Period Decisions

By Kyle Klingman Director National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum


Wrestling is the only NCAA sanctioned sport that asks its competitors to make a choice. But it is more than that. It is a choice made in the presence of others; it is a choice with consequences.

At the beginning of the second period a wrestler, chosen by the flip of a coin, has four choices: neutral, top, bottom, or defer.

This choice usually goes unnoticed. Most wrestlers are not proficient in the top or bottom position, so they casually choose bottom hoping to earn an escape.

Oftentimes, an escape is not earned. It is awarded when the wrestler intentionally releases his opponent.

On rare occasions, when the outcome of the match is in question, a wrestler makes a different choice at the beginning of a period.

Perhaps the decision at the beginning of the final two periods, if the match makes it that far, is critical to a wrestler’s development in this sport. This singular choice—top, bottom, neutral, or defer—may reveal more about a person than we realize.

It is presumptuous to think that good decisions on the mat lead to good decisions off of it. But, at the very least, this choice (top, bottom, neutral, defer) provides a glimpse into how a person makes a decision. It may also reveal why some people make good choices and others make poor ones.

At the NCAA tournament every match has consequences, so every decision is essential. Watch closely as the referee flips his coin and points toward a wrestler to make his choice.

At the beginning of the second period the referee asks one wrestler (after the flip of the coin) to make a decision about his decision. A wrestler can choose his position immediately or he can defer, which means he is saving his choice for the third period.

This may show decisiveness if he makes his decision right away, or, if lets his opponent decide first, it may mean he is indecisive.

Or, he might want to save his choice so he can make a better decision in the final period. His opponent might be skilled in the top position and he knows it. He wants to force his opponent’s hand. His opponent has to make the tough decision first.

A wise wrestler will glance to his corner for advice (if the decision is important). He knows his opponent is skilled in a certain area (usually the top position). If he chooses down and can’t escape it may cost him the match.

An unwise wrestler makes his decision hastily. He carelessly points his finger toward the mat, unaware of the consequences.

How is this different from an important life decision? When faced with a difficult choice you turn to someone you trust, even if it’s a quick glance to reinforce what you already know. Some make decisions without thinking, which costs more than a wrestling match.

No outcome is guaranteed, but a good coach offers advice with his athlete’s best interest in mind. Coaches in the corner may even confer before relaying information to the athlete on which position to choose.

And, if the decision is really important, you may see a head coach at the NCAA tournament (who is watching the match from a distance) run to the corner and whisper something in his assistant’s ear.

“Tell him to take neutral,” he might say.

The decision about when to intentionally release a wrestler—if the match can be decided by a takedown—is important too. A wrestler may think he can turn his opponent for back points, but, if he realizes he cannot, another decision must be made: near fall points or takedown.

How often have we heard the following statements: “He should have picked neutral in the third period” or “He should have let him go earlier to try to get the takedown” or “He should have never gone underneath.”

Savvy wrestling fans understand the nuances of the sport. They can analyze where a wrestler might have won a match if he would have made a different decision.

Life is about the decisions we make. A referee, at the beginning of the second and third period, will ask a wrestler to make a decision of his own.

Wrestling is about action and reaction, but thoughtful choices ultimately decide an outcome.