Women's Wrestling

The Great Debate for Female High School Wrestlers: Freestyle or Folkstyle

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photo courtesy of Jim Thrall; MatFocus.com

This is a guest column from Shannyn Gillespie

In a world where men still make a lot of decisions for women, this article focuses on many veteran women wrestlers opinions on why girls should either wrestle freestyle or folkstyle in high school.  

For clarity, the international & collegiate wrestling style for females is freestyle while folkstyle is the domestic wrestling style for males in high school & college.  Currently, the argument for folkstyle wrestling for high school females appears to be strengthened by the males who dominate the decision making process in the NCAA, NJCAA, and the NFHS.  Although, shortly, it may seem to be the opinion of some veteran women wrestlers too.

Here’s a quick history for the debated wrestling styles for females…  Folkstyle wrestling was introduced in 1903 at the collegiate level in a dual meet between Yale & Columbia.  Freestyle wrestling was introduced at the 1904 St. Louis Olympic Games and was used by American grapplers only.  Women’s freestyle wrestling was launched in 2004 at the Athens Olympic Games.

These days, women’s ideas on how they want to be treated on or at jobs are taken seriously.  What is just as important, is the notion that women’s ideas be acknowledged, heard, & implemented everywhere else too.  Below is the answer to the question: “What style should high school girls wrestle?” from some experts of wrestling who happen to be women.

Randi Miller | Olympic Bronze Medalist | Sr. World Team I don’t see the point in wrestling folkstyle ever…  But, there is such limited experience in freestyle it would be hard to find coaching for the lower levels.

Carlene Sluberski | University of Providence Head Coach  In a perfect world, I think that girls should wrestle freestyle in high school. I just don’t think it’s realistic at the moment. If you think about it, freestyle is not as well known for many coaches and refs, especially when you get to smaller towns across the country. It’s really kind of foreign to many of us!  

So, even though we don’t all have access to freestyle coaches or clubs, there are a lot of things high school girls can do using their high school folkstyle background to prepare for a collegiate freestyle career. Focusing on wrestling on your feet and even working moves on top that will transfer over to freestyle can be helpful. I think that there is also the opportunity to get tough on the bottom and not give up turns or exposure. I think there needs to be a lot of thoughtful effort put into developing a wrestler through folkstyle that will help them excel as a freestyle wrestler in the future.  

Even though wrestling folkstyle isn’t ideal, there is so much to be learned from this style depending on how you choose to look at it and apply it to your training.  

Brandy Green | Limestone College Head Coach  With the thought that we are the only country that wrestles folkstyle, my opinion is girls should wrestle freestyle in high school. But the reality is, my opinion is far from where we are now.  

But there are options that can fit all [both styles].  I have discussed with many a modified version [of folkstyle]; more of a takedown tournament…

Three easy [rules] adjustments for coaches & officials:  

Rule 1: Fifteen to 20 seconds [during top/bottom wrestling] to turn/pin opponent or you are back to your feet

Rule 2: ​Can​ lock hands on top  

Rule 3: Push out point

I think these rule adjustments above, will over several years, translate to freestyle wrestling by natural progression.

Schuyler Brown | Jr. World Team  I think that folkstyle is a tool to be used when training – not something to train for.  Women do not have an NCAA Championship [collegiate folkstyle national tournament], so once high school is done, folkstyle is too.  

Familiarity with folkstyle makes wrestlers more aware of opportunities from the mat in freestyle. But, making that [freestyle] connection and knowing when to take advantage of those opportunities comes from real life application.

In the States, we favor folkstyle while leaving freestyle as a“postseason” afterthought. When freestyle season picks up, a lot of time at practice ends up being spent getting everyone on the same page (either introducing or reintroducing the skills.) Coincidentally, when these skills are drilled, they have to start from the beginning where the motions are isolated, so transitions aren’t developed. This puts us behind other countries whose women are able to execute transitions, have developed their setups, and are well versed in match strategy by the time they are in their teens (if not sooner).

So, my thoughts are that we need to have a more integrated approach to training all together; women especially should have a training plan and personal mindset geared towards freestyle wrestling.  The fact that there is no folkstyle world championship [for females] should be realized early on (efforts and goals should be made accordingly).

Finally, from a self-efficacy & psychological perspective, time spent away from freestyle takes a toll on an athlete’s confidence in executing the skills successfully.

