Team Selection: Trials and Tribulations

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”….
Dennis A. Johnson, Ed
Associate Professor-Jamestown Community College (SUNY) Former wrestling coach author of Wrestling Drills for the Mat and Mind mail to:
1. Caslow, D. (2008). Wrestling coaches resource manual. Manheim, PA: NWCA

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