• Managing Your Nerves Under Pressure (Scholastic)

    by Morgan Whittemore | Feb 03, 2016

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    Managing Your Nerves Under Pressure (Scholastic)

      
     by Dennis A. Johnson, EdD     
         
         One of the most common methods wrestlers utilize to manage their nerves is to use some form of deep breathing and progressive relaxation.  This is another of the mental skills that hopefully coaches have taught their wrestlers to practice throughout the season.  If not and for the immediate future, coaches might stress that wrestlers simply be aware of things they can and can’t control.  And they might also instruct wrestlers to simply stay in the present, take a deep breath, and focus on the tasks at hand (e.g., using an arm drag to set up a leg attack) during practice and competition.
     
         However, going forward coaches can teach their wrestlers how to use progressive relaxation to remain calm and focused during a match or tournament.  In Wrestling Drills for the Mat and Mind, Dr. Larry Lauer discusses a four-phase cycle to learn progressive relaxation (1). 

    • Phase 1-Tense-Relax Cycle:  Complete tense and relaxation of muscle groups (feet, lower leg, upper leg, hips, core, upper arms, lower arms, face, etc.).  Complete these exercises 10-15 minutes, 3-4 times per week.
    • Phase 2-Relax Only Cycle:  Relax muscle groups individually without tensing.  Begin to use a cue word such as “relax” or “let go” and/or use a peaceful image (e.g., water flowing in a stream). Complete these exercises 5-10 minutes, 7 times per week.
    • Phase 3-Full-Speed Relaxation Cycle: Learn to relax muscle groups individually and the goal is to do so with a deep inhalation and exhale.  Complete these exercises 7 times per week 20 times a day.
    • Phase 4-Utilization Cycle:  Use relaxation technique in stressful situations, first in practice and then in competitive situations (1, p.50).
     
    The NWCA Wrestling Coaches Resource Manual offers additional tips on how to handle pressure.
     
    “Find a way and make it happen”….dj

    References: 
    1. Johnson, D.A.  (2004).  Wrestling Drills for the Mat and Mind.  Ithaca NY: Momentum Media Publishing. 

    Dennis A. Johnson, EdD
    Associate Professor-Jamestown Community College (SUNY)
    Former Wrestling Coach & Author of Wrestling Drills for the Mat and Mind
    DennisJohnson@mail.sunyjcc.edu


  • Managing Your Nerves Under Pressure (Youth)

    by Morgan Whittemore | Feb 03, 2016
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    Managing Your Nerves Under Pressure (Youth)

          
      by Dennis A. Johnson, EdD 

          We are short and sweet on this topic.  I have always felt that the Spaghetti Toes Relaxation Exercise by Terry Orlick is the ideal introductory strategy to help youngsters manage their nervousness (1). The brief version of this exercise is to have wrestlers pretend that they are a strand of spaghetti just out of the box, all stiff, hard, and brittle.  Coaches then tell them to pretend that they have just been put into a pot of boiling water.  Watch as the children become very limp and relaxed.   This works great!!!
     
         Coaches can also go more in-depth as the season progresses.  They can have the youth wrestlers begin to actually talk to different body parts and tell themselves to go soft and warm like spaghetti on a plate.  For instance one script might be, “wiggle one leg-stop wiggling-tell it to go soft and sleepy like warm spaghetti.” 
     
         Children can be conditioned to use this self-talk and relaxation technique when they become worried or scared like right before a competition.  The NWCA Youth Coaching Manual for more helpful hints on how to keep youth wrestlers relaxed under pressure.
     
    “Find a way and make it happen”….dj


    References
    1. Orlick, T. (2004).  Feeling great:  Teaching children to excel at living.  Carp, Ontario, Canada: Creative Bound.
    Dennis A. Johnson, EdD
    Associate Professor-Jamestown Community College (SUNY)
    Former Wrestling Coach & Author of Wrestling Drills for the Mat and Mind
    DennisJohnson@mail.sunyjcc.edu


  • The Importance Of Recovery (Scholastic)

    by Morgan Whittemore | Feb 03, 2016
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    Importance of Recovery (Scholastic)

      
     by Dennis A. Johnson, EdD     
         
         There was a time when coaches thought that the harder athletes worked; the tougher they would be in competition.  Examples such as Alabama football coach Bear Bryant not allowing his players to take water breaks in the movie Junction Boys were commonplace.  Work hard, work hard, work hard!!!
     
         However with the evolution of exercise science we now know that working hard all the time is not only inappropriate, it may even be detrimental to a wrestler’s performance.  Over working a wrestler’s body (i.e., overloading or over-training) can be good to a point.  Continuing to overload and the human body will at some point begin to deteriorate and lead to staleness and/or possible burnout.  The weight management plan may also add additional concerns with regard to the overload process.
     
         Therefore, coaches must allow time for recovery (1).  Practice times should begin to shorten as the season progresses.  Wrestling workouts might include days of active rest; low intensity training in a different sport.  For example going for a slow walk, jog, or swim in a pool.  There might also be a day programmed for complete rest and no physical training (say once every 10 days).  This will allow both the body and the mind to recover.

         Coaches must understand the principle of individual differences when planning recovery for their wrestlers.   Some wrestlers can handle larger workloads than others, but they all need time to recover.  The last thing a wrestling coach wants to hear a wrestler say is “I can’t wait for the season to be over" which is usually a result of over-training and a lack of recovery.
     
    The NWCA Wrestling Coaches Resource Manual (1) offers additional tips on how to aid wrestlers in the stages of recovery
     
    “Find a way and make it happen”….dj

    Dennis A. Johnson, EdD
    Associate Professor-Jamestown Community College (SUNY)
    Former Wrestling Coach & Author of Wrestling Drills for the Mat and Mind
    DennisJohnson@mail.sunyjcc.edu


  • Importance of Recovery (Youth)

    by Morgan Whittemore | Feb 03, 2016
    Blog Header


    Importance of Recovery (Youth)

          
      by Dennis A. Johnson, EdD 

         Recovery may not be a huge issue with the youth wrestlers provided they have participated in a program that was designed with age-appropriate principles in mind.  Hopefully, practices have been scheduled for a short duration and meeting only two to three times a week.  That is, a qualified coach has designed practices with a games approach and the children have competed in a limited number of competitions based on individual abilities. 
     
