High School Wrestling

Making Sense of Wrestling’s Unwritten Rules


photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com

On Monday night, Major League Baseball and one of its endless list of unwritten rules were the talk of the sporting world when the San Diego Padres slaughtered the Texas Rangers. One of the games brightest young stars, Fernando Tatis Jr., was up to bat for San Diego in the eighth inning with the bases loaded and the Padres holding a seven-run lead. Tatis hit a grand slam after swinging on a 3-0 count, which angered the Rangers bench and considered a faux-pas by some baseball purists. The chatter carried into Tuesday and plenty of baseball players and writers weighed in on the situations, with many supporting the Padres superstar. 

All this discussion led me to wonder, what are some of wrestling’s “unwritten rules”. I turned to Twitter for some help and received a ton of great feedback. You touched on a variety of topics and brought up some issues that I would never have considered on my own. I’ve listed some of the tweets and given some real-life examples of these situations and/or my opinions on them. A few seem like no-brainers to me. Others have a lot of gray-area, like some of baseball’s unwritten rules. 

Editor’s Note: Before we begin, the talented Ryan Holmes of FloWrestling touched on this topic a few years ago, as well. Be sure to check out his article for more thoughts on the unwritten rules of wrestling

Food Related Rules

@Richard_Immel “Don’t eat in front of lightweights before weigh-ins. 

This is self-explanatory. Really it should be a written rule and there shouldn’t be any debating it. Typically your lightweights are more likely to be cutting weight, but don’t tease anyone cutting weight by eating in front of them. An angry, hungry wrestler isn’t someone to upset, so along with being a good teammate, it’s also in your best interests to avoid irritating them any more than they already are. 

@Claunchinator “Guys cutting weight get to the scale first. If you’re not worried, get out of the way. Nobody cares that you’re 2.7 under”.

Very eloquently put by one half of the @bloodround tag team. There’s not much else to say about that one. 

@codylcleveland “Wrestlers that aren’t cutting much weight or are there as “managers” should let those cutting weight and/or wrestling have first go at the food..and don’t hoard stuff. 

This is one that really got to me while coaching high school. While hosting big regular-season tournaments or postseason events, our staff and parents went out of their way to get a massive spread from local businesses. Parents also chipped in with some home-cooked goodness. We also had some healthy pre-tournament food for the wrestlers that were competing. After a coaches meeting, we walk in and find the JV guys going to town on everything. That incident only happened once and it became an official, unwritten rule, that they could have access to the room, but only after the actual kids competing got their food. 

How Do We Handle Domination (More geared to high school wrestling)

So we received multiple tweets relating to a situation where one wrestler is clearly better than the other. This topic was actually thrown around on social media a week or two ago, when a high school video made the rounds. It had a Fargo champion against an overmatched opponent, basically inventing some creative ways to get to the legs and finish. I admit I had to watch it three or four times, trying to figure out precisely what he did and how he did it. This wrestler, in particular, is known as extremely creative and gutsy, as to try high-risk maneuvers even in high-level matches, which made the situation more of a murky one. 

Generally, I’m not a fan of kids that are clearly better than their competition toying with an opponent. If you can pin them, do it. If not, try to rack up points as quick as possible and get off the mat. A multiple-time state champion isn’t really getting anything out of the match by piling up ten first period takedowns on a first-year wrestler. I even subscribe to the theory that you’re more likely to get hurt in a situation like this. Experienced wrestlers move and normally react in certain circumstances. Inexperienced wrestlers may not respond normally which could lead to unorthodox predicaments. Don’t bother with it, get the win and move on. 

As for the initial point, my instinct is to lean towards @ByCSauertieg, who says, “No doing gimmick moves to someone who’s clearly overmatched”

Another response to Clay’s tweet really rang true for me. @Coach_ERees says, “I’m okay with it if they want to try it in a live competition situation. But they get one shot. If they don’t get it, they have to move right into a pinning combo.”  

