Can you feel it? The time is drawing near. If you’re coaching or competing, you’re probably either already back on the mat or about to be. Preseason tournaments are starting. Official practice start dates are getting closer and closer. After a long, eventful summer of freestyle and Greco, folkstyle season is nearly here!
This is your last chance to take one last deep breath and collect yourself. Whether you are a wrestler, coach, parent, fan or media, we all must prepare for the long road to state and national championships. However, the excitement of a new season should not be allowed to overshadow how long that road will be.
For many wrestlers, the competition schedule is longer than ever before. For some, it never really stops. With tournaments now available at just about any time on the calendar, competing too much and burning wrestlers out is far too common. We’ve heard Team USA’s head Greco coach Matt Lindland say he thinks athletes are competing too much. We’ve heard Northern Colorado head coach Troy Nickerson say the same. It is a common refrain from high level coaches. In a sport with an already alarmingly high rate of attrition, parents and coaches must, at times, save athletes from themselves.
It should go without saying that parents and coaches shouldn’t be pushing their athletes to compete more if the athlete isn’t interested in doing so, but it goes beyond that. Some of the most motivated athletes need to have someone in their corner willing to say no. No, we aren’t going to that tournament in September. No, we aren’t going to get you 100 matches this year. No, we’re not going to work out at three different clubs all year long. Even, no, we aren’t going to workout this week because your body needs a break.
This is one of the hardest aspects of coaching, especially in a sport like wrestling that prides itself on focus and mental toughness. It is a constant battle between pushing wrestlers in your charge to their limits and not pushing them too far. Because every athlete is different, coaches need to be willing to customize training and competition schedules when the situation dictates. Some coaches and parents understand this concept well, but we’re still seeing far too many athletes, at all levels, that push too hard too early only to either leave the sport or be a shell of their former selves when they should be reaching their peak.
Common sense would dictate that if we have a group of athletes who wrestled non-stop from last November through Fargo in July and we have another group of athletes who ended their season in February, the approach to the preseason should be different for the two groups. Still, too often coaches and parents fail to step back and consider not only what their athletes have been through, but what they hope to accomplish going forward. Do you think that the wrestlers who won Fargo titles and went on to compete at Junior and Cadet worlds needed to be wrestling some random open tournament last October or would they have been better served saving the mental and physical wear and tear for the long winter, spring and summer ahead?
Wrestlers, especially good ones, tend to want to wrestle. If you ask them, few will tell you they’re tired and need time off. Many don’t even realize they are getting burned out until it has gotten out of hand. It is up to the people around these athletes to make smart decisions to prevent it from ever coming to that. As we get set for another season, please take a minute to consider what makes sense for your athletes. No titles are won by wrestlers after they quit the sport and too many exceptional talents have done so over the years. Now is the time to think about it. I’m begging you to do so.
Photo Courtesy of BTS-New York City