Thursday, November 15, 2007

Lifelong learning

I recently attended the Michigan Wrestling Association's fall clinic, and the environment was no different than other years, the location terrific for us mid-Michigan coaches. The coaching clinics were again valuable and informative as well. My notes from the Coach of the Year Clinics:
  1. Addison's coach, Rich Sherry, chatted about how he reflected on the upcoming clinic, and needed to summarize his philosophy for his presentation. He found that his belief system fell into a category of 5 Es:
    • Everyone: Coach all athletes, not just the high achievers.
    • Everything: Mentor all aspects of a wrestler's life, not just wrestling, but also schoolwork and grades, negotiating relationships with girlfriends and parents, etc.
    • Everywhere: Coach in competition, in practice, in the classroom, in the hallways.
    • Endlessly: Be involved in regular wrestling practices, in addition to freestyle and Greco, and the fundraising.
    • Enthusiasm: While one should necessarily raise one's emotional level for big meets or matches, it's critically important to be highly energized during practices. Further, 90% of coaching takes place during practices, which should be entirely scripted to the minute.
  2. Murray Rose from Allegan High School distributed a flyer describing his games approach to coaching, and how games offset the redundancy of practices, especially during the dark and monotonous mid-January period.
  3. Don Rinehart, from the terrific Rockford program, discussed promotion as a key to Rockford's success. I loved his notion that drilling may be perceived as boring, but winning never is.
  4. Dundee's coach, Tim Roberts, was informative. Some of his points included:
    • Don't let one's ego stand in the way for success. If a wrestler learns something from someone else outside of the program, the athlete is the better for it, and coaches don't need the credit.
    • Be decent to other coaches, because we are the only people that know what we're going through.
    • Always try to learn: if you're not improving, you're getting worse. Keep an open mind, and self-improvement can take place.
    • Coaching youth wrestlers helps teach the coach how to better instruct technique, how to better break down the instruction of a move.
    • Take care of oneself and your health. A clear mind is the best equipment one can offer as a coach, and that is best achieved by remaining healthy.
    • Always script practices, but allow for flexibility where needed. Announcements and general banter take place during the warmups. Teach, and re-teach all athletes.
    • Teaching the mental aspects of wrestling is paramount: motivate kids to want to work hard, convince them to pay the necessary price.
    • Wrestle a good schedule to achieve success at the end of the season, both individually-, and team-wise.
It's telling that the philosophies and procedures employed by all of these state championship coaches are quite similar, with themes of continued professional development and promoting confidence and mental toughness repeated throughout.

Keith Lowrance, from Granby System Wrestling, was very fulsome in his self-praise, claiming to have handled Don Behm in all wrestle-offs back when both wrestled for Michigan State in the 1960s. And while I never accomplished as much as I would like in the sport (whoever does?), Lowrance's immodest banter belied his actual achievements: if he was actually asked by Grady Peninger to coach the team while still an athlete, was a Big 10 champ and All American, and if he could handily beat an Olympic Silver Medalist in practice, why was he not also a World or Olympic placer himself?

