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Gable: Teaching young kids how to finish is critical
Editor’s Note: Perhaps no wrestler and coach in the history of wrestling knows more about finishing the season on a high note than Dan Gable, who once won 118 straight college matches for Iowa State and later 15 national team championships as head coach at Iowa. Gable recently spoke to WIN Editor Mike Finn about how young wrestlers can peak at the right time.
WIN: In wrestling, coaches talk a lot about finishing, whether it’s a takedown or simply the match. Should coaches also talk more about finishing the season?
GABLE: Yes. How is someone able to make the finals and be stronger at certain times? Coaches are bringing out the potential out of those wrestlers and that won’t happen unless there is a good coach involved on every level of the way. I am concerned that a lot of wrestlers don’t “finish.”
If we do a good job as a coach or teacher, we should be taking pride in how they finish. And if they don’t finish like you think they should, then the blame does not go on the kid. The blame goes back to the teacher, back to the coach and even the parents.
Coaches have to create a culture that happens all year long. You can’t just wait until the end. I think there are some coaches and teachers who don’t take the responsibility.
WIN: Are you saying that coaches are the most critical people in making sure wrestlers finish?
GABLE: Yes. Someone else is doing it and coaches are helping someone finish. Those three hours a coach spends daily with a wrestler (in practice) are more than they are getting anywhere else. The finish is not always going to be perfect. In fact, it is hardly ever perfect. Even if everyone won, there might be some flaws. And if you have four kids win, you have ten others that did not.
WIN: Is helping wrestlers overcoming self-doubt, which might not allow them to perform to their potential, one of the biggest things coaches might deal with?
GABLE: Confidence is always a huge factor in anything you do. In my 35 years of competing and coaching, I learned there are very few kids who can step out in life and perform to what they are capable of doing. I bet I only had ten kids I could send out to the mat and compete every second.
As a wrestler, I bet I had about five in 300 matches where I was thinking about the match and holding back and preventing myself from being a better wrestler.
WIN: At this time of year, many high school wrestlers might say, “I’m glad the season is over.” Should wrestles feel that way or should they still be hungry at the end of the year?
GABLE: As a coach, if I hear that, I am real concerned because this is the time of the year that wrestlers should enjoy the most. It is the most critical time of the year and the most fun time of the year if wrestlers reach their ability and beyond. That’s where a coach really needs to read their team. If a coach asks a kid what he’s going to do after the season and the kid responds, “I’m going to kick back,” the coach knows the kid is already beyond the season and you need to get him back in the season.
WIN: There are more states that are holding their “dual” tournament before the traditional individual tournament. What do you think of that?
GABLE: I think it could be progress. You are always looking to move ahead, to be able to go to a new level. In the past, it wasn’t set up for a logical peak performance. The end is usually the Super Bowl of high school wrestling: the individual state tournament. The state tournament is the highest event in high school wrestling. To have a dual championship after the state tournament is a little anti-climatic. From a realistic point of view, you want to save the best for last.
WIN: Is that a good or bad thing that the individual wrestler may be competing in as many as three matches in the dual tournament one day before he begins the individual state tournament?
GABLE: That is where coaching comes in. If a coach knows his team has a chance to be in the state duals — and coaches should be preaching that anyway — and is not preparing the team for that, he is not doing the program justice. And in preparing the team for this, they should expect it every year.
WIN: When a wrestler is competing in a state tournament, doesn’t he normally “rest” the day before the state to better prepare himself? So how does competing in as many as three matches the day before help him?
GABLE: There are some things coaches can do. What they preach over three months of practice and teach their athletes how to be a coach themselves, those wrestlers have a better chance of taking this in stride. These athletes and teams can utilize the physical and mental recovery that is needed by a wrestler if they are prepared from the season.
WIN: Should a coach try to substitute some of these “state tournament-bound wrestlers” in the dual tournament, perhaps in the earlier rounds to rest those wrestlers?
GABLE: You don’t plan on doing that. You are going for the (dual) championship and if you can win that championship, you need to go for it. Based on the draw of the tournament, you do have to do a little more planning. Also, if you look ahead to the first day of the individual tournament, most wrestlers have to compete just one time if they remain in the championship bracket.
Coaches should preach to their wrestlers that they have just one match (on the first day of the traditional states) and it shouldn’t be that hard to get ready for one match even if they wrestle three matches on the day before.
WIN: You talk many times about getting wrestlers to peak. Is this part of that peaking process?
GABLE: Coaches can actually simulate this. If you are going to go into four days of competition, they have probably gone to tournaments where they’ve wrestled three to five times in a day. But coaches can also take four straight days, probably the week before starting on a Monday and go through such a format in practice. Create three tough matches on the first day, then go through warm-ups and wrestle just one match on the second day. Then on the third day, you wrestle two matches and finally one match on the fourth day. Coaches also don’t have to do this just one time. The can simulate this several times during the season.
Besides this, kids’ normal endorphins and the high they will get from competing — compared to just a practice — their natural body highs can take over any soreness or stress they are having and will be ready to go.
Wrestlers are still taking the “D” word — discipline — they’ve learned for the past month of the season and using their focus to clean their lifestyle up, stay really healthy, nurse the things they need to nurse, look at whom they have to compete against … so that when they go to practice they’re preparing for more than what the coach tells them.
This all helps in the peaking process.
WIN: Let’s talk about how much rest a wrestler needs this time a year. You would think it needs to be a lot, but it may be hard for a wrestler, who is dealing with the stress of the year, to get enough rest. How does getting enough rest weigh in the equation of getting ready?
GABLE: Every wrestler seems to know how to master his own time schedule and feel comfortable with it. I know I had wrestlers, who were also going to medical school and getting three hours of sleep, they learned how to function. Is that what’s best for a wrestler? No. Rest is really critical and wrestles need to get the minimum eight hours of sleep a night. Does that mean they won’t perform well if they don’t get enough sleep? No, because the anxiety and endorphins will take over.
WIN: Should wrestlers try to calm that anxiety that comes this time of year?
GABLE: There are certain kids you have to work with individually to make sure they get what they need … as simple as who are their roommates when the team gets to the state tournament. Coaches have to know their kids very well to make the best decisions.
WIN: Coaches always preach to their wrestlers to “keep things normal” this time of year, like following the same routine. But it is hard to keep the same routine. How do they balance that?
GABLE: The more coaches prepare their kids for the setting, and the more familiar they are with it, the better you will have a chance of not having a kid put himself in a bad position. I also think it’s important for parents to start taking kids to the state tournament when they are younger so they get used to a setting that is spectacular.
But for those who have been to the state tournament, some may forget. So coaches should prepare them all year, including putting up a nice photo, an intense photo in the locker room of the state tournament final setting. A coach needs to have that setting pictured in their minds.