January 5, 2010 by David Gillaspie
Christmas vacation practice sets the tone for the rest of the year. All the drills, wrestling, and running make you special. The work you do will see you through, will set the pace you’ll force opponents to match. Every time you step forward and shake hands before the whistle, holiday training puts you up by two points.
Why two points? One for escaping from laziness, and another for setting an example for the rest of your team escaping from laziness. But what if you don’t have holiday practices? What if your team has varsity only tournaments and the rest of the guys are left to fend for themselves?
Any wrestling guy reading this asks “who doesn’t have Christmas break practice?” Any coach asks “why the heck wouldn’t you have Christmas break practice?”
The sad truth in the west is some teams don’t get around to it. They focus on the varsity tournaments and leave the JV and freshman, otherwise known as the seeds of future success, to start over after break. Can we all agree that starting over in January is too late to salvage the sort of season promised at the first practice of the year?
All wrestling families know the importance of winter break practice. Some even think daily doubles, with early mat time and later road time, isn’t asking too much. Has any wrestling dad had to call the coach to ask why there’s no practice? Why no assistant can make it to the room while the varsity is busy?
Isn’t Christmas break when the traditional wrestling powers open the room to their former stand-outs to come in and show the high school team what wrestling means a few years down the road? Where yesterday’s champs open their bag of tricks while they roll around with new guys?
If wrestling is considered a hand me down sport, handed from father to son, from former wrestlers to current, then Christmas break is the big bonus of the year. This is when a college-aged kid finds someone like him on the high school team and demonstrates what made him great. This is when other coaches do clinics for their buddies’ teams.
Who doesn’t want to add a Greco throw or a freestyle tilt to their arsenal of weapons? Christmas break is the time to bring it out. Doing a Greco and a freestyle practice breaks up the collegiate technique treadmill. It opens new paths of possibilities. It adds more tools and gives the sport a free wheeling feel. Instead of clutch and hold, it’s grip and rip. Bring out the dummies and thick landing pads and take a flying lesson.
Any coach who ignores the benefits of Christmas break practice will never have a successful team. They won’t have even a good team. How do these guys explain it to their athletic director? “I was busy?” “I had guests from out of town?” Both are fine excuses, but when is the last time an excuse won a match?
The young guys, the JV and the freshman, need the break practice or they drift off. They’ll have three more years of wrestling, but won’t expect to do anything over Christmas. More important, a layoff will get them hurt and they won’t be back in the room.
All wrestlers ask the same question, “How do I get better?” All coaches have the same answer, “Show up and do the work asked of you.” If a coach doesn’t have that answer then his wrestlers will not get better, his team will slide, and the sport suffers.
If you wrestle, then you owe it to yourself to be prepared. First, ask yourself why you wrestle. If you are the King of the Corner in your practice room then the answer is simple: you like being the king. If you are learning new things every practice, then you like seeing improvement. If you are a scrawny weakling, then you just want to be part of the most challenging season of athletics offered in any high school or college in the country; you want to be a part of the crowd who knows what Man-Up means.
If you coach, and let Christmas break practice slide by for anyone on your team, ask yourself what you’ll be doing next wrestling season. It shouldn’t be coaching a wrestling team. It shouldn’t be sending ill prepared kids out to get ripped up because you had better things to do than get them in the room.
If you are a wrestling family, and your questions and messages and phone calls go unanswered by the high school coach, join a wrestling club. Do that and the matches will speak for themselves; do that and teammates will notice; do that and your wrestler will trust his family the rest of his life.
Join the club and build technique and endurance. Set a tempo during matches that wear your opponent down. Use new skills. When the high school coach tells you “only use the moves we teach our team,” pass it along to your dad. He needs a good laugh. Then go out and win matches the only way any wrestler wins matches; the hard way.