Why your winning is making your kids lose

Seems odd that winning so often can make your kids lose, right? But that is the very thing you are doing to your wrestlers if you are creating a schedule for them that allows them to win all the time, especially at a young age. If you have a lot of success in the early stages of your career you probably hear things like “wow your such a great wrestler” from your coaches and parents. By doing this to your athletes and kids, you are creating a fixed mindset for them than may cripple their athletic careers.

Lots of early success, combined with this well meaning but counter productive praise, often makes people believe that talent is the same as skill and that these features are something you are either born with or without. But like intelligence, a different topic but the same applies, skill can be developed and success can come to anyone willing to put the effort in and embrace the process. This is the key, embracing the process. If you listen to man of our Olympic wrestlers you constantly hear them talking about the process. The thing about the process is that it is tough and you have setbacks. But you learn from those setbacks and you grow from them.

“The process” produces what is referred to as a growth mindset, the idea that skills and intelligence are not innate features and they can be harnessed and grown at any point. The problem with too much early success, especially when it comes easy, is that kids believe they are just good at something and because they haven’t put in enough effort to become good they start to believe that large amounts of effort are only for those who are not as good as they are. So, your schedule full of teams you are beating by 50+ points is teaching your kids that they can slack off at practice and it’s okay because they will still beat down 90% of the teams they wrestle. It also creates the illusion that the teams they don’t beat are “freaks of nature” and “so gifted naturally” that they can never compete with them. One question you should be asking yourself is; why do those same kids have worse records at the end of the year but still pound your kids? The answer to this question is simple, they believe they can get better every day and that adversity is just part of the sport. They are the kids who will squeak out those close matches at semi-state and advance to state by beating your kids every single time. They are lost, both close matches and savage beat downs.

Here is how you can fix most of your problems in the span of just one season, and yes adding tougher teams that you know you will lose to is part of the process. The coaches who are always worried about their team record at the end of the year are probably coaching for themselves and their personal glory, they ruin quality wrestlers for their own arrogance. While that may be a brutal statement the good thing is that it’s easy to fix. You need to start praising the process, saying things like “wow that was a great match, you can really tell that your practice effort is paying dividends” and “you hit that single leg so well today, you can really tell you have spent a lot of time on it in the room.” Also, praise their efforts in practice; “you are getting a lot stronger, that time in the weight room is really paying off” and “great effort today guys, you will see this pay off at sectionals,” will yield you more success that saying something like “we crushed those guys, you guys are awesome.” These small changes show kids that their practice efforts are making them better and their success isn’t a by product of their inherent abilities.

You will know you have a room of fixed mindset kids when you play a game and your best kid grabs someone they know they can beat as quickly as possible. When this happens others will follow their lead. This is showing you that the kids care more about instant success than getting better. They feel outworking everyone is for the kids who aren’t any good, and the hardest part about this is that a lot of this mindset is your fault. It’s up to you to change it.

Why is winning so important when kids are young?

Retention rates in wrestling are astoundingly low, Les Gutches once told a group of coaches at a clinic that 50% of all wrestlers don’t come back for the next season every year. This turn over is unacceptable, and probably the coaches fault.

We can blame youth and their take the easy road approach to life, but kids in general have always taken the path of least resistance so that is just displacing blame. What needs to happen is for coaches to look at their youth programs and see why kids just don’t like coming back. But I can give you the answer right now and save you some time: They aren’t having fun.

Wrestling is tough, really tough, and if you want to be good is probably the hardest thing you will ever do. But more importantly, wrestling is a process. High School state champs are built in a year, it takes many years to cultivate those kids standing on the podium at the end of the year and if you can’t keep kids in your program for any length of time you won’t get kids on that podium.

If you are going to have a successful program you need a solid feeder system, if you are bleeding kids in your feeder program you aren’t going to be doing much winning later on. So how do we keep these kids interested? Here are a few ways to help keep kids coming back:

If your kid can’t read, he’s not ready for high level technique

I can’t take credit for this, I got it from Jake Herbert, but it’s insanely true. Kids need to be focusing on core athletic skills, especially in their younger years (Yes, I said years as in plural). Basics should be stressed every day and they shouldn’t be learning multiple new things every practice. You have to create a base one block at a time and constantly be rebuilding that base every practice.

Kids should only be competing when they are ready

Kids aren’t ready to face non practice competition in their first year. First year wrestlers get beat a lot and when kids taste only defeat you can’t blame them for not wanting to come back. Also, if you get mad at your kid for losing their first year, your priorities are out of whack and you need to get that in order before you ever coach anything ever again.

Winning shouldn’t be the focus in the early years

Kids should be competing with themselves, the only goal should be to get better than they were the practice the day before. David Taylor has said that he doesn’t really remember winning any matches his first year, he turned out fine, so lets make sure our priorities are in order.