Coach Rees’ statement sums it up well, for me. I’m more traditional, but open to the fact that we probably could use more spice and fun in our sport. You get one shot to pull off that silly move you’ve been working on. But just one shot. After that, let’s move on. At the end of the day, I think you still will get more out of your time working on single-leg finishes or front headlocks, rather than the crazy tilt you’ve invented and perfected, but maybe I’m wrong. 

Switch gears a bit… @heftsj “Sandbagging matchups for exhibition matches for youth and JV duals”

Great one. I wouldn’t have thought of it, but I’ve been in this situation before. In Virginia, we would have JV matches before dual meets. These would be very loosely structured and didn’t include a full-lineup like a varsity dual would feature. It was basically a coach from each team saying, “I’ve got 2 120 lbers, a 145, and a 160”. The other says, “I’ve got a 126, but he’s brand new, and a 145 and a 170 that’s not great”. So we end up with the 145’s wrestling, one of the 120’s taking on the 126, and the 160 and 170 lber meeting. What the second coach didn’t mention was the 126 is new because he’s a freshman and he couldn’t crack the lineup with two state medalists in front of him. Maybe the 170 isn’t great for his particular team, but he’s not bad, either. Then you end up with a pair of :20 pins. Which is fine, I guess. But I’m not sure anyone really gained anything out of the match. If there’s no one else to wrestle, it’s better than nothing, but if you’re downplaying your wrestler’s ability, what’s the end game? There’s no team score being kept and no medals handed out. 

Equipment Timeouts

We had two-time World Team member Victoria Francis chime in with a topic that many others hit on in some form or another. 

@_VFran_ “If an opponent needs to adjust their singlet/top/sports bra after some wardrobe malfunction, not the time to shoot”

You can include hair and headgear into the discussion too. Frankly, this was one of the more controversial topics, at least from Twitter exchanges. I’ll admit to being the coach who has yelled at his wrestler to “not let up” when their opponent messes with a headgear or chinstrap. Being away from the heat of the battle, I’d acknowledge that you probably give the opponent a second or two grace period to make the proper adjustment, though maybe not in the last minute of a close match or something. Usually, a good referee will stop the action before the unsuspecting wrestler gets trucked by a Jordan Burroughs-ish double leg. 

Shaking Hands

@mullet_ivan “Always shake your opponents hand, win or lose. Without running off the mat as a sore loser or big winner. Same with the coaches hand.” 

Here’s another one that’s going to get a variety of answers, especially the last part sentence. Some of it will vary by region or state. Again from a Virginia perspective, generally, our high schoolers shake the opposing coaches’ hand after every match and are encouraged to do so by their coach. Other states don’t operate the same way. Shaking the opposing coach’s hand could go away for all I care. You’ve already shaken your opponent’s hand twice and if you’re in a dual, you’ll shake everyone’s hand there, also. In rare instances, I’ve witnessed some conflict during the coach/wrestler handshake, which could be avoided altogether. 

On the collegiate level, it can be hit or miss as to who shakes the other coaches hand and who doesn’t. My preference is that whatever you do, do it 100% of the time. It’s easy to shake the coach’s hand when you win, but not quite as easy (for some) when they lose. If you always shake hands, win or lose, good for you. If you never shake hands with the opposing coach, it doesn’t bother me. As for your opponents, always do it! 


@StacyBehr “Huge celebrations only for state/national/world titles and key matches in important/rivalry duals.” 

This is another one that will spark some debate. Really, I’m not sure whether Stacy posted this as an unwritten rule that he agrees with or disagrees with. But it doesn’t matter, there’s plenty of people on either side of the issue. 