Regardless, one's accomplishments need not necessarily equal one's coaching insight or abilities, as has been seen on many other occasions in wrestling. I also find it interesting that Lowrance employs the term 'holds' rather than the more generic 'moves' or 'maneuvers' or 'technique,' perhaps it's a more southern variety. Some of Lowrance's highlights are:
  • Out of necessity, he sought to create the mentality where his athlete did not require a coach's presence in the corner during competition. Independence, and mental toughness.
  • The means for increasing a wrestler's confidence, and in turn, his success, is to show maneuvers that work, and use only rhetoric that promotes success.
  • Tap double drill: Wrestlers go side-to-side to teach proper stance and position, changing levels, penetrating, and tapping opponent's ankles. Also works in traditional double and single leg stances.
  • Bones are harder and stronger than muscle, use angles to create advantages.
  • Use head position on offensive maneuvers to indicate successful technique: employ a quick shrug to the side drill to teach quickness and position.
  • Hop, hop, hop single: hop footwork drill and level change to access ankle/lower leg, maintain head position on target (belly).
  • Knee pull single: left arm pulls inside opponent's left leg without penetration, only level change, then sweep finish.
  • Statistically speaking, the best chance for takedown success results from defensive maneuvers, counter defense or counter shots. All wrestlers, especially those in high school, should score off their opponent's mistakes.
  • Top arm bar drill: with bar arm from par terre or flat, offensive wrestler rolls in direction of barred arm for exposure. If defensive wrestler loads up against barred arm roll, simply tilt with defensive position.
  • Gain advantage from Burgee Bump position by twisting elbows, exploiting weak post.
  • Successful coaches concentrate on two simple concepts:
    • Use and teach only the best, simple maneuvers, and
    • Learn from whoever, wherever possible.
I need to remember to bring a video camera to these events in the future, one would have been especially helpful during Lowrance's clinic. I was well able to take notes during all sessions, but I would be better informed if I had videotaped the 2.5 hour clinic that Lowrance put on with his ex-wrestlers.

There is a business end to the conference, the MHSAA rules meeting; new rules for the 2007-2008 wrestling season:
  • New restart position: neutral. Instead of choosing an optional start, the offensive wrestler can choose neutral during any whistle-stop moments (out of bounds, injury or blood time, change of period) and award his opponent a point and the neutral position. Seems like a common sense solution that will save time.
  • Orthodontic work must now be protected by a mouth guard.
  • Scoring errors can be corrected at any time during the match, not just during the same period in which they occurred.
  • Defaulting a wrestler has been made easier: a wrestler can default without re-starting a match, therefore avoiding further injury, and the consequent risk of litigation.
  • The official's uniform can now also be gray, with narrower black stripes. Apparently, the traditional black and white striped shirt had been deemed too intimidating, but is still the default choice of clothing.
  • A second injury timeout allows the opponent to choose position for the remainder of the match, during all choices. For example, if 2 injury timeouts occur in the first period, the other wrestler has choice for the 2nd and 3rd periods, and any potential overtime choices as well.
One also has to anticipate that skin conditions, and MRSA, are going to be looming issues this season, and that there is going to be even keener attention paid to dermatological blemishes.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Local collegiate wrestling outlet?

A new wrestling season is upon us, and wrestling activists are charged with enthusiasm. Our recruiting is going well, preseason attendance has been enthusiastically and reasonably well attended, and expectations are a bit higher. It was this frame of thinking that took us to the MSU dual meet tonight at the IM West against Old Dominion, where we were quickly met with a sorry, sordid, reality.

From the location -- not the usual Jenison -- to meet administration to, most importantly, the wrestling itself, Michigan State did not acquit themselves at all well tonight. But, when have they over the last several years? The sponsorship banners were hung haphazardly around the arena, with some repeatedly falling down during the action. The national anthem abruptly blurted through the loudspeakers without a preparatory announcement. As for the wrestling, the results and the statistics bear out the problems: MSU loses to the Monarchs 16-20, but wins in cautions, false starts, and stalling warnings. Old Dominion is not a team from a powerhouse, traditional conference, like the Big 12 or the Big 10, but the CAA, a small-school, eastern conference known only in wrestling circles for the recent achievements of Hofstra. MSU looked woefully unprepared physically, as evidenced by the lack of composure in stallings and cautions, and they lack talent and toughness: MSU's roster is certainly not littered with FILA or Fargo All Americans or multi state champions, like that school down the road and all the others in the conference, MSU has only journeyman. I believe that, due to the unconcerned, aloof, and indifferent manner in which wrestling is coached and performed at MSU that it is not unrealistic that the sport is legitimately at risk of being Title IX'd. Thankfully, due to my status as a high school wrestling coach, I don't have to pay to attend these awful meets.