For me, the early season is akin to crafting a fine wine. Good grapes, high quality yeast, new oak, a vigilant eye and a soft touch. It’s a slow deliberate process that takes patience and an understanding that the wine at crush will mature to be something totally different after it ages in the barrel for a year or three.
Today was practice 14 of the season and we are definitely getting the itch to compete. One thing I feel good about is our intent during this period to really instill some good habits on position and general technique. Our ratio of teaching-drill-live at this time of year is somewhere around 40%/40%/20% and really that stat must come with a caveat that much of our drilling is also introduction of new technique through the natural progression many of our base drills use. Ha! You may ask how we get our team ready to compete with so little live and the answer would be pace of practice. I also don’t really give a rat’s ass if we are ready right now as I want to be ready in February and we will sacrifice now for later. Long bouts of early live lead to the reinforcement of the same old bad habits, increased chance of injury and late season burnout. This being the “comfort food” months let’s do a low and slow braise with these kids so at the end they will be very flavorful and succulent. Yummy! Our practice pace is very high and even though we are teaching a lot it is always on the run and wrestlers are hardly ever stationary for any length of time and that in itself will allow us to build a good conditioning base. I don’t like sitting or standing around in practice so we don’t do it much. To instill good habits we need to have a good period of time where we teach-drill-situational live-re-teach-drill and on and on. Some research says that it takes 21 days to change a habit. I don’t know if that’s true but it sounds good and seems like three weeks is a great stretch early in the season to instill some good behaviors. We incorporate so much technique into drills that teaching and drilling are often interchangeable and hard to isolate. After Christmas we will actually ramp up the live and start to build both a better wrestling/conditioning base and mental toughness. Than at some point in mid-January we will revisit many of the base drills we did in the first few weeks. After weeks of long live-wrestling there is a natural loss of clean technique that can easily be recovered by revisiting some of the base drills we did in November. I liken it to the touch of lemon and seasoning you add at the end of a delicious Osso Bucco.
In high school wrestling with a broad base of experience in the room and large numbers (we are currently at 65 kids) it can be tough to meet everyone’s needs. We of course want to get our experienced wrestlers ready for the rigorous events in the coming weeks but we also have to be cognizant of the younger wrestlers and their need for remediation and a slower technical pace. If we treat the youngsters the same way we do the veterans we can risk chasing them off. So, how do we manage all this?
Morning practices are one way to separate the experienced group and focus in on their specific needs. Morning is also a great time to teach. We will run for 20 or so minutes before we hit the wrestling room and start instruction. This way they are awake and haven’t had an entire day of school beforehand to muddle the learning process. In wine tasting there is such a thing as palate fatigue and in learning there most definitely can be mental fatigue after a long day of school. When a kid gets to the wrestling in the afternoon sometimes it’s nice to just go and not have to be taught to. That’s why sometimes I like to just drink the wine rather than taste it. With this in mind we do a lot of hard drill and live in the afternoon on the double days. One negative with morning practices is kids in general do not change their sleep patterns and are exhausted after a couple consecutive days of two-a-days. To manage this we don’t have morning practices every day and when we do practice in the morning we generally cut the afternoons short for the older kids. I am a true believer in respecting our athlete’s time and making sure they have ample time to do their homework and take care of their needs outside the world of school and wrestling. In turn I ask them to respect the process and practice time by being totally engaged and present. Teenagers want to be treated with respect and fairness and by being acutely aware of the demands on our athletes it gives us an opportunity to foster a better work relationship. It’s also nice to walk out into the day light every once in a while as wrestling season can feel like you’re living in a dungeon for three months. Limited hours of daylight are especially true here in the Great Northern Hemisphere and home of the Berzerkers. Morning practice also allows us time to remediate and slow down the teaching for the younger kids in the afternoon when the older kids are released. On days we don’t have morning practice we will go a little longer and use some practice time to put the younger group in the weight room (all our older kids have morning lift class) and we use that time to speed things up for the older kids (meaning a little more live).
I love practice and the start of the season with basically three weeks to really focus in on technique without weigh-ins and competition hanging over our heads every other day is very enjoyable. Almost as enjoyable as a nice Tuscan Roast Lamb paired with a Chianti Classico.