Jason Bryant remembers his first trip to Fargo to cover USA Wrestling’s Cadet and Junior Nationals in 1999.
“We had hand-written vertically paired brackets, dial-up Internet and zero social media,” says Bryant, who later worked for USA Wrestling in a communications role.
Fast-forward 20 years to the 2019 Cadet and Junior Nationals, held in Fargo in mid-July. Bryant has created the Mat Talk Podcast Network, the leading podcast network in the sport of wrestling. While in Fargo covering the event, he conducted a number of on-site interviews and 10-minute features, then twice during the week, he did a media collaboration between his network at Mat Talk Online, FloWrestling, and The Open Mat, a popular wrestling news and information website.
“We had three to four people in a live show streaming from Herd & Horns (a Fargo Sports Bar and Grill) and all the streaming info was coming right from my iPad over the restaurant’s Wi-Fi,” says Bryant, now also an 11-time wrestling journalism and broadcasting award winner. “We also watched the rest of the round from Herd & Horns because they had the technology to bring a livestream from the web and put FloWrestling up on their TVs. That was unheard of when I first started coming to Fargo.”
It’s no secret that high speed internet, wireless access, and smartphones have changed the way the world can connect, and that is making an impact across the sport of wrestling. Free video hosting platforms and inexpensive digital video cameras have become standard, not just for the major media players, but for state associations, too.
“When you tie in video and live streaming with tournament software like FloArena or Trackwrestling, there’s really no reason—other than access to high speed internet or a tight budget—wrestling fans can’t get scores and match video as they happen,” Bryant says.
While at USA Wrestling, Bryant saw technology slowly evolve. USA Wrestling went from only streaming five finals sessions in Fargo to streaming mat 1 continuously for eight days. Then they streamed four mats. Then eight. Eventually USA Wrestling was streaming 18 mats. Now, the event is streamed live throughout the entire tournament.
“When I’m announcing a tournament, I’m using the live scoring and dashboard features from Trackwrestling and FloArena,” Bryant says. “In the past, I’d have blank bout sheets and brackets strewn about the announcers table. I remember announcing high school tournaments in Virginia when everything was paper, nothing was online and you had to look up and down at the scoreboards to match up bout numbers to brackets and hope the table workers had them right, or else.”
Things are quite a bit different than they used to be.
“In the old days, you were required to wait for a monthly publication to be mailed to your home to find news on your favorite college, Olympic, and World team wrestlers,” says Steve Richardson, Kids Director for Michigan USA Wrestling, and Director of the Michigan Matcat Wrestling Club (South Lyon, MI). “Today, kids use social media to stay in touch with their heroes. In many cases they connect with them directly. Kids also use social media to sell, buy, and trade gear. Those creative athletes can even visit gear company websites and design their own custom singlets and gear.”
Below are some other ways technology is making an impact across the sport of wrestling:
Video: Whether it’s on-demand video or streamed live, Trackwrestling and FloArena have forever changed how wrestling fans can watch and access wrestling. Wrestling fans can watch video of high school events, college dual/tournaments, international competition, and more. In July, Trackwrestling offered fans a chance to watch dual meets from the Kevin Dresser Team Camp duals while FloArena live streamed the 8th annual Mid-Summer Mat Bash featuring 28 high school teams from 15 different states competing in Austin, Texas. Fans can also watch replays of individual matches on both Trackwrestling and FloArena This was unheard of even five years ago and will continue to evolve.
Trackwrestling recently launched Trackwrestling Gold+, a membership that allows users to view over 400,000 videos on demand from over 500 events, including the World Championships and other top events.
“This is changing the way people can consume video on our platform and we are excited about the enthusiasm shown throughout the wrestling community since its launch,” says Justin Tritz, general manager of Trackwrestling.
USA Wrestling also features its own YouTube channel.
Communication: Joe Uccellini, co-state head coach and cadet director for New York USA Wrestling and owner of the Curby 3 Style Wrestling Club in Troy, New York, uses Team App to communicate with wrestlers. Team App is a platform that allows teams and social groups to improve communication by creating their own smartphone app. A specific team app can be created in as little as 10 minutes. Uccellini used this to communicate while traveling to and from Fargo and in Fargo, with New York USA Wrestling coaches and team members. He also uses it for his training center, as the app can handle scheduling, payment, news, a gear store and chat. Sports Engine is another popular communication tool (text/email) and also provides registration and payment options for wrestling clubs and programs.
Electronic tappers: Trackwrestling launched Electronic Tappers last season, and it was a huge success, Tritz says. These tappers look like a watch and use vibration to notify referees of time expiration.
“In today's world, volunteers are harder and harder to come by, and this eliminates the need to find a person to be a tapper and also eliminates the human error of trying to alert the official at exactly the right time,” Tritz says.
This is a great advancement for the sport, Richardson says.