        I have mentioned previously that children in the U-12 age groups should be encouraged to sport sample.  Wrestle for a few weeks, and then try gymnastics, swimming, soccer and/or other sports.  Sport sampling in and of itself with serve as a form of recovery.  Children typically will not suffer from overuse injuries, or burnout if this is the case. 
     
        However, for the youth wrestlers in the 12 and under age brackets that have been training seven days a week for two to three months and have they been sitting in a gym competing in tournaments every weekend, they may have some problems going forward.  If they have been following such a regime, they are or will soon be in need of serious recovery and/or they will be ready to quit the sport in the years to come.  Once children in these types of programs are old enough to compete in high school, there is a possibility that their name will read “FORFEIT” in the box score.
     
        Check out the Check out the NWCA Youth Coaching Manual for more helpful hints on how to keep youth wrestler’s engaged and motivated through proper recovery.


    “Find a way and make it happen”….dj
     
    Dennis A. Johnson, EdD
    Associate Professor-Jamestown Community College (SUNY)
    Former Wrestling Coach & Author of Wrestling Drills for the Mat and Mind
    DennisJohnson@mail.sunyjcc.edu



  • Mental Preparation for Post Season (Youth)

    by Morgan Whittemore | Jan 20, 2016

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    Mental Preparation for Post Season

          
      by Dennis A. Johnson, EdD 

          A number of states host elementary and junior high championship tournaments.  USA Wrestlingand other organizations also host championship events for youth wrestling.  I have noticed that many parents and coaches seem to really emphasize the importance of these events to their children.  (For the purpose of full disclosure, I am not a huge proponent of these types of events for children in the 10 and under age groups.)  
     
         However, in terms of mental preparation for youth wrestlers, I might suggest teaching one or two basic mental skills.  One mental skill coaches might teach wrestlers is how to set practice and performance goals rather than outcome goals (i.e., I must win) throughout the season.  This type of goal setting may be utilized not only in post-season, but at any time during the season.
     
         Setting these types of goals are a component of a task-orientated environment (one in which a wrestler can focus on personal development rather than totally focusing on winning).  Practice goals consist of basic tactic or technique goals (e.g., I will score six single leg attacks using an arm drag setup during live scrimmage in practice today).  Performance goals are goals in which a wrestler sets goals designed for competition (e.g., I will successfully execute a near arm chop for a breakdown).  These types of goals can be measured and readjusted.  When the goals are achieved they build a child’s confidence, when not they can be modified in the future.
     
         Practice and performance goals are especially useful in the post season as the wrestler can focus on the task at hand without the worry or anxiety of winning or losing.  Look over the NWCA Youth Coaching Manual for more helpful hints on how to prepare youth wrestlers for championship meets.

    “Find a way and make it happen”….dj


    References:
    1. Caslow, D. (2008).Wrestling coaches resource manual. Manheim, PA: NWCA

    Dennis A. Johnson, EdD
    Associate Professor-Jamestown Community College (SUNY)
    Former Wrestling Coach & Author of Wrestling Drills for the Mat and Mind
    DennisJohnson@mail.sunyjcc.edu


  • Mental Preparation for Post Season (HS)

    by Morgan Whittemore | Jan 20, 2016
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    Mental Preparation for Post Season

      
     by Dennis A. Johnson, EdD     
         
         How much of a wrestling match is mental; seventy, eighty, or ninety percent?  We have all heard the scenario where two wrestlers of equal physical stature (i.e., strength and speed) and are equal in terms of tactics and techniques meet center mat.  Who wins?  And we as coaches all know the answer; the wrestler who is mentally tougher and has the better mental game.
     
         With so much of wrestling being mental, hopefully coaches have been working on a number of mental skills throughout the season.  Mental skills such as goal-setting, imagery, focus, and relaxation are just like physical skills.  And that means that mental skills, like physical skills must be practiced.  If these skills have been practiced weekly, they will carry into the post season.
     
         However, if mental skills have not been practiced then coaches should work with wrestlers to develop a mental game plan for upcoming post season tournaments.  The mental game plan should include a mental image of warm-up and the actual match complete with a variety of scenarios that might be encountered.  Wrestlers should also have a game plan for unexpected outcomes, for instance injury or a loss.
     
         A wrestler often will get upset and be forced to wrestle back for an advancement place to move on to the next level of the state championship series.  Even though, they plan to win, they must have a backup plan just in case.  I once had a wrestler that was totally focused on winning a tournament and didn’t have a backup plan for the consolation rounds.  He failed to place and did not move on to the state meet.  So help wrestlers develop a mental game plan and rehearse it on a daily basis.
     
    The NWCA Wrestling Coaches Resource Manual(1) offers additional tips for more mental preparation for the post season.
     
    “Find a way and make it happen”….dj



    References:
    1. Caslow, D. (2008).Wrestling coaches resource manual. Manheim, PA: NWCA

    Dennis A. Johnson, EdD
    Associate Professor-Jamestown Community College (SUNY)
    Former Wrestling Coach & Author of Wrestling Drills for the Mat and Mind
    DennisJohnson@mail.sunyjcc.edu


  • High School Wrestling isn’t Important. It’s Crucial.

    by Morgan Whittemore | Jan 20, 2016

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       High School Wrestling isn’t Important. It’s Crucial.

                           By Amanda Stanec   |   


            Note:
     Some of you may have been reading my Tweets regarding #KeepOlympicWrestling and #SaveOlympicWrestling. It’s true, I never wrestled. I don’t approach this from an emotional view point, rather I approach this topic from a scientific and logical one. Below is something I presented last night to a local school district. I share here in case your school has this discussion (re: cutting high school wrestling). As an educator, coach, and public health consultant, I am concerned that the IOC’s recent decision will give unwarranted ammunition to high school athlete directors to cut this sport. You are welcome to modify, improve, build upon what I included below. #KeepHighSchoolWrestling

           
            My name is Dr. Amanda Stanec and I thank each of you for your service, and your time. I’m not a wrestling coach. I’m not a wrestling mom. I never wrestled. Yet, I am here. I’m here as a community member. I’m here as a health and physical education professor. And, I’m here as a public health consultant. Thank you for listening to why I strongly support that wrestling remains in the Parkway School District.


