We are in trouble. It’s easy to be clouded by the recent successes in the wrestling world but there is an underlying, incidious trend in our sport that if we don’t act now will eventually be our downfall.
At 40 I ran a 3:18 marathon weighing 206 pounds. Today I can run maybe a 10 min mile without stopping at 215 lbs. After a mile I have to stop because my hip gets tight. If you drive past me on the road you might say, “wow he is still running great after all these years.” But they keep driving and don’t see me stop and walk the next half mile. Viewing the world through small positive snapshots can be deceiving.
This summer’s wrestling has been off the charts positive. USA Wrestling’s performance this summer can be deceiving. Kinda like when I go for a run around the block. At first glance wrestling in this country looks as good as it’s ever been and in many ways it is. I believe our National Team will be at the top of the world for years to come. Woman’s wrestling is one of the fastest growing sports in our country and could be making inroads into Div 1 Universities. The NCAA Tournament is incredibly successful and a true spectacle. In some parts of the country youth and high school wrestling is as popular as ever. Things look pretty good. I truly believe our best wrestlers coming out of high school are better than ever. Things are good, ahh.
Now for the multiple knee and ankle operations, the bad hip and saggy paunch around the midsection of this story. Wrestling is in trouble. According to Mike Moyer and the NWCA the statistics tell us high school participation for boys has declined the past six years with year seven trending the same.
I didn’t have to see the statistics to know we’ve declined as I’ve watched this trend for the past 10 years in my home state. Not only have our numbers declined in our state but the over-all quality of wrestling has declined. There is not as much push from the bottom up. In high school wrestling there are more forfeits, fewer exciting and crowd building dual meets and therefore less school/community wide interest. From Andy Hamilton’s article last spring, one issue Moyer sees is the lack of home dual meets for high school programs. He said the average has dipped to three home duals per season. Moyer also stated that we need to give the average wrestler a reason to stick with the sport. I agree, we have to make a concerted effort to bring back the dual meet so we can sell our sport to our community. It’s hard though to find the kind of competition that puts people in the seats.
The above is true, dual meets are important but what Moyer is saying is a symptom of a bigger problem. We are not seeing the fat guy walk as we drive out of sight. The statistics are symptoms of a greater disease. I believe there are two major issues facing wrestling and are at the core of our decline in numbers.
The most substantial reason for our decline is a lack of quality coaches. Let me repeat that – WE ARE NOT PRODUCING ENOUGH QUALITY COACHES! We are not putting quality coaches in the pipeline as we once did and with the addition of woman’s wrestling the need is even greater. We have fewer and fewer teacher/coaches going into the profession and therefore we have fewer coaches on campus. Putting together large teams takes oversight, time, recruitment and if you show up at 3:00 each day that’s tough to do. There are outliers to this but the best programs generally have coaches that are on staff and in building.
If we don’t do something about the slow drip of coaches going into education we will continue to decay and wrestling in many states will become a club sport. I would argue that teacher colleges have done more for the sport of wrestling than any other institution or group simply because of the incredible impact teacher/coaches have had on the sport. The downside is we’ve lost so many of these programs to cuts over the years.
The second issue we face is Football. America’s sport. The sport that, through brain trauma studies and leading the statistics in catastrophic injuries is still very popular and the king of sports on most high school campuses. Here’s the kicker, football is now a year around sport. With the advent of 7 on 7, speed and agility training, off season strength and conditioning and a change in the fundamental scheme that is played, football lends itself to year around training. Wrestling is losing athletes that were at one time their best ally. In 1954 my dad started the wrestling program at his high school as an off-season training activity for football and an alternative to basketball. Wrestling was and still is a great partner to football but it’s not the trend we are seeing at the high school level. This is especially true with high powered high school football programs like the one at my school.
It’s not that football is the only sport to become a year around endeavor. Baseball, soccer and pretty much everything else including wrestling are now year around. Sports that wrestling once drew our core athletes from, not the state champs but the athletes that filled out the dual meets that Moyer is talking about are too busy specializing. The only hope in my opinion to again capture some of these athletes is a quality in-building coach. Here in lies the conundrum previously stated – we are losing quality coaches to retirement who is going to take their place and recruit these athletes?
#wrestling #coaching #nwca #beatthestreets #prowl #nfhs #usawrestling