Wrestling fundamentals can work in all styles

Updated: May 8, 2014
With the scholastic or folkstyle season recently concluded, each spring brings with it the opportunity to pursue new opportunities in the sport of wrestling. Specifically, the Olympic styles of freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling become more prevalent.

While these international styles are different from folkstyle wrestling, many of the fundamentals are the same and a foundation in folkstyle will serve the beginner well. While I am not advocating that grade-school age wrestlers abandon their traditionally spring/summer soccer and baseball teams to focus exclusively on wrestling, early exposure to the rules and basics can certainly prove helpful down the road.

Recognizing that high school-aged national champions in the Cadet and Junior divisions are crowned in both freestyle and Greco each summer in Fargo, N.D., an early introduction to the rules and basic techniques should pay dividends later. Furthermore, countless coaches and athletes have often repeated saying, “Summer wrestling builds winter champions.”

While admittedly a very basic distinction, freestyle and Greco-Roman differ primarily in that Greco prohibits any hold, including offensive or defensive moves, below the waist. Thus, although many differences in scoring and strategy exist, freestyle wrestling is much more similar to folkstyle than Greco.

As an introduction to freestyle wrestling, 1992 Olympic champion, Iowa State head wrestling coach, and former United States national freestyle coach, Kevin Jackson introduces us to this wrestling style through a Championship Productions video entitled, “Kevin Jackson’s Freestyle Wrestling Fundamentals.”

Recorded in 2004, Jackson’s 45-minute video was filmed when he was still the U.S. national freestyle coach and fortunately excludes all of the ridiculous rules which were recently eliminated by FILA, wrestling’s international governing body, in the last year. Thus, the content remains as relevant as ever.

“I am going to demonstrate some basic skills, some skills I feel are essential to the development of our younger-age kids, as well as some of our senior-age kids,” Jackson states.

With Olympic champion and four-time NCAA champion wrestler and coach Cael Sanderson now of Penn State University and NCAA champion and current South Dakota State University head coach Chris Bono demonstrating technique, this instructional video is certain to be an excellent resource and reference for wrestlers of all ages for many years to come.

Initially Jackson covers positions that are equally applicable to folkstyle, freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling including controlling collar ties, creating angles, re-controlling collar ties, wrist-and-elbow control, two-on-one, and head position.

“When you control the tie-ups, you control the match,” Jackson asserts.

After this initial segment, the coach begins to address technique applicable to freestyle and folkstyle only as he focuses on down blocking, cross blocks, double blocks, spins and re-shots which are not permitted in Greco because they involve leg attacks.

Indistinguishable between folkstyle and freestyle, Jackson spends a considerable amount of time on techniques to clear the elbow after defending a shot and scoring off duck-unders. Recognizing the similarities between folkstyle and freestyle, he only begins to address freestyle scoring after reaching the halfway point of the video.

The vast majority of what Coach Kevin Jackson covers in this video can be applied to freestyle, as well as folkstyle wrestling which is perhaps why they describe this video as “fundamental freestyle.” Late in the presentation, Kevin briefly addresses leg-lace scoring from both the offensive single-leg position and from the mat or the par-terre position as it is called in international wrestling.

As wrestling’s position and status in the Olympic Games was challenged last year, FILA went into overdrive to defend the sport and ensure that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was made aware of the fact that the IOC’s message regarding wrestling becoming slow, boring, hard to understand, and difficult for new-comers to follow had been heard and received.

As a result of the threat to remove wrestling from the Olympics, wrestling’s international leaders listened and changed bringing an avalanche of new rules, including a new scoring system. These changes were undoubtedly implemented to make wrestling more exciting and easier, as well as more enjoyable, for fans to follow.

One adverse consequence of these changes is the elimination of one weight class in both freestyle and Greco. This was a strategic move on the part of FILA to address additional concerns expressed by the IOC and when your sport is threatened with the death penalty, as wrestling was in 2013, you have little choice but to make sacrifices that we can eventually recover from.

That said, the recovery and rebuilding of wrestling to include ten weight classes (as was once the case in the Olympics) in all wrestling disciplines, including women’s freestyle, will require greater participation and fan support.

One way to begin to grow both participation and fans is to introduce young wrestlers to freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling and encourage them to create long-term, individual goals for themselves in folkstyle, freestyle, and Greco-Roman wrestling. In fact, the future of our sport depends on it.