    Let’s start with what we know, as educators, regarding students in our schools:

    • We know that we work tirelessly in our classrooms to support our students growing as 21st century learners.
    • We know that the proposed NASPE (National Association for Sport & Physical Education) standards were developed with physically literacy as their foundation. Thus, we support students’’ development as physically literate individuals.
    • We know that today’s students are among the first generation with a lower life expectancy than their parents. (Journal of American Medical Association, 2005).


    Now, here are some facts related to the sport of wrestling at the high school level across the country:

    • Currently, wrestling is the 6th most popular sport among high school athletes with over 272,000 participants annually.
    • Currently, over 8,000 girls wrestle at the high school level and 22 colleges have women’s wrestling programs.
    • Currently there are over 350 college wrestling programs, with 72 new programs since 1999.

         
           Thus, the sport of wrestling is growing at all levels and membership and participation are at highs not seen since 1980.


    Why such growth in the sport of wrestling? Perhaps, it’s:

    • Cost to participate. Shoes. Headgear. That’s it. Wrestling is not expensive. Wrestling is accessible. I like that. It does not care what zip code a kid lives in. I like that even more.
    • Size restrictions? There is a singlet in every size. To compete in wrestling – at any level - you can weigh less than 100 lbs, over 200 lbs, be a female or a male, have one leg or two legs or even no legs. Wrestling is inclusive. In fact, just two years ago, a NCAA D1 Champion, Anthony Robles, won while competing with one leg against peers who did not live with a disability. THIS should be of particular concern to you all. New clarifications on a federal law [Section 504 of the Rehabilitation act of 1973] presented by the Education Department’s office for Civil Rights states, “A school district is required to provided a qualified student with a disability an opportunity to benefit from the school district’s program equal to that of students without disabilities.” Many are calling this law the Title IX for students with disabilities. Thus, it does not appear logical to cut a sport that would [excuse me - that already does] welcome students with disabilities in order to meet the law’s mandate - at no additional cost.


    Why such a big deal from a public health perspective?

    • Wrestling fosters health-related physical fitness in its participants. Student athletes don’t enter a game for 20 seconds, or play one half. They train hard. Each day. It’s a lifestyle. They develop their cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and keep check on their body composition percentages.


    Yet, this isn’t just good news for their health (which, of course, is reason enough alone to promote the sport).


    Wrestling can enhance learning.

          Dr. John Ratey - Harvard professor and medical doctor – published a book titled SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science about Exercise and the Brain several years ago. Dr. Ratey presents his research on exercise increases learning capacity. It presents research from a school district, Naperville, IL, on how they increased students’ learning with the only variable being increasing physical activity at moderate to vigorous intensities each day.

         
         Wrestlers receive this type of physical activity each and every day. Hence, to cut a sport like wrestling could leave many youngsters without opportunity to receive such activity, and in turn, hinder their learning.


    Ironically, given the age of the sport, wrestling provides schools with an amazing platform to support 21st century learners.
     Specifically, participants develop as:

    • Risk Takers. Have to step on a mat against one opponent. My legs were heavy walking up to this mic. I can’t imagine if I had to try and take one of you down.
    • Creativity. Wrestlers must come up with new technique constantly and apply creativity to experience success.
    • Problem Solvers. Wrestlers must think critically, and quickly, and respond through effective problem solving.
    • Collaboration. Teammates “drill” with one another each day. They work together to figure things out and to find ways to be successful. While an individual can move forward to states without peers, the entire team benefits when each wrestler is successful.


    Schools can’t do it all from 8-3. We all know the value of extracurricular activities.

    ALAS: If Parkway School District is committed to:

    • Developing physically literate individuals
    • Providing opportunities for all students (regardless of size, gender, economic status) physical activity opportunities after school.
    • Acknowledging the revolutionary new science on exercise and the brain.
    • Supporting students’ growth to be successful in our global 21st century community


    …we would collaborate and work tirelessly to grow the sport (for males and females) for the students attending Parkway schools. The purpose of high school sport is not to train Olympians. Less than 1% of high school athletes play sport in college/university and less than 1% of college athletes go on to play pro post -collegiately. Don’t take away opportunities from kids to develop their physical literacy, their physical fitness, and to learn optimally in our classrooms.


    Thank you for your time!


    UPDATE! New research on the adolescent brain and risk provides additional support for why wrestling belongs in ALL schools

          Dr. Daniel Seigle's new research on the adolescent brain examines dopamine levels during the adolescent years. Interestingly, teens have lower levels of dopamine when inactive than other stages of life and their dopamine levels rise much higher than during other stages of life due to experiences. Perhaps this is why adolescents tend to engage in risky behaviors. The good news is that the brain does not care if the risk is good risk (e.g., wrestling) or bad risk (e.g., drinking, texting while driving). The reality is, wrestling is risky. One engages in combat and sometimes does so during competition with fans in the stands. It makes sense, then, to support adolescents' physical and mental health by providing them healthy and good risk during these often difficult years.  Here is a great read on dopamine and teenage logic published by the Atlantic which highlight's Dr. Seigle's work.

    UPDATE! I’m so pleased to share that the Parkway School District has decided NOT to cut wrestling! I’m thrilled that our children will attend school in this school district (which has an outstanding reputation). It’s clear that the Superintendent and School Board have students’ well-being and learning potential guiding their decision making process. YAY Parkway!

  • Keeping Wrestlers Motivated And Engaged (Scholastic)

    by Morgan Whittemore | Jan 05, 2016
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    Keeping Wrestlers Motivated and Engaged

         by Dennis A. Johnson, EdD

       
       The holiday celebrations are over and it is time for wrestling coaches to prepare their charges for a run toward individual and team championships.  Schools are back in session and the athletes are returning to a normal schedule.  However after six to eight weeks of practice, the wrestling workouts may have become boring and monotonous.   What is a coach to do to keep wrestlers engaged and motivated?
     