If you are coaching youth it’s easy to teach them garbage that beats young inexperienced kids, but that won’t work later on in wrestling. Yes, it shows them early success but when they won’t change how they wrestle because they are “winning” now they are probably doomed to failure as they start to wrestle older and better kids. You have to be teaching them technique that works as they move levels, solid fundamentals. Headlocks have their place, but if this is your main move because it beast 10 year old kids you are a bad coach. You can point to all the elementary and middle school trophies you want but I bet your high school team doesn’t do much winning against good teams. Focus on solid fundamentals so kids don’t have to relearn wrestling as they move up levels.

Kids shouldn’t be setting big goals in the short term

I have told my kids their goal should be to medal at state, their senior year. I coach middle school kids so that means their big goal is set for at least four years down the road. They have an ambitious goal, getting a medal in a single class state isn’t easy, but they are setting that as their long term goal and working backwards from their. When they develop they are encouraged to make their goals more ambitious but that is where their start, their senior year of high school.

Make wrestling fun

If your youth kids aren’t playing games, everyday, you aren’t keeping them interested. If elite Russians are playing basketball and soccer every week, your kids should be playing games everyday. This makes kids want to come back every practice. Kids will learn wrestling moves so they can play games, that is a win for your program in the long run.

Changing your system

Change is difficult no matter what the arena. Wrestling is no different, we all know the moves change and emphasis on certain techniques, weight training, and conditioning methods change from year to year. But when is the last time you looked back and revised and improved the way you develop an athlete, not just in the short term but over their entire wrestling career? Most high school coaches have a hand in how their club runs, at least at successful programs. When is the last time you evaluated the developmental process of your program from youth through senior year?

Most coaches say they make changes ever year, but most of those changes are what I mentioned earlier; technique, weight training, and conditioning methods. This is not developmental change, this is the same house with different paint or a few new pictures on the wall. The biggest problem we run into is the fact that changing your development from the “way you have always done things,” is something that makes people uncomfortable and who wants to be uncomfortable? As we look at things what is one thing we always tell kids who want to be champions? “You have to get outside your comfort zone if you want to get better!” Think about how many times you have said this to your athletes but you don’t take the advice for yourself? If you want to fundamentally change your program and really make a push to move to the top, for the long run, its time for you to take some risks and get uncomfortable.

One thing we struggle with in the US is looking at examples from other nations and following their lead. We are generally so convinced that we are the best that we refuse to do things in a way that is not “the American way.” The problem with that is the U.S. has only won the worlds a handful of times in their history, 93 and 95 are the only two years that come to mind right off the bat for me. Russia, the Soviet Union, and its republics have been responsible for around 50 of the last 60 world championship teams and its time we start learning from the way they do things. You can only become the best by following the examples of the best and making improvements, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel but we do have to actually follow the examples of those nations who consistently win.

Our mindset has to change, the focus for a club coach has to be this: When you look at the development of your youth level wrestles the first goal has to be “I want you to be a state champion your senior year of high school” not I want you to be a state champion this year. You have to recognize the development of a high caliber wrestler is a marathon and not a sprint. I understand this goes against the mentality many people have today but if you get parents and athletes to buy into this goal, especially at the youth level, you are going to coach substantially more state medalists, champions, and college level wrestlers. Success DOES NOT have to be immediate to develop a world champion. Here is the Proof:
Looking at the U.S. freestyle 74KG weight class, anyone who pays attention to wrestling knows this is a place where the U.S. has 4 potential medalists right now, 6 if you count the future studs moving through this weight. If we break down the World Team Trials places 1-4 and look at their high school and college accomplishments they would look like this:

Jordan Burroughs: 1x High school state champ, 3x college All- American, 2x NCAA champ

Kyle Dake: 2x HS state champ, 4x AA, 4X NCAA champ

David Taylor: 4x HS state champ, 4x AA, 2X NCAA champ

Andrew Howe: 3x HS state champ, 4x AA, 1x NCAA Champ

Looking at this break down if I removed the names and asked you which one you would think, just based on the stats in front of you, had the best chance of being a 3X world and Olympic champion no one would ever pick the 1x state champ. Jordan Burroughs by the numbers seems like the least successful person on this list. He didn’t even all american as a freshman, all the others were NCAA finalists as freshmen and NCAA champions by their sophomore year. But Burroughs bought into the process, continued to develop, and the year after his second NCAA championship he was a WORLD champ and is only getting better.

Focus on the long term goals for your athletes, no matter the age, success comes through the process. You also have to start changing your development of athletes, learn from the best, the Russians and not the Americans. The easiest way to start this process? Go to http://doublelegninja.com/ and start reading Andy Hrovat’s blog from his time in Russia. Then start looking into the base wrestling system they are developing, they are going to be changing American wrestling and rocketing it forward in a few years. Better get on that bus now so you aren’t playing catch up for years to come!

