With more TV coverage, learn how to ‘observe’

Updated: April 25, 2014
Screen shot 2014-04-25 at 4.14.15 PMIf you were not able to attend the recent NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, I hope you were able to view it on ESPN. The TV coverage has been great in recent years and one way to improve your wrestling is by observing the best.

The NCAA Division I wrestling tournament is the greatest competition in the world. You will never see better wrestling anywhere; not even at the World or Olympic Championships. As I’ve said before, the NCAA Division I tourney has the best-prepared wrestlers, coached by the greatest coaches, officiated by the world’s most conscientious referees, conducted in the best venues in the USA.

The D-I Championships also have more wrestlers entered and greater fan attendance than any World or Olympic championship I have ever seen. Of course I also believe the collegiate style/rules are superior to the international styles; but that’s another subject. Bottom line: there is no better environment to learn from the “best of the best” in wrestling than at the NCAA Division I tournament.

There is a distinction between “observing” and “watching.”

You observe to obtain information or knowledge to learn. You watch for enjoyment or entertainment. Watching is more relaxed and fun with no real motive other than to be entertained.  Observing is more intense and has purpose; requires greater concentration.

When scouting an opponent, you are observing to analyze his techniques and tactics. Most other matches you usually just casually watch to see who wins without the intense concentration. You can train yourself to observe matches with a critical eye, learning what not to do as well as what might work for you.

Since I interjected the term “scouting” I will make a point. I do not believe in “scouting” opponents. I don’t want to be thinking or worrying about what they are going to do. I want to focus on my own plan of attack and make him react to me. Also, when most coaches and wrestlers are scouting opponents they focus on the technique or move the wrestler uses. What is too frequently ignored, and just as important, is how the opponent “sets up” the technique to be used. Everyone knew I had a tough arm-drag series, but failed to notice how I set it up so it still worked.

One thing that is obvious, at even the highest    levels of competition, is “little things make big differences.”

The best example is stance. It never ceases to amaze me how many state, national, world and Olympic championships are lost because a wrestler allowed his stance to get sloppy. One of the first things a young wrestler learns is “don’t let your feet get narrower than shoulder width apart.”

In the old days, coaches imposed other absolutes or rules related to stance and movement. They are still very appropriate today. From the standing position, there are:

• Don’t let your head get lower than your hips;

• Keep your elbows in;

• Keep palms facing each other;

• Never take more than two steps forward or backward without a lateral adjustment;

• If your opponent ties up your head, don’t tie up his;

• If you tie-up his head, don’t let him tie up yours;

• If you tie-up his and he is able to tie-up yours, then release your head tie and go to the wrist, shoulder, bicep, tricep, elbow or underhook;

• When tying up, always keep both of your arms/hands engaged. There are always exceptions but these are good guidelines to follow.

Other common mistakes, particularly from the standing position are: relaxing at the edge of the mat, relaxing at the end of period or match, becoming over confident, losing respect for an opponent, losing focus, concentration, and/or composure.

These are just guidelines for sound wrestling strategy/tactics and basic fundamentals.

Unfortunately, they are so basic, fundamental

and commonsense that many don’t teach, practice, respect or adhere to them as much as they should. All wrestlers, at one time or another, have lost points, a match or a championship because of a momentary breakdown in these areas.

I wasn’t very talented. I won as many or more matches by tactics and strategy as I did with technique and skill; by not making fundamental mistakes, and forcing and capitalizing on my opponent’s mistakes.

Control the tie-up, control the mat, be aware of the time and use it wisely. Know what the score is and what is needed to win. Too many wrestlers are still shooting doubles and singles when they are three or four points behind in the third period. That’s when they need a desperation, four- or five-point move.

I mention the need for a “desperation move.” Desperation moves are usually higher risk, lower-percentage moves. It’s a score big or lose big move; pin or be pinned! Obviously, the more proficient you become at the move, the more success with less exposure.

It can be a move you might use when you are not desperate but your team needs a fall, tech fall or major decision. For me, pancakes/lateral drops, headlocks, fireman’s carry, underarm spins/Japanese whizzers, and shoulder throws were risky. However, there was a time and place for them. I had what I call my “clumsy head lock.”

If I was two or more points behind in the last period, I was going for it. It was nothing but a “grade-school” headlock; the move you used in your first tussle on the playground. I did it from an underhook. I would straighten my opponent up, lock my hands, bring the near leg through and rip it back while twisting my opponent to the mat. As you straighten your opponent up and lock your hands, you both have the same basic position, but you have the momentum and the element of surprise. You can’t “chicken out.” It is a “total commitment” move but good for three to five points. It saved me many times.

Approach each match with a plan but be ready to adapt. Ideally, you will be forcing your opponent to adapt to you more than you to him.

Go out with a series of moves in mind; “chain or follow-up moves.” Don’t depend on just one move to work very often. Don’t ever concede a good position to create a score, or depend on your opponent’s mistake to win.

Rick Sanders and Wade Schalles were very exciting counter wrestlers. They were great a “baiting” an opponent into position and using the opponent’s momentum to score. Both would give their opponent a single leg and then counter and score. They were able to do this with great consistency. But there were still a few opponents who were able to stop the momentum, finish the single and score.

Bottom line, be very careful about conceding a superior position and don’t ever depend on your opponent’s mistake to win. He may not make the mistake. In a future article, I will address specific moves and the chain-wrestling approach. Also, a “total-wrestling approach.”