        There are several helpful strategies a coach might employ to combat the mid-season doldrums.  First, and these strategies are all based on the underpinning wellspring that coaches operate in an environment that is task-based.  That is, where wrestlers are encouraged to see success as improving their techniques and tactics and not necessarily as wins and losses.  (Personal note-I once coached a wrestler who was 1-7 at the Christmas break and ended up winning sections, placing in districts and just narrowly missed qualifying for the state tournament at regions).  The task-based environment enhances one’s intrinsic motivation, in other words-the joy of wrestling.
     
    The following are a few simple suggestions to help keep wrestlers motivated (1):

    1. Provide for successful experiences in practice and competition
    2. Be sure to provide wrestlers with meaningful praise on a daily basis
    3. Understand that there are individual differences among the wrestlers on the team
    4. Involve wrestlers in decision-making for certain segments of the daily practice   
    5. MOST IMPORTANTLY, mix up the daily routine!!!!  Rearrange the practice schedule, play some wrestling related games, and begin to cut practice time.  Coaches might even consider giving the team a day off from time to time (1, p. 142-143). 

    Check out the Scholastic Wrestling Coaches Resource Manual at NWCA for more information regarding how to keep wrestlers engaged and motivated.
     
    “Find a way and make it happen”….dj


    References:
    1. Weinberg, R. S., & Gould, D. (2013). Foundations of sport and exercise psychology.  Champaign, IL:  Human Kinetics.

    Dennis A. Johnson, EdD
    Associate Professor-Jamestown Community College (SUNY)
    Former Wrestling Coach & Author of Wrestling Drills for the Mat and Mind
    DennisJohnson@mail.sunyjcc.edu

  • Keeping Wrestlers Motivated And Engaged (Youth)

    by Morgan Whittemore | Jan 05, 2016
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    Keeping Wrestlers Motivated and Engaged

          
      by Dennis A. Johnson, EdD 

        What is a youth wrestling coach or program administrator to do in order to keep wrestlers engaged and motivated?  Hopefully, adults involved with wrestling programs understand the developmental and individual differences between children involved and plan accordingly.  Remember, they are not miniature adults!
     
         According to Mike Moyer the Executive Director of the NWCA, the number one detriment to high school wrestling is the “forfeit”.   Therefore, program administrators and coaches in youth programs should be conscious of potential burnout practices and follow recommendations regarding age-appropriate practice time and length of season (1).  Research indicates that it is best for children under the age of 12 to engage in sport sampling (i.e., try a bunch of sports) and not to focus solely on wrestling.  With that in mind, here are a few suggestions to keep children motivated and engaged:

     

    • Provide the children for successful experiences in practice and competition
    • Be sure to provide children with meaningful and positive praise on a daily basis
    • Set realistic performance goals based on the child’s individual abilities
    • Games, games, games!!!  Play a lot of wrestling-related game and keep practices short  (1)

     Check out the Check out the NWCA Youth Coaching Manual for more helpful hints on how to keep youth wrestlers engaged and motivated.

    “Find a way and make it happen”….dj


    References:
     
    1. Weinberg, R. S., & Gould, D. (2015). Foundations of sport and exercise psychology.  Champaign, IL:  Human Kinetics.


    Dennis A. Johnson, EdD
    Associate Professor-Jamestown Community College (SUNY)
    Former Wrestling Coach & Author of Wrestling Drills for the Mat and Mind
    DennisJohnson@mail.sunyjcc.edu

  • Team Cohesion

    by Morgan Whittemore | Jan 05, 2016
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    Team Cohesion

    by Dennis A. Johnson, EdD 
       
      In the discussion of team cohesion, any sport coach should understand that there are two types of cohesion; one is social and the other is task.  The research is pretty clear that for a team to be successful, they must be cohesive from a task perspective.  Social cohesion is nice but not necessarily needed for team success (1).  However, wrestling coaches are in a position to make both happen.
     
         Social cohesion is determined by how much team members like being on the team and how they enjoy each other’s company.  Coaches might schedule activities designed to increase the social cohesion on a wrestling team.  For instance, the team members might all go to a skating party, play laser tag, or complete a high ropes course.  Other activities such as holding a team party, team dinner, and/or working to complete a community project can all contribute to building social cohesion.  However, social cohesion is not essential for success on the mat as exhibited by the poor personal relationship of Shaq and Kobe in their Los Angeles Laker championship days.
     
         Utilizing the Shaq/Kobe example, it should be noted that although not friends, they were always on point from a task cohesion perspective.  When it was game time and they were on the court, they executed the basketball skills together in which they needed to win.  Wrestling coaches must be sure that all team members are on point from this task cohesion perspective.  How can they make this happen?
     
         On strategy coaches might employ is to encourage drill partners to act as additional assistant coaches.  Wrestlers spend a lot of time with a partner drilling moves.  Often I have heard coaches structure a drill and assign one wrestler as the offensive (the person drilling) and one is defensive or the “dummy” (or the person being drilled on).  I suggest that one method of improving task cohesion is to have the wrestlers understand that the wrestler not executing the assigned move is actually an assistant coach.  If the wrestlers understand and accept that concept, they are in a position to applaud proper technique (positive reinforcement) and/or give positive constructive criticism to improve techniques during practice.  The ability of getting wrestlers to understand that they are important to the development of tactics and techniques should enhance the task cohesion of a wrestling team.
     
         Finally, as noted above a team does not necessarily have to be socially cohesive to be successful, however it is surely more enjoyable.  Once on the mat; the wrestling team must be a cohesive unit from a task perspective in order to be successful.  And coaches are in a position to develop both social and task cohesion.
     
    The NWCA Wrestling Coaches Resource Manual (Scholastic Edition) (2) offers some additional tips for building team cohesion. 
     
     “Find a way and make it happen”….dj


    References:
    1. Weinberg, R.S., & Gould, D (2015). Foundations of sport and exercise psychology (sixth edition). Champaign IL: Human Kinetics.
    2. Caslow, D. (2008).Wrestling coaches resource manual. Manheim, PA: NWCA

     
    Dennis A. Johnson, EdD
    Associate Professor-Jamestown Community College (SUNY)
    Former Wrestling Coach & Author of Wrestling Drills for the Mat and Mind
    DennisJohnson@mail.sunyjcc.edu


  • #1 Reason Kids Play Sports: To Form Friendships

    by Morgan Whittemore | Jan 05, 2016
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    #1 Reason Kids Play Sports: To Form Friendships

     by Dennis A. Johnson, EdD 

         Although the number one reason kids play sports both in and out of school is to have fun, the concept of making new friends and/or being a part of a team is consistently listed as one of the top ten reasons why they participate when surveyed  (1).  When pressed further as to what constitutes fun, children often indicate that being with friends is part of the fun.  Thus, wrestling coaches and program administrators should promote having fun and foster the development of friendships within their programs.
     