Why the secrets?

There seems to be a lot of coaches out there who still believe they can’t “give away their practice, their lineup, their whatever the topic is.” So instead they keep things to themselves, they don’t learn from anyone, and their kids practice with the same kid every day of the year. As a result of all this secret keeping their kids don’t achieve on the level they could.

The competition we have with our local schools and the fear that if they get to know anything about us we might not win, ensures that you won’t beat the teams outside your area when it counts. I am saddened every time I run across coaches who still buy into these philosophies. The ultimate goal should be to see your kids, all your kids, progress as far through the state tournament series as possible. In doing this your team standings should take care of themselves. Coaches who do this as a way to win their sectional, district, etc. don’t have the larger goal in mind and are being selfish. This is supposed to be about the kids and the sport not your need for recognition.

If you want to see your kids more successful as individuals, and therefore your team being more successful, you need to be inviting others from your area to practice with your kids. Let them wrestle different people as much as possible so they know how to wrestle in different situations. Let your kids form bonds with the people they compete with, it grows the sport, the athletes’ character, and the sport. Look at the successful teams, they have open rooms all the time and encourage everyone to come by so their kids will get better. That is the kind of selfishness that you need to be focusing on.

Saving practice for the end:

After listening to Jake Herbert talk about this idea I started to realize the genius of the idea, especially for younger athletes. How much time do we spend just trying to get kids to listen that could be better spent being active. The average kid doesn’t sit still very well for long and we need to harness this with athletic warm ups that give the kids time to burn off this excess energy so they can focus. I fully expect my coaching at the youth level to become much more productive for wrestlers but more importantly I fully expect that I will keep more kids in the room because they will think practice is “fun.” They will remember the games and activity spent at the start of practice and not the boring instruction that they kept getting yelled at during.

While it might take longer to get through the technique you wanted to it will pay of in the fact that kids will have spent a longer time working what you have shown and be better at the basics. The trick is creating productive activities to harness what you have already shown. In a practice last system this is going to be where coaches separate themselves, who can come up with the most productive activities at the start of practice. Live wrestling isn’t the answer to this, but I imagine it will still help.

Coaching Young Athletes:

Turnover in wresting is high, very high, especially in youth wrestling. The reasons for this vary from the sport being too hard, the possibility of skin infections, overbearing parents, etc. Some of these reasons have easy fixes and some are impossible. While you can’t change a parents outlook on how important it is to be a state champ when you are 5, which is never a precursor for being good later on in life, you can change an athletes outlook on practices.

We all know wrestling is a tough sport but when you are working with elementary aged kids you need to keep practice “fun” as well. It’s like being a good teacher, you can’t give your kids a lot of down time and expect them to stay on task. Bringing a large group kids to the middle to show 10 different moves probably wont work well for keeping their attention, its like lecturing to a group of 8 year old students, it never works well for very long. Having kids stand in line and wait their turn to do something while at wrestling practice is not an 8 year old’s idea of a good time so keep these to a minimum. When you do line drills have lots of lines and only a few groups, it will keep the kids active and therefore on task.

You need to have some games that teach kids the skills you want them to pick up on and develop, this keeps the kids moving and that is “fun” to them. You can incorporate rational into why you play those games throughout the year but you really don’t have to teach them why you are playing these games at the start, just play them. Its hard to cover games for wrestling in a blog post but there are a lot out there. Ask those you coach with and against, wrestling coaches tend to be good at sharing ideas. Look on youtube or go to another club’s practice, the more games you incorporate the more kids you will keep. Once we can start keeping a higher number of kids per year we won’t have to keep teaching the same basics to new kids every year and you club will have no choice but to get better.

Camps or Summer Duals: Where is the biggest return for your team?

There is a lot to consider here; the commitment of you, your staff, and your wrestlers are the most important factors. If you don’t have a high level from all three Camp is probably your best bet. The biggest problems I see with wrestling camps are:

The technique

The biggest thing you have to consider here is not whether or not the technique is good. The guys running these camps wouldn’t be there if they didn’t have skills. Where you have to put the most thought is; do these techniques fit your coaching system and your athlete’s skill sets? If you don’t have a system in place for your technique, send your kids to camp and hope they have the skill set necessary to pick some stuff up that your can also teach.

Quality programs have systems they use to develop skills. Scout any of the top teams in your state and their wrestlers have similarities, go to moves in certain situations and little variations in how they perform techniques. If you send your wrestlers to camp odds are you aren’t getting much that fits into your system. This is not always a bad thing, but it becomes harder to coach these moves and athletes won’t get as much use out of them if they aren’t drilled and incorporated into their everyday wrestling. The more time you have your kids working on your system the better the overall progress your team will make. This is especially true of your athletes in the below average to above average skill range. Your top athletes, your state champs and medalists probably have already figured out your system and use it well. These wrestlers will probably get more out of camp, but how many of us have a team full of these kids?