“I was at an event here in Michigan last week where the officials wore a wristband linked with Track Wrestling that alerted them when the period was complete,” Richardson says. “This keeps a more accurate time with no human error. It also eliminates the need for towel tappers.”
Wrestling media coverage: There are more local and national websites that cover the sport of wrestling than ever before—all providing great content and coverage of the state or local wrestling scene in various formats (articles, blogs, podcasts, forums, video, social media). Bryant’s Mat Talk Podcast features hundreds of interviews of wrestlers, coaches and personalities at all levels of the sport. FloWrestling Radio Live provides daily wrestling discussion. Trackwrestling features the On The Mat Podcast/radio show with Andy Hamilton and Kyle Klingman. Intermat features high school and college wrestling analysis and coverage. One unique site is Five Point Move, which has emerged as a leader in the promotion of Greco-Roman wrestling. The site provides Greco-Roman news, a podcast, and other content focusing on Greco-Roman wrestling.
Fundraising: Selling pizzas, hosting spaghetti feeds, selling raffle tickets, and organizing golf tournaments is time consuming. With new technology, wrestling programs can use several online fundraising tools to reach a large audience anywhere in the world. The John Jay (Cross River, NY) High School wrestling team raised over $10,000 using the platform available at ReachingOurGoal.org.
“Our guys don’t have the bandwidth for fundraising if it isn’t quick and painless,” says Bill Swertfager, the John Jay wrestling coach. “The campaign took us about 20 minutes.”
Social media (Twitter): Microblogging has morphed into a results-driven quick hitter for fans. “Gone are the days of writing up a paragraph and posting it to your website’s CMS system in a notebook style of format that you updated a few times an hour,” says Bryant. “You can embed a twitter stream with a hashtag right into your website and set it and forget it. With the right tags and embeds, you don’t even have to follow everyone, you just have to know what hashtag to follow. Our media outlets have done a fantastic job in being consistent and uniform and not going rogue creating their own. I think Twitter is probably the single biggest thing for me personally when it comes to covering wrestling as a whole, other than online results. It’s immediate interaction, feedback and data.”
Instagram and Facebook are other popular social media tools that connect the world of wrestling.
Skin infections: Now you can tackle any skin infection issues or concerns, thanks to The Mat Doc app created by BJ Anderson, medical advisor for Minnesota USA Wrestling and tournament physician for the USA Wrestling Junior/16U Nationals.
“The app has a lot of features that make life easier for wrestlers, coaches, parents, athletic trainers and physicians,” Anderson says.
It aids in diagnosing skin infections, provides guidelines to treatment and gives those new to wrestling a wealth of additional information. You can download any State, NCAA, and NFHS skin sheet (updated each year), learn how to properly perform a skin check, and access the most up to date reference of skin infections and treatment from the medical literature.
“The MatDoc app basically gives you immediate access to a physician to help diagnose skin funk,” says Tanner Sewell, president and founder of the Northern Virginia Wrestling Club (NOVA) and Head Wrestling Coach at Fairfax High School (Fairfax, VA). "Most coaches know ringworm when they see it, this app helps identify funk you have a hard time figuring out, provides educational resources, access to downloadable state skin lesion forms, lists treatment guidelines, and more."
And, if you have a problem with a skin condition, the app allows you, for just $5, to send a photo and Anderson will get back to you within 24 hours.
"You can't get a skin form through the app, but you can arm yourself, your wrestlers, and your parents with the most up-to-date info and resources to combat skin funk," added Sewell.
Tournament software: Trackwrestling and FloArena have emerged as the go-to resources for all things tournament software. Registration, brackets, results, and video are all available through these platforms. Trackwrestling has become the central digital repository for wrestling in the United States and provides everything from tournament results and video solutions to event management. Both software offer real-time scoring across multiple mats, timing capabilities and myriad other features that make running wrestling meets easier.
“These two have revolutionized the sport top to bottom,” Richardson says. “What I like about Trackwrestling and FloArena is that they are constantly evolving."
Wrestling statistics: Created by coaches for coaches, MatBoss for iPad integrates wrestling stats directly into the video you record for each match, completely replacing the need for labor-intensive pencil and paper scoring systems. “This makes the video interactive with the scoring, and saves hours every week for coaches during the season,” says Tyler Hemmesch, a wrestling coach and MatBoss co-founder.
Technology isn’t perfect, but it’s the best it’s ever been, and will only continue to evolve. The question now is, what’s next?
“I think we can all agree that technology has impacted the sport in a positive and more efficient way,” Richardson says. “Obviously, when tech is concerned, there are hiccups from time to time. But the ability to have instant access to information and a basket of tools really has made the sport more enjoyable. I’m really excited to see some of the next generations of innovation. Interactive mats? Virtual officials? Color changing singlets?”