Learning the fundamentals of wrestling might not sound exciting, but having fun should be the number-one goal of every youth wrestling coach teaching technique, especially to those new to the sport.
“The first thing young or new wrestlers need to learn is how to have fun,” says Nate Engel, an assistant coach at Stanford University and Director of the California Regional Training Center.
Make it fun, and wrestlers will become more engaged, and more likely to grasp the concepts and technique that is always challenging with young or new wrestlers, especially those ages 5 to 12.
“At this age, I’m more interested in having the kids enjoy the sport,” says Kevin Roberts, a longtime college wrestling coach and experienced clinician who runs Roberts Wrestling Camps and Clinics. “It's important to get a basic understanding of the concepts of the sport and gain skills over getting wins by learning a few homerun moves.”
As wrestlers gain experience and master the basics, they can start learning new technique, building off that foundation.
Roberts and Engel break down various techniques coaches should focus on by age group:
Focus on introduction to the sport, basic fundamental skills, and body position, says Roberts, such as:
- Head and hand position.
- Level changes.
Learning the correct stance is critical for new wrestlers.
“If you do not have a good stance, it will be really hard to learn anything, or learn how to defend,” Engel says.
Once a wrestler learns stance, learning where to place their hands when tying up is also important. Says Engel: “I think we tend to reach too much and that’s when our opponents shoot on us.”
Once those basics are learned, then move to:
- Learn how to sprawl.
- Attacks—single and double leg (developing a strong penetration step is important).
- Defense—block with their head and hands; how to get their legs back.
- Mat skills—basic breakdowns and turns, and understanding a good base on bottom.
“Without a good sprawl, we are dead in the water,” Engel says. “It’s vital, because after our first defense of our hands, if they make it past that, we have to know how to sprawl. Also, if you can’t sprawl, I think it’s tough to learn how to shoot because your partner won't give you the correct feel.”
Repetition is important here, Roberts says. Drilling these basics over and over will set a solid foundation for any wrestler to build from.
- Setups—provide more instruction on setups, such as how to move their opponent, and understanding how to snap their opponent under them.
- Re-attack concepts—down blocks, front head position and re-attacks are concepts that can start being grasped more. For example, the concept and understanding of things like having an attack on the right to threaten or set up an attack on the left, and vice versa, can be put in place.
- Defense—squaring hips, understanding hip pressure, how to use hips to squash an opponent and create a scoring situation.
- On the mat—legs and tilts, higher level turns. Teach how to get out from underneath, knee slides, and changeovers. Also focus on back pressure and hand fighting from sit-outs.
“We will drill these positions and scenarios,” says Roberts, noting it also takes a partner who understands how to react to these situations to continue the education process during technique drills.
Ages 13 and older
- Development—focus on improving problem areas.
- Scenarios—put wrestlers in different scenarios to teach them how to execute from both an offensive and defensive standpoint and to also know how an opponent might react/counter (put them into a scramble, for example).
- Continue to develop bottom and top skills—focus on change offs, or chain wrestle.
- Teach a wider range of finishes.
“Kids are getting more explosive at this age, so the speed and power leads to the need to finish well,” Roberts says. “We practice putting holds together in all positions (neutral, top and bottom).”
Focus on skill and experience level
The best coaches understand that despite a wrestler’s age, it’s more about coaching to their experience and skill level. A 10-year-old wrestler may have five years of experience in the sport. Another might be completely new. What they are drilling on or learning is completely different.
“Putting all ages into categories isn’t apples to apples as your room may have wrestlers at all levels, abilities, and experiences,” Roberts says.
Engel says there are good coaches throughout the country that have unique ways to teach the same technique. That makes learning the sport fun, and is why different parts of the country have different styles. They teach the same thing, but in different ways.
“I think our sport is always changing, so as you grow with the sport there are always new things to learn,” Engel says. “Camps are a great way to learn new things, as well as through your club coaches, or age group coaches.”
But the focus when starting out, regardless of age, should be on the basics. Once the foundation is built, focus on advanced skills and technique, building off that foundation.
“It’s more beneficial for most kids to learn positions and an understanding of the sport,” Roberts says. “As you notice certain areas they excel in and are more comfortable in, you can coach to their strengths, while tightening up areas where they are deficient.”