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Guidelines for Men Coaching Women’s Wrestling

Women’s wrestling is the fastest growing high school sport in the United States. The growth of women’s wrestling in U.S. colleges has seen a 400 percent growth in the past five years.  One of the major difficulties that accompany such rapid growth is the lack of qualified female coaches. Men coaching women’s wrestling presents several ethical questions; none of which are insurmountable as long as clear guidelines are established. Ethical guidelines have appeared in Olympic Coach Magazine, and in the “Coaches Corner” section of the Mat.com. We will synthesize them here.

With so many activities available to young women today, why should they choose wrestling? Perhaps, a better question might be, why shouldn’t women enjoy wrestling? Everything that makes wrestling one of the most popular sports for boys also makes it a great sport for girls. The reasons to wrestle are compelling and exciting. Wrestling is a safe, fun and challenging activity for everybody, regardless of height, weight or physical attributes. The whole family can take part: brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, moms and dads. Consider these benefits offered by wrestling: improved self-esteem and confidence, improved health and fitness, fun and challenge, discipline and dedication, team and individual competition, as well as, life skills and personal lessons. Perhaps most importantly, wrestling is a great sport to “battle test” young men and women for challenges later in life.

What should a parent consider when their daughter announces they would like to join the wrestling team?

Although there is a team score, wrestling is a sport that also focuses upon the individual. You win or lose. The individual wrestler learns how to enjoy victory, and how to understand and accept defeat. A wrestler also learns how to be accountable for their actions.

Fortune 500 companies recognize the values of wrestling and singles out wrestlers as well as U.S. Marines as their priority recruiting targets.

Most parents would not think twice in allowing their daughters to participate in Judo or in Karate. Yet, in Judo victory can be achieved by causing so much pain that the opponent “taps out” or by choking the opponent into submission. In Karate, victory is achieved by striking and/or kicking your opponent. Wrestling has none of these violent actions. The objective of wrestling is to control your opponent with emphasis on the position of your opponent’s body relative to your own. Wrestling is the oldest and purest form of self-defense.

Wrestling is an inexpensive sport with minimal equipment conducted in a safe environment following rules designed to protect the athlete. Wrestling is not a collision sport; it is a contact sport.

Boys and girls can compete on an equal basis up to their middle school years because girls mature faster than boys.  During middle school, the hormones take over, and the maturation rate of boys increases rapidly.  Boys have the upper hand from this point forward as far as strength is concerned, and the girl’s success is limited to the lower weight classes, which are usually populated by the younger boys.  The sport of wrestling loses a large number of outstanding female athletes at this point.  Many girls become frustrated as they lose to boys they had previously defeated during their younger years.

Girls bring to a team an enthusiasm and energy equal to if not greater than that of their male counterparts.  Having girls on the wrestling team is a new experience for many coaches and like anything new it is often met with resistance.  The coach must always remember that he/she is a professional.  A professional coach views his charges as athletes first.

As American soccer star, Mia Hamm once said, “Coach us like men, but treat us like women.” There are several steps a coach who feels uneasy about having girls on the team can take.  The coach should make every effort to find workout partners for his female athletes.  The coach should also encourage a female candidate to find a female workout partner with which to work.  If the female candidate has to practice with a boy, her workout partner should be one or two weight classes lighter than her.  Having the girl work with a lighter male partner helps both wrestlers.  They will be close in strength while at the same time the boy gets to work with a heavier opponent.

Wrestling is THE universal sport. It is practiced in every country on our planet. In parts of Eastern Europe, Asia, and the Middle East wrestlers are revered and honored far beyond the level of rock stars or professional athletes in the United States. Most cultures readily accept and many embrace wrestling as a competitive sport. Wrestling plays a major role in the lives of people even in cultures with strict religious interpretations of the roles of men and women. The level of tolerance and support of women’s wrestling depends upon the level of religious conservatism. Women’s wrestling is accepted in moderate Islamic countries like Egypt and Turkey, but punishable by arrest in the strict conservative Islamic countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia. Male verses female wrestling is strictly forbidden in all Islamic countries. Some Christian denominations hold the same ethical position as that of the moderate Islamic countries. Coed wrestling is forbidden, but male verses male and female verses female wrestling is acceptable. The acceptability of male verses female wrestling runs the spectrum of acceptability among Christian denominations, and consequently many different approaches have used to meet the needs of each group in a Christian-oriented league. The Friends’ Scholastic League (a sports league populated primarily by school founded by The Religious Society of Friends [Quakers] a predominantly liberally oriented group allows coed bouts to take place. If the wrestler from one school is a female and her potential opponent is a male from a school which for religious or school policy reasons does not permit a coed bout, a “no contest” is declared and the meet skips that weight without any forfeit.

The best option is to have separate male and female wrestling teams; just as we have separate boys and girls basketball, tennis, lacrosse teams etc. The cost to a school to incorporate a new girl’s wrestling team is minimal; once a mat is purchased; the cost is only for uniforms and travel.

Perception Is Reality

First and foremost, people act upon what they believe to be true, not necessarily what is actually true. It is important for all coaches to avoid placing themselves in any situation that can be misinterpreted. Male coaches should be aware of the following situations:

Whenever you meet with one of your wrestlers, always have another adult present preferably a female. It is a good idea to have a female assistant coach who can handle meetings to discuss issues the wrestler may not wish to discuss with a man or in public.

All wrestling instruction should be conducted within a team setting – no individual technique sessions.

Any video review should be conducted in a public area or with a female coach present. During practice, in a conference area of the library, or dorm lobby are possible locations for such a meeting. Closed doors, or in a student’s college dorm room can lead to misperceptions which will damage not only your program, but also both you and your athlete’s reputation.

Run a transparent program. Keep practices open to the public, parents etc. Of course, you should emphasize that they are guests and may watch, but they must do so in silence so as not to interfere with your educational program.

Avoid giving your athletes a ride home from practice, but if such a situation becomes unavoidable, be sure you have your athlete call her parents informing them when you are leaving and when you expect to arrive.

Avoid having students stay overnight in your home, and of course, never share a room with an athlete while on the road

If an athlete needs to be touched during the course of teaching technique, be sure it is in an appropriate way. When an athlete assists in the demonstration of a technique, be sure she knows what technique you are going to show. If the technique is particularly sensitive, such as a crotch lift, have your female assistant coach do the demonstration, have two of your athletes demonstrate as you comment and critique without actually physically touching anyone, or demonstrate the technique on a male athlete.

How many times has a coach patted a wrestler on the butt as he goes out on the mat? A male coach working with a female wrestler should avoid this seemingly innocent action. A pat on the back or the small of the back is perfectly acceptable, and will not lead to any misunderstanding.

There are differences between coaching women and men as far as technique, physical training, and psychological approach are concerned, but the way a coach communicates with their athlete is basically the same. Every athlete is different and it is the skilled coach who can distinguish the appropriate approach for each competitor.

Focus on positive reinforcement. Avoid negative instructions during competition.

Sarcasm must always be avoided. Sarcasm, although it often starts as a “joke,” can result in resentment and a breakdown of the coach/athlete relationship. It can also be perceived as flirting or harassment.

Do not use sexually suggestive comments which are easily misconstrued as well.