        I believe that the first ingredient to fostering lasting friendships from wrestling is to create a positive environment in the practice setting.  I have suggested in the past that we in wrestling create a “we build up-not tear” down atmosphere.  And coaches must be intentional and actually have children practice being positive and giving positive comments.   Coaches might foster this environment by having wrestlers sit in small circles at the end of practice and encourage them to share their thoughts on someone in which they saw doing a good job that day.  For instance, “Johnny really hit a nice single leg on me” or I saw Jimmy tell Sam that he gave good effort.  This is an example of an intentional effort to foster a positive atmosphere that may result in forming friendships
     
        Additionally coaches might create a big brother program.  This is where older wrestlers are assigned to the younger wrestlers to help them get acclimated to the wrestling environment.   The older wrestler can show where they go for practice, where to go for the bathroom, and so on.
     
        In any event the coach should work to assure that there is absolutely no hazing or bulling occurring in the wrestling room.
     
       Check out the NWCA Youth Coaching Manual as it contains more discussions on creating a positive climate for wrestlers for the youth setting. 
     
    “Find a way and make it happen”….dj


    References:
    Ewing, M., & Seefeldt, V. (1989). Participation and attrition patterns in American agency-sponsored and interscholastic sports: An executive summary. North Palm Beach, FL:  Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.


    Dennis A. Johnson, EdD
    Associate Professor-Jamestown Community College (SUNY)
    Former Wrestling Coach & Author of Wrestling Drills for the Mat and Mind
    DennisJohnson@mail.sunyjcc.edu


  • Allowing Wrestlers to Enjoy the Holidays!

    by Morgan Whittemore | Dec 22, 2015
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    Allowing Wrestlers to Enjoy the Holidays!

           
          by: Dennis A.Johnson, EdD

    This blog is going to be short and sweet. 
     
    The holidays are a time in which I feel that should be spent with families.  The overarching theme is that of giving.  With that in mind, I will provide three suggestions for youth wrestling coaches.
    1. First, give the kids some time off to enjoy the season and please don’t have them attempting to cut weight!
    2. Schedule a family night where wrestlers, parents, and coaches can simply enjoy each other’s company.  Bring food, play games, and sing songs.
    3. Consider having your team give back to the community in which you reside.  Organize an event to “help others.”  Take the young wrestlers to a nursing home, food bank, or to a hospital and have them help to spread the holiday cheer.
    I wish everyone the very best for the holiday season and a very Happy New Year…see you back here in 2016.
     
     “Find a way and make it happen”….dj
     
    PS Also check out the NWCA website for your holiday shopping needs.


    Dennis A. Johnson, EdD
    Associate Professor-Jamestown Community College (SUNY)
    Former Wrestling Coach & Author of Wrestling Drills for the Mat and Mind
    DennisJohnson@mail.sunyjcc.edu


  • Winners and Learners (HS)

    by Morgan Whittemore | Dec 15, 2015
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    Winners and Learners

       
        The ability to “win” in the sport of wrestling is pretty much a 50-50 proposition.  Further, each wrestler can only be totally responsible for his or her efforts, techniques, and tactics in a match situation.  I have come to understand that because we can only control what we can control; we should never be satisfied in victory, but more importantly never “lose the lesson in a loss.”  In discussion the topic of winners and learners, it is important to discuss the overarching concept of success which I believe is the underpinning wellspring of educational athletics.
     
       In discussing the concept of success, coaches might be well-served to take notice of the philosophy communicated by John Wooden the legendary college basketball coach at UCLA.  “I tried to convince my players that they could never be truly successful or attain peace of mind unless they had the self-satisfaction of knowing that they had done their best.  Although I wanted them to work to win, I tried to convince them that they had always won when they had done their best (1-page 95).  He maintains that at times he felt successful even in a loss his players had given their all and at the same time he felt disappointed in a win if they had not.  
     
       In reading the literature on Coach Wooden, you will notice that he never really talked about winning (as have other successful coaches such as Dean Smith and Tony Dungy).  I think wrestling coaches can be well-served following such a model.  I would suggest coaches take a task-oriented approach where wrestlers learn to control what they can control (diet, sleep, and practice time), learn to stay in the moment (not the past or future) and evaluate themselves as compared to themselves and not the other wrestlers. 
     
      A philosophy that has a total focus on winning can be detrimental in terms of competitive anxiety which can lead to a number of physical and/or psychological issues (burnout, staleness, loss of confidence, etc.).  We all want to win…but I’d suggest focus on being successful.
     
        In conclusion, I suggest that everyone reading this blog to check out one of the last interviews with Coach Wooden in this 17 minute video-your time will be well spent.https://www.ted.com/talks/john_wooden_on_the_difference_between_winning_and_success?language=en   Also check out the NWCA’sWrestling Coaches Resource Manual (2) for more information on the topic of winners and learners.
     
    “Find a way and make it happen”….dj


    References:

    1. Wooden, J. (1988). They call me coach. Chicago IL; Contemporary Books.
    2. Caslow, D. (2008). Wrestling coaches resource manual. Manheim, PA: NWCA


    Scholastic Program Wrestling Coaches:  Wrestlers and Learners
    Dennis A. Johnson, EdD
    Associate Professor-Jamestown Community College (SUNY)
    Former wrestling coach & author of Wrestling Drills for the Mat and Mind
    DennisJohnson@mail.sunyjcc.edu




  • Winners and Learners

    by Morgan Whittemore | Dec 15, 2015
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    Winners and Learners

            by Dennis A. Johnson, EdD 

         Do you or would you as coaches share your best tactics and techniques with other coaches during the off season?  I once had a video that captured a big-time Division I coach from the Midwest demonstrating the tricks of his low single leg attack to people in the wrestling room of one of his school’s arch rival.  I was taken aback and wondered why he would be giving up all of his secrets to his main competitor?
     
