12 keys to becoming a great coach at any level, by Ken Chertow

Updated: June 3, 2014
The 2014 NCAA Championships were very exciting and it was great to see the extensive TV coverage. Let’s all keep working hard together to grow and promote our sport.

I encourage you and every fan in the nation to join the National Registry for Wrestling — This free website and e-mail newsletter will keep you informed of the wrestling-on-TV schedule for all networks throughout the year. I enjoyed covering wrestling for the PAC-12 Network this season. Next season will be even more exciting for the PAC-12 as Zeke Jones takes leadership of the Arizona State program.

This opens up the USA Wrestling head freestyle coach position and the Greco position was still open at press time. In addition to these national leadership coaching positions, many universities are seeking new coaches including WVU, Purdue, Campbell, and Air Force Academy and there will likely be more as the coaching carousal goes around.

With West Virginia and Purdue in the two best conferences in our sport, Air Force Academy playing such an important role in our society, and Campbell battling to succeed, these are very important hiring decisions for these universities. There may be many other important coaching changes and decisions occurring across the country in the coming weeks.

So what makes a great wrestling coach? The list of key ingredients and details goes well beyond the length of this article but I will identify some critical skills. These coaching priorities listed and discussed below are necessary for every coach at every level of wrestling.

It does not matter if you are a local youth coach, the USA Wrestling national coach, the NCAA championship coach or a new high school coach; you must strive to help your student-athletes succeed and excel in all aspects of life.

You need to inspire your students to believe in themselves and your program. Team members need to know that if they make a commitment to daily preparations they will succeed.

1. Recruiting — Build your program. Youth coaches need to visit the football and soccer fields, teachers need to hit the hallways, and college coaches need to be organized, personable, persistent, and very wise in their decisions.

2. Communication Skills — You need strong written and oral communication skills to be a successful recruiter, coach, fundraiser, and representative of your team and our sport. You have to keep open lines of communication with your students, parents, booster club and administrators. Reach out to the media consistently inviting them to cover your team and our sport.

3. Outstanding Teacher of Technique — You must be a student of our sport and select the ideal curriculum for the team and customize a specific arsenal for individual wrestlers. You need to effectively help athletes with a wide range of skill sets so that they reach their fullest potential. Constantly strive to raise your wrestling IQ. Study video consistently. Analysis of video has revolutionized all sports, not just wrestling. Make the most of your video time for helping your wrestlers improve and scouting at the highest levels.

4. Conduct Dynamic Practices — It is important to design and conduct a variety of dynamic practices which will keep your wrestlers motivated and working intensely, while you and your staff consistently provide feedback and encouragement. Every day should be a well planned blend of instruction, intense drilling, live situations, and live scrimmage matches.

5. Conditioning — High school and college coaches have to perfect their training schedule periodization and know how and when to help their athletes peak. You need to challenge both anaerobic systems as well as aerobic capacity too. Strive to make workouts challenging, yet fun at appropriate times.

6. Intense Work Ethic — A coach’s attitude is contagious. One of my favorite camp slogans