As mentioned earlier, I’m a lifelong baseball fan along with coming up as a wrestler, so I’ve been programmed to show as little emotion as possible on the field/mat. Even so, since the NFL changed its end zone celebration rules a few years ago, I think it’s been more fan-friendly. The world hasn’t ended because a bunch of offensive linemen posed in a group picture with their running back or they all had some sort of choreographed routine and it doesn’t degrade the opposing team. Now such team-related celebrations on a wrestling mat would be impractical, but a little more emotion wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. We’re always looking for ways to retain casual fans. I’m sure a wrestler doing the latest dance from Fortnite or Tik Tok would get those people talking, if nothing else. My mom may not remember who scored the touchdown, but she’ll remember the guys dancing in a line like the Roxette’s afterward. 

I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but showing more emotion can make it more fun. Remember the Oklahoma State/Rutgers dual from 2018-19? Aside from the crazy replay delays, there were the Cowboy six-shooter celebrations that fired up both squads. My view of celebrations in all sports (baseball bat flips, end zones, soccer goals, post-pins) is that I’d probably never take part, but I don’t dislike other people doing them.


@warthogq “Don’t lay down on a slam call”

As someone who coached a state champion wrestler that lost a match to an inferior opponent on a borderline slam call, I support this 100%. Look no further than the one of the legends of our sport, Bobby Douglas, for guidance. While coaching the Iowa State Cyclones at the 2003 NCAA Championships, Douglas’ 285 lber Scott Coleman was injured on an illegal move call against Steve Mocco of Iowa, the top seed in the tournament. Douglas had the referee momentarily restart the match before pulling Coleman for an injury default. Talk about integrity. Facing your bitter, in-state rival in the second round of nationals and Douglas was able to make that call! 

As we’ve progressed and learned more about head injuries, this call could be out of the coach or wrestler’s hands. If it’s a possible head injury, a trainer could make the call to keep the injured wrestler from continuing, so don’t rush to judgment too quickly in this situation. If this isn’t the case and you’re just looking to get a quick win over a better opponent, don’t do it!

@TimmyHands “If it’s team-oriented apparel left in the bleachers or locker room, it’s going to get stolen”

The esteemed Mr. Hands and I do not condone any stealing of property. That being said, we’ve been to a wrestling tournament or two, it happens. There’s a reason why wrestlers and coaches carry their bags with them at all times. They know this goes on. Again, going back to my coaching days, we’d have some sort of minor punishment for any of our kids that left a singlet, hoodie, or any other school merch laying unattended in the middle of the bleachers. In the future, though, if you see that enticing shirt from your rival’s high school sitting out in the open, leave it there. Or give it to someone on their team. 

@Richard_Immel “Don’t take someone else’s drilling spot”

This is definitely an unwritten rule. However, I do think the dynamics of a wrestling room sort this one out on its own. If the walk-on snatches the favorite spot of the returning All-American, I’d hazard to say it doesn’t happen again. 

@kmcg101 “Don’t talk about using plastics”

What’s the first rule of Fight Club? You DO NOT talk about Fight Club. It’s like that. High school and colleges do not allow plastics, because of weight-cutting hazards. When I was wrestling, they were out there. Our coaches discouraged it, but somehow, they were used. I imagine they’re still around. Do I know? We DO NOT talk about using plastics. 

@tyjohnson28 “Warm-ups always run counter-clockwise”

Wow! I never thought of that before, but they do. At a huge tournament like NCAA’s or Fargo or something, you may get a few oddballs going clockwise, but yeah…


I received plenty of feedback on wrestling-related fashion. That won’t really be addressed here. Some of that stuff comes and goes. One generation may wear their socks at a certain height while the next prefers the opposite. While I was in high school (a long time ago), I wore a pair of long tights during a practice, as a gag. Everyone thought they were weird and gave me a hard time. Today, it would be normal. 

So I know everyone had their headgear, sock, shoe, warm-up, knee pads, and singlet preferences. They’ll change. 20 years from now, your kids will make fun of you and call you an old man or woman. With few exceptions, I don’t count fashion in the unwritten rules category. 

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