Alyssa Lampe | Sr. World Bronze Medalist | Jr. World Silver Medalist  I think everyone should wrestle freestyle because that’s what other countries do. We are the only country that does folkstyle.

Tina George | 2X Sr. World Silver Medalist I think they should wrestle both styles. Folkstyle is scholastic competition and freestyle has international implications. The boys wrestle folkstyle during the season and freestyle/Greco in the offseason.  Why would female wrestlers not take advantage of these opportunities as well?

Shyla Iokia-Murphy | Naval Officer | Sr. Nationals All-American Wrestling folkstyle requires a strong base and to understand your balance throughout each move. Folkstyle serves its purpose to a certain point and, in that, you also see its limitations.  I’m a strong believer all wrestlers should understand the basics first and that’s what folkstyle brings to the table.

Now, do I believe female wrestlers should wrestle folkstyle or freestyle in high school?  I’d say yes to folkstyle because, as I stated earlier, it’s a great base and freestyle is, as its name indicates, doing more with less constraints.  

Folkstyle brings out the grind seen so often in American wrestlers. We have grit when it comes down to the wire. When I get a front headlock, because of my basic knowledge in hand placement from folkstyle, I’m able to transition to a full lock or even a quick move from left/right or right/left.  

I understand that the Olympics has only freestyle and it would make sense just to practice the style you need to perform, but I haven’t really seen where that has affected USA wrestling. Freestyle wrestling for women comes down to want and the ability to learn the skills. Both styles have their benefits.  The basics in either are the same, but the scramble in folkstyle is much more developed and necessary especially for lighter weights.

I feel like folkstyle defines a lot of our [USAs] work ethic in the sport.  

Erin Clodgo | Sr. World Team | Jr. World Team

Freestyle all the way…

I believe the whole country should wrestle freestyle or Greco and get rid of folkstyle because I believe we lose a lot of great caliber wrestlers due to the majority of them being done [wrestling] after college.

For one, they don’t want to learn another style, and two, the freestyle competitions are in their offseason now and a lot of wrestlers don’t want to compete all year around.  

I think folkstyle is great to learn scrambling and conditioning, but it’s not very technical and you don’t really learn throws or how to defend them.

I think our country would compete a lot stronger against other countries if we got rid of folkstyle altogether.

Gabrielle Lord-Klein | Transition Wrestling Founder Of course girls should wrestle freestyle in high school.  

Freestyle wrestling is the natural path competitive interscholastic level girls will follow if they continue the sport through college and/or beyond. Additionally, I would suggest that freestyle wrestling presents various situations and challenges unique to the style that is preferential to creating action and a constant flow of movement, i.e. par terre, shot clocks, etc.  

Folkstyle is not internationally recognized. Initially, it will be more difficult to support girls wrestling freestyle in high school because of the investment in officials and other regulatory guidelines, but our world level teams will benefit from greater depth in talent.  

A response I often hear to my position is, “what if she just wants to be the best in the state for high school, not the world?”. Well, if the state championships are in freestyle and that is what girls compete in, then wouldn’t they still be the best in the state while also adding depth to the US national team competition pool?

The big picture goal, after all, is to be the best in the world. By teaching a single style at youth and interscholastic levels, we are taking action directly related to achieving that goal.  

We have the opportunity right now to define the way women’s wrestling is built within the United States. We have to ensure that we are asking questions that challenge the applicability of the system in place for boys/men’s wrestling to the one that WE build and accept for girls/women’s wrestling.  

Conclusion: At the start of this inquiry (and at the end), women’s voices have not necessarily been taken as serious, as perhaps one might think, regarding the folkstyle vs. freestyle debate.  As of this writing, all the high school state governing bodies (around 13 States) have decided that girls will wrestle folkstyle in sanctioned high school state tournaments.

Also, female wrestling national championships do not currently exist in the NCAA or NJCAA – however, the NAIA held its first invitational championships for women this spring.  “What style did the NAIA women wrestle?”, one might ask… The answer is freestyle and perhaps more women’s opinions are being implemented with regard to what style women should wrestle in college.  The WCWA, the Women’s College Wrestling Association, also holds women’s wrestling national championships in freestyle wrestling and has done so since 2008.

Maybe after reading this article, and asking women leaders of wrestling what they want, more male leaders (decision makers) of wrestling may change their minds about what style high school girls should wrestle…

For more from Shannyn check out his facebook page: ​http://facebook.com/uswomenswrestling  

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