Wednesday, November 22, 2006

High School Wrestling: Week 2

Practice is progressing reasonably well, many of the kids are picking up on the routines and the positions that the coaching staff want. The first days and weeks of practice are times for the athletes to not only learn how we want them to move and to conduct themselves, and to buy into our system, but to learn about themselves in terms of their fitness, their interest in the sport, and their commitment. The first weeks of wrestling practice also see a fluidity in participation levels, as kids discern that the sport isn't for them, and drift off, or we delightfully find kids joining the team late.

The wrestling season's calendar itself is currently being considered for reconsideration by the MHSAA because of a litany of complaints by wrestling coaches, at least according to what Mark Uyl stated at our recent rules meeting. The start of winter sports usually occurs the second Monday of November, but that starting date could conflict with schools that have football teams still participating in the MHSAA playoffs. Even if your team is not enjoying an extended season, coaches and wrestling teams prepare for a week or two, only to be interrupted by the firearm deer season, and the Thanksgiving Holiday, activities that we have studiously found commonly has wrestlers involved. Competition commences the first weekend of December, but the season is again interrupted by another major holiday, for up to two weeks. Families travel, kids miss practices, buildings can be difficult to access, building environments may not be wrestling-conducive, illnesses begin to creep in, all issues that inhibit proper preparation for the sport.

An ex-wrestler from several years back tracked me down at my new coaching job yesterday, and it was very pleasing for me to see him and hear his news, to see the pride he has taken in his positive career and life developments. The longer that I am involved in coaching, the more that I discover that it is the encounters with these ex-athletes that are meaningful and rewarding to me, certainly equal or even more rewarding than the wins that the kids may enjoy. A close friend and coaching colleague has remarked many times that the sport of wrestling needs kids with talent, but sometimes kids -- the lesser talented ones, the ones without many athletic, or otherwise, assets -- in turn, need wrestling. More simply: there are kids that wrestling needs, and there are kids that need wrestling. These are the kids that I bump into in the grocery store or the restaurant or at a parade or at the movies, or most frequently they come to wrestling practice because they know how to find their wrestling coaches. These kids tell me about how they got married and to whom, how easy their time in the service was because of their preparing time spent wrestling, their college or current employment experiences. These are the kids that frequently find that their time in scholastic sports, in wrestling, shaped their lives for the better. As an educator first and coach second, it is encounters like these, and reports like the young man delivered, that best gauge how we are doing with our athletes, and I could not be more pleased.

More nuts and bolts of coaching: I submitted my financial paperwork late last week, which makes me eligible for payment, and I learned what my salary would be when I was signing my contract in the athletic department office. It amuses me to think that one can go about applying and actually accepting a job -- any job -- without knowing the salary in advance, for consideration purposes. Also, it goes without saying that a good relationship with the Assistant in the Athletic Department goes a long way.

Monday, November 13, 2006

New season underway

Today is the first day winter sports can officially begin training, and our high school's wrestling practice was no different than the 12 other first days of practice in which I've participated. Twenty four kids showed up, which is really encouraging considering last year's numbers at the small, rural school where I worked. Discouraging, on the other hand, was the broken foot that one of the veterans, and a kid with captain credentials, sported as he came to practice; the trainer believes he could be out 6 to 8 weeks.

To complicate the practice environment a bit more, the head coach was out sick, with a temperate and contagious case of pneumonia. Thankfully, he and I had been working together on me being the assistant coach for better than six months, so I am familiar with the facilities and the kids as well. After some brief introductory comments, we were underway with our warmups and stretching, then some instructional line drills, and time for a water break. Beyond positional instruction, the only other teaching I did covered handfighting, hip heists, and a double leg takedown. We wound up practice with a knee slap game and some in-room sprint work for the cardio portion.

Working in a new school district means acquiring the necessary keys, filling out and submitting the financial paperwork, commuting to practice, and learning the new routines. The commute is shortish, and I am less likely to hit a deer than last year. I like the wrestling room, it is dedicated to the sport and not multi-purpose. I also like the athletic facilities, the coach's room is an entire locker room, and the weight room is going to be completely updated by a generous gift of an alumni who is now in the NFL. Overall, my new job, and the team itself are encouraging.