he learned how to use the body, his fight style may be influenced by subliminal messages received throughout his younger days about “not beating up on little kids or bullying” – creating a “gentle giant.”
  • The kid who played no sports nor does he understand the rigors of wrestling or even the challenges of moving his body. He may want to wrestle because of TV fighting (MMA) or his friends doing some other martial arts.

Techniques to Teach:

Standing:

  • What not to teach: Do not immediately teach a single or double leg (Stay with Blast Doubles)- most big wrestlers will have problems coming up off the ground, especially if they let go of a leg and plant an arm on the ground. They may get discouraged and will be less willing to learn the technique until they have some success with fighting off the bottom.
  • What to teach: teach hip toss, over-under positions, bear hugs, or even old school blast doubles from a collar grip, Russians, etc. 
  • The focus is on movement and angles, as if heavyweights don’t move, they are subject to certain setups from more experienced wrestlers.
  • A heavyweight wrestler should not stand in the same spot for more than 3 seconds, and if this is not broken earlier, it’s hard to “unteach” later. (I would teach hip toss after they mastered other positions.)

Referee’s Position:

  • Always emphasized teaching confidence in the bottom before teaching any top techniques. A bigger kid will struggle to get up, so the fear of being out of position should be addressed first. As beginner top wrestlers will tend to push more weight onto the hands of the bottom wrestler, this makes “fat man rolls”, sit-outs, somewhat easier to execute.
  • Top position – remember to focus on pushing through, and not over the bottom position. While this sounds easy, the bigger frame can occasionally lead to wrestlers getting out of position easier.  

Escaping from pins:

  • Generally, larger heavyweights are less flexible, so may give up a pin that a smaller, nimbler wrestler may not. As such, they may need more reminders regarding pin escapes as they have the potential for giving up a fall if they are out of position or fatigued.
  • The focus should be a progression on pins here and then incorporated with escapes to reinforce both positions. Stress pin escape drills that last 20-30 seconds to create a clear feeling of progress and control points.

 

Some Mental Aspects:

  • Do not stress that heavyweight wrestling is boring.  This can create a negative message to your wrestler to not try as hard, or his contribution is not merited.  In many ways, the creation of “boring” heavyweight wrestling is a lack of teaching sound standing techniques, which may result in wrestlers remaining locked in a clinch for most of the round.  
  • Some big guys will rely upon up outmuscling their opponent, which may result in initial victories, but without additional technical development, they may see frustratingly slow progress.  This default towards outmuscling tends to lean itself to a slower match. A better focus would be on footwork, teaching the wrestler that movement will generate more opportunities, especially if they are in better shape than their opponent.
  • The heavyweight wrestler should learn to use his weight to “wear out” his opponent where possible while catching his breath in a match.
  • Big guys can fall into a counter wrestling mindset, as they learn that their size will enable them to counter techniques from other, smaller wrestlers. Avoid this at all costs, as they will turn into wrestlers who will only be able to beat opponents who make mistakes. They will learn to be less aggressive and will actually move less, as they wait for the other person to screw up.

A Special Note on Football Players

If they play football, wrestling should teach:

  • Beat the man in front of you.
  • Leverage and footwork can outperform weight only.
  • They will likely quit wrestling to focus on football if they feel this wresting is too hard, or if they completed a football season and want a break. The problem is this these players may lose the gross motor skills and mental disciple that wrestling will afford them, both in high school and beyond. And their opponents are not taking training breaks.

Techniques for incorporating football players into the middle of a wrestling season:

  • Start them on the stand-ups and bottom first. Once they are conformable in not getting pinned, then start with standing and turnovers. This is because the other kids will already have had the benefit of two months of training, so you have to get them where they feel they will see progress fast, which means “you are not being pinned!” If they know they can escape, they are more comfortable learning how to wrestle.
  • Also, many will quit if they get repeatedly pinned after a few days of practice, so one has to learn to manage expectations.   Football is not wrestling: one is a team sport, the other, an individual sport on a team.
  • Several will see powerlifting as getting them stronger. It should be stressed they can still do both.  Oh, if I had the recovery time of my 18-year-old self!!

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