Mat Time

Camps are generally run for between five and seven days. You usually get two practices on the first day, three during the middle days, and one or two on the last day. A great amount of practice for that amount of time but not as much as you could get if you go the summer dual route, assuming you and your staff have and are willing to put the coaching in. A five day camp nets wrestlers between eleven and thirteen 1.5-2 hour sessions. If you enter the summer season with the intentions of competing at a large national summer dual tournament you should be practicing for at least four weeks, minimum,  prior to the start of the tournament. If you get four practices a week, not a heavy load, you are at sixteen or a few more sessions than camp. If you really want to compete you could easily get over thirty sessions in. Also, there are more and more small dual tournaments popping up on the local level that give teams the opportunity to get between five and ten duals in on weekends.

Quality Match Time

Feeding off the previous section, live matches during camp and matches where team points are at stake are wrestled very differently. Live matches during practice are rarely the same workout that individual matches are on dual meet nights. The availability of matches over the summer could net a team anywhere between fifteen and thirty “real” matches every summer.

Team building

Summer duals require your teams to spend more time together and work together to win dual meets. As these kids spend more time with each other they develop relationships of wanting to work hard for the team, not the individual. This type of attitude will make a program successful for the long term very quickly. Because the kids are taking trips together they will be spending twenty-four hours a day together, in that setting it’s hard to not form some sort of bond.


The average wrestling camp and Disney duals cost about the same. With Disney duals you get four days in Florida, where a good amount of the time is spent outside of wrestling. Fundraising is easier if the team is involved; people will rarely give as much money to a person as they will a program. Kids are also more likely to help with these fund raisers if their friends are going to be there anyway. These fundraisers usually make the cost of summer duals cheaper than camp, and the experience is often better.

I am not against summer camps, I have had many of my best wrestlers jump to the next level because of summer camps. My belief is that, if done properly, you can get a lot more out of your entire team with the summer dual process. Participation levels are almost always higher when you travel with a team and the experience the team shares creates bonds that last forever. Because you have a better grasp on what your wrestlers know and where they need to develop you can make sure the skills covered in the summer fit your program’s needs. Because of these things, as well as others, you will almost always get a better return on investment attending summer duals.

Crossfit and Wrestling

Crossfit has taken the fitness world by storm over the past few years and there has been a lot of discussion focusing on how helpful this is to athletes today. So how useful is crossfit when it comes to wrestling?

The first topic I want to address is the issue of is crossfit too much too quickly for athletes, especially younger ones. This is obviously something a good coach would have considered and addressed prior to incorporating any training regimen, you can’t account for bad or unprepared coaches because they will never fit the mold of incorporating proper training methods.

The next big problem many people have with crossfit is the technique aspect of the lifts, because there is an emphasis on how quickly an athlete can complete the workout technique will suffer and athletes risk injury. This addresses a very important point in weight training our young athletes, how much time do we spend teaching proper weight lifting technique. This is an area where most coaches need to spend more time, lifting technique is probably more important then specific sport technique because the chances of getting hurt are often greater than when you perform the sport technique incorrectly. We have seen an explosion of sports related injuries that are the result of improper lifting form, many of these injuries may not be noticed until the actual competition but the impact of poor lifting technique most certainly results in more injuries than just those noticed in the weight room. Crossfit, just like any weight training regimen, needs to be properly taught to athletes prior to full implementation. The focus on keeping proper technique throughout the work out needs to be emphasized just as it would in any sport specific technique.

So how useful can crossfit be to wrestling? If we look at the functional lifts emphasized in crossfit; cleans, deadlift, front squat, shoulder press, etc. It’s hard to argue that you are not working out the proper muscle groups. If we also focus on the fact that all weights for a lift can be scaled to any weight you have a great platform for a sport that uses athletes weighing from weight class 106 to 285. Another useful aspect of crossfit is that most workouts are designed to last between 6 and 15 minutes. A wrestling match is 6 minutes, throw in the 1 minute SV overtime, 2 30-second overtime periods in referee’s position, and a 30 ultimate tiebreaker period (obviously for high school but the conversion to college is pretty easy) and you have a workout designed to push an athlete to work through an entire match.

My argument would be in favor of using crossfit in your wrestling training. The focus on functional lifts and the intense short duration workouts seem, to me, a perfect platform for conditioning your wrestlers. Throw in the fact that there is not a big emphasis on producing greater muscle mass, which hurts those athletes maintaining or cutting weight. I wouldn’t advocate a strictly crossfit weight regimen for wrestling but in my experience wrestlers who use it outperform themselves when they haven’t used it.


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