         To answer this question it is important to look more closely at just what is the meaning of competition.  Competition comes from the Latin word competo, which means “to strive after something in company or together” (1).  For us to have a wrestling match we must have a community of contestants in order to thrive and at what level.  Put simply, how good could we be if we didn’t have an opponent?  We would never know.  Therefore as a competitive wrestler, I can only be as good as what my opponent requires of me in order to succeed.
     
        I would like to propose a paradigm shift in the way parents and wrestlers in youth sport view wrestling competition and in particular the emphasis on winning.  Let’s teach our wrestlers that the handshake at the beginning of a match is a ritual designed to ask the opponent to give his or her best.  Then educate our youth that the handshake at the end of the match is to thank that person for their efforts is making them be as good as they could be.
     
       Simon’s concept of sport as a mutual quest for excellence (15) helps explain why cooperation is as important as competition for sport. Without the cooperation of a community of players, coaches, and supporters, a sport cannot thrive and, thus, neither can the athlete who participates in that sport. Although athletes and sports commentators may occasionally forget this, they cannot successfully continue to participate without some willingness to cooperate for the good of the competition.
     
    “Find a way and make it happen”….dj

    References:

    1. Cudd, A. E., (2007).  Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 2007, 34, 52-67 © 2007 International Association for the Philosophy of Sport Sporting Metaphors: Competition and the Ethos of Capitalism Ann E. Cudd That is the law which again and again throws bourgeois


    NWCA Sport Blog
    Youth Program Wrestling Coaches:  Winners and Learners
    Dennis A. Johnson, EdD
    Associate Professor-Jamestown Community College (SUNY)
    Former wrestling coach & author of Wrestling Drills for the Mat and Mind
    DennisJohnson@mail.sunyjcc.edu

     


  • Fall Sport Athletes

    by Morgan Whittemore | Dec 08, 2015
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    Fall Sport Athletes

       
         by Dennis A. Johnson, EdD 

    High school wrestling practices and the competitive season commence in many states prior to the end of other fall sport interscholastic sport championships (e.g., football, cross country, soccer, etc.).  What considerations need to be taken into account when bringing the fall sport athlete into the practice room and the competitive arena?  For instance, should an athlete walk into the wrestling room for practice the day following a football playoff?  Or should they have some time off without structured practices? How many practices should on have on the mat before they compete?  Or should they be allowed to compete as soon as they walk into the wrestling room?
     
    Coaches should be cautious and develop a specific plan for the integration of these fall sport athletes into their wrestling program.  Hopefully, all coaches reading this blog subscribe to the “athlete first-winning second” philosophy and operate in a setting that is soundly-based in “educational athletics.” 
     
    There are several aspects to consider in approaching this issue:
    1. State Regulations:  First coaches must follow any guidelines prescribed by the state high school regulating body.  For example, are there specific guidelines for number of practices an athlete must have prior to competition?
    2. Weight Management:  One state mandate involves the body fat assessment to determine a minimum wrestling weight complete with hydration testing.  This is a consideration and must be completed to meet state guidelines and to safeguard the athlete from unhealthy weight loss.
    3. Individual Differences:  Once the state regulations are met the coach should implement and understand the training principle of individual differences.  That is, the timeline for fall sport athletes should vary by individual and by sport.  Some athletes are ready to go sooner than others, for both practice and competition.
    4. Injury & Safety:  Does the athlete have any lingering injuries that need to be rehabilitated prior to entering the wrestling arena?  The health and safety of the wrestler is paramount.
    5. Peaking For Competition:  Finally coaches should remember, “It’s not where you are in early December-but rather where you are at championship time!”  Coaches should understand giving athletes a few days off between seasons allows for an athlete time to recharge their batteries from a physical, psychological, and social perspective.
    Check out the Wrestling Coaches Resource Manual at NWCA for more information regarding training for competition and planning the season.
     
    “Find a way and make it happen”….dj

    References:

    1. Caslow, D. (2008). Wrestling coaches resource manual. Manheim, PA: NWCA

    High School Wrestling Coaches:  Fall Sport Athletes
    Dennis A. Johnson, EdD
    Associate Professor-Jamestown Community College (SUNY)
    Former wrestling coach & author of Wrestling Drills for the Mat and Mind


  • Youth Sport Myths

    by Morgan Whittemore | Dec 08, 2015
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    Youth Sport Myths

            by Dennis A. Johnson, EdD 

    Readers might recall that I recently mentioned my former colleague Dr. Tom Appenzeller who posits that sport was never really intended for children.  Sport, he maintains has been throughout time as exhibited by participation in the early Olympics and early American sport competition was by and for adults.  Children simply played.  So, let’s begin here in discussing some common youth sport myths; first of all, children are not just miniature adults! They need to have sport presented by coaches in a manner that is consistent with their psychological, physical, and social development.
     
    For the rest of this blog, I am going to refer back to Dr. Larry Lauer’s comments from a couple of years ago to help dispel three common myths regarding youth sport;
    1. MYTH:  Winning is the most important thing in playing a sport, especially for enhancing a child’s self-esteem.
    FACT: The Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University found that both girls and boys put winning near the bottom of list of reasons for sport participation (1).  Add to that a 2007 survey by the Josephson Institute revealing that the majority of athlete’s do not think winning is essential to their experience (2).

    However, let’s be honest it is fun to win and get one’s hand raised at the end of a match and many coaches and parents believe that children need to win to have strong self-esteem. The truth is that yes people feel better after winning in most cases. But, they do not need to win as long as the children are presented with a task-oriented setting that can be used to determine success.  That is, teaching a child to focus on individual improvement of their wrestling tactics/techniques.  
    1. MYTH:  Kids would rather sit on the bench for a winning team than play for a losing team.

    FACT: Once again the importance of winning has been exaggerated.  In the above survey 74% of boys and 76% of girls strongly disagreed with the statement “I’d rather sit on the bench for a winner than play for a losing team (1).  And as Dr. Lauer pointed out, the theory of competence motivation asserts that youth are motivated to participate in sport because they perceive that they are competent.  Thus, if a child plays (wrestles), they have more of an opportunity to see that their competence is a controllable; which is a better indicator of success.
    1. MYTH: Winners at 10 will be the state champs at 18

    FACT: The fact is that some will and some won’t.  However, keep in mind that those wrestlers who win in the 6-12 age groups are typically the wrestlers who are the most mature from a physical, psychological, and social perspective.  Also from earlier conversations, remember that early specialization in wrestling is not a predictor for success at the higher levels.
    Check out the NWCA Youth Coaching Manual for more youth sport myths that have implications for youth wrestling.

    “Find a way and make it happen”….dj

    References

    1. Josephson Institute of Ethics. (February 16, 2007). What are your children learning? The impact of high school sports on the values and ethics of high school athletes.
    2. Seefeldt, V., Ewing, M., & Walk, S. (1992).Overview of youth sports programs in the United States. Washington, DC: Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development.

    High School Wrestling Coaches:  Youth Sport Myths
    Dennis A. Johnson, EdD
    Associate Professor-Jamestown Community College (SUNY)
    Former wrestling coach & author of Wrestling Drills for the Mat and Mind


  • Flexibility through the Holidays

    by Morgan Whittemore | Dec 02, 2015
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    Flexibility through the Holidays

       
         by Dennis A. Johnson, EdD 

        As a competitor in high school wrestling, the holiday’s sucked!  First it was Thanksgiving and then in three days the first day of buck season and it almost never failed that we would have to be within a few pounds of our weight class in order to compete in the season’s first challenge matches.  Then came Christmas and we would usually have to compete in a holiday wrestling tournament.  That dictated more food deprivation and grueling practices frequently on Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas.  My family was always tempting me with food and questioning my sanity for wrestling.
     
       Well in the 21st century, scholastic wrestlers are more protected with a well-designed weight management plan and that means more food for the holidays.  However, it still appears to be status quo that many of the scholastic wrestling tournaments are held around the Christmas/New Year holidays.  The holiday season can spell trouble for an unprepared coach.  For instance, what about wrestlers with families which travel out of town for family reunions? Or how does a coach handle the wrestler whose family schedules a vacation in the Caribbean or to some other foreign country?  Does the coach allow them to go with the family or should they expect to be at all workout and all competitions? And if they do go with the family will they suffer some type of consequence (e.g., lose a starting position, have to sit out matches, etc.)?
     
       In discussing solutions to these questions regarding the holidays, the coach should learn to exhibit a great deal of flexibility. We must remember that coaches should be in the business of academic athletics where they teach life skills and where wrestlers learn valuable life lessons.  There are several things a coach might attempt to do to meet the needs of the team, the wrestlers, and families of wrestlers.
     
       First, coaches should examine their season plan and recognize that the championship season does not commence until sometime in February.  They can schedule accordingly with both practices and competitions. Coaches might also intentionally schedule some days off during the holidays. Time off provides wrestlers a chance to not only enjoy the holiday season, but it gives them a chance to recharge their competitive batteries (both physically and psychologically).   This type of thought is based on the American Sport Education Program’s (ASEP) theme of “athletes first, winning second” (1).
     
    Remember, holiday time typically means family time and is there anything really more important? Happy holidays…Fa-La-La!!!
     
    “Find a way and make it happen”….dj
     


    References:
    1. American Sport Education Program (ASEP). (2015). Coaching principles course. Champaign IL: Human Kinetics.


    High School Wrestling Coaches:  Flexibility through the Holidays
    Dennis A. Johnson, EdD
    Associate Professor-Jamestown Community College (SUNY)
    Former wrestling coach & author of Wrestling Drills for the Mat and Mind
     

  • Put a Smile on Their Face

    by Morgan Whittemore | Dec 02, 2015
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    Put a Smile on Their Face

            by Dennis A. Johnson, EdD 

       We want kids to return to our wrestling programs year after year.  That means young wrestlers must have fun and leave practices with a smile on their faces every day.  As a college cross country coach over the years at Wingate University, I was always talking to my runners about smiling; during team meetings, during practice, and even during races.  It creates a huge positive psychological effect on everyone involved with a program.
     
       How can youth wrestling program administrators and coaches be sure that kids leave practice on a daily basis with smiles on their faces?  How can we make that happen? Try following Weinberg and Gould’s 12 basic guidelines for youth sport coaches (1):
    1. Coaches should  be supportive in their instruction (please, no hostile or punitive actions)
    2. Catch kids doing things correct and give plenty of praise (and be sure to smile!)
    3. Make sure praise is sincere and recognize poor performance with support (e.g., it will get better)
    4. Develop realistic expectations with regard to the child’s age and ability level
    5. Reward effort as much or more than outcome
    6. Design practice so instructions are short and simple and there is maximum participation with variety of drills and games
    7. Modify the techniques and tactics to assure success for the children
    8. Modify rules to maximize action and participation (e.g., the pin may not end action-just reset the start)
    9. Reward correct techniques-not just the outcome
    10. Use sandwich approach to correct errors (e.g., Nice try-can you keep your head up on that shot next time-Go get it!)
    11. Create an environment where making mistakes is ok (John Wooden, former UCLA basketball coach called mistakes “building blocks of success”)
    12. Finally be ENTHUSIASTIC!!! (p. 542)
        I believe the key for kids to enjoy the sport of wrestling is to have a well-organized practice in a positive environment.  Coaches should schedule a variety of games that stimulate wrestling throughout the practice.  And finally ask the wrestlers throughout the practice if they are having FUN?  If you don’t get an enthusiastic response to that question-they won’t be leaving practice with a smile on their face.
    “Find a way and make it happen”….dj


    References:

    1. Weinberg, R.S., & Gould, D (2015).  Foundations of sport and exercise psychology (sixth edition). Champaign IL: Human Kinetics.

     

    Youth Program Wrestling Coaches:  Put a Smile on Their Face
    Dennis A. Johnson, EdD
    Associate Professor-Jamestown Community College (SUNY)
    Former wrestling coach & author of Wrestling Drills for the Mat and Mind
    DennisJohnson@mail.sunyjcc.edu


  • Team Selection: Trials and Tribulations

    by Morgan Whittemore | Nov 24, 2015
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    Team Selection: Trials and Tribulations

            by Dennis A. Johnson, EdD 

        Sport enthusiasts would probably assume that wrestling is one of the greatest sports in determining starting lineups because lineups simply consist of the best of the best.  If wrestler A beats wrestler B in a challenge match at a certain weight then naturally he is the varsity man.  However, that may not be the case in every instance. 
     
        In my own college career, I was a 150 pound wrestler enjoying moderate success as a freshman at Marshall University.  Unfortunately, after Christmas I was forced to suck down to 142 due to an injury and we had two 158 pound wrestlers (one of which was the captain and I couldn’t beat moved to 150).  This was in pre-certification days and the weight loss was devastating.  I wanted to move to 158 for health reasons and I knew I could win a challenge match.  However, my coach handicapped the match saying I’d have to pin or win by 10.  Thus the best man doesn’t always get into the lineup.
     
       There are a variety of ways a coach can use to fairly determine a starting lineup.  I have seen a many methods implemented, but they all revolve around an elimination or challenge tournament and a ranking system.  For instance, if there are three wrestlers at 125 and are ranked at #1, #2, #3 based on a mini-tournament or wrestle-off.  Coaches may set up a challenge tournament at the beginning of the season and from that point on wrestlers must defeat the man up the ladder from them to move up the ladder.  I have also known coaches that require the #2 wrestler in a weight class to defeat the #1 wrestler two times after the mid-point in the season (in order to eliminate fluke match upsets).
     
        Regardless of how a coach decides to organize the team selection process there may be problems.  Ever hear this; the coach cheated me in my challenge match! And what about our example from above regarding the 125 pound ranking, what happens if #3 can’t beat #2 but can beat #1, but yet #1 can beat #2?  And now throw in a dual meet situation where the coach wants to use all three of the 125 pound wrestlers at different weights while sitting out the #1’s at two weights?  What is a coach to do?
     
        Whatever, the decision is with regard to determining starting lineups, the first thing a coach must do is to be transparent.  The coach must communicate how the process for selecting starting lineups will occur and should revolve around the mission and goals that have been established as well as the culture of the team.  The process should be discussed at length during the parent orientation seminar and in team meetings.  Wrestlers must have buy-in with regard to juggling lineups and parents will hopefully understand in these situations. 
     
    Check out the Wrestling Coaches Resource Manual at NWCA for more information regarding the selection to starting lineups.
     
    “Find a way and make it happen”….dj

    Dennis A. Johnson, EdD
    Associate Professor-Jamestown Community College (SUNY)
    Former wrestling coach & author of Wrestling Drills for the Mat and Mind
    DennisJohnson@mail.sunyjcc.edu

    References:
    1. Caslow, D. (2008). Wrestling coaches resource manual. Manheim, PA: NWCA.

     

     

  • Bring’em Back Next Season-Retention

    by Morgan Whittemore | Nov 17, 2015
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    Bring’em Back Next Season-Retention

            by Dennis A. Johnson, EdD 

        In order to develop a plan to retain high school athletes in our wrestling programs, one must first determine why wrestlers don’t return year after for year for wrestling competition. There are a variety of reasons for this phenomenon: parent pressure, don’t get matches (due to forfeits), no “B” team or JV (i.e., emerging varsity athletes) tournaments, hazing or bulling in the wrestling rooms, they don’t like the coach for any variety of reasons (e.g., the coach only pays attention to the best wrestlers in the room), they find practice boring, they decide to concentrate on another sport and/or they simply develop other interests (e.g., clubs, jobs, or academic pursuits).  Thus coaches must develop strategies which will impact those individuals who are on the fence in terms of returning the following season.
     
       I always begin this retention discussion by discussing the culture of the wrestling room, which ultimately the coach is responsible for developing. First, I suggest that it is a “build up-don’t tear down” atmosphere in which all wrestlers are encouraged and no one is harassed or bullied.  All wrestlers and assistant coaches need to be taught to how give both positive encouragement and positive constructive criticism (“we need to help each other”). 
     
       Next, a coach needs to organize creative and exciting practices for wrestlers of all ability levels.  Too often a coaches place too much focus on the needs of the 3-4 best grapplers.  Practice design should meet the needs of all wrestlers.  Drilling technique is necessary, but there are methods for creating game-like activities that put excitement into the practice drills.  Also, mix up the practice order and/or don’t be afraid to go off the rails and do some totally non-wrestling related activities in practice (e.g., play team handball, mat ball, or even basketball). And give wrestlers a day off every now and then to rest their mind and body.  Finally, in areas of the country where emerging varsity wrestlers (jayvees) don’t get many matches, a coach should host a tournament for that caliber of wrestlers.  They should attend several JV tournaments throughout the season in order to get competition.
     
       Hopefully, a well-organized parent education seminar such as the one described two weeks ago will help to lighten the pressure from parent on their wrestlers.  The parent education seminar goes a long way towards eliminating that as a potential dropout cause.  The weight management issue should also be a major part of this parent session.  My wife says “let them eat” and I’d point to Kyle Dake’s accomplishment of winning the NCAA at 4 different weights rather than Larry Owing’s drop down to beat Dan Gable as the model of choice.
     
       Finally and with the exception of football players, we in the wrestling community can’t do much about student-athletes deciding to leave the sport for other activities-it is a part of life.  However, football players are foolish to give up wrestling in order to “lift” and prepare for college football.  Wrestling coaches in their quest to keep football players in the room should cite the path that Carlton Haselrig (6-time NCAA champion at Pitt-Johnstown) took in becoming an All-Pro offensive guard with the Pittsburgh Steelers after never even have played college football.  His Steeler teammates at the time, all indicated that their sons were going to be wrestlers because of the abilities he learned on the mat!
     
       The NWCA Wrestling Coaches Resource Manual (Scholastic Edition) (1) offers some additional tips for retaining high school wrestlers. 
     
    “Find a way and make it happen”….dj


    Dennis A. Johnson, EdD
    Associate Professor-Jamestown Community College (SUNY)
    Former wrestling coach & author of Wrestling Drills for the Mat and Mind
    DennisJohnson@mail.sunyjcc.edu

    References:
    1. Caslow, D. (2008).Wrestling coaches resource manual. Manheim, PA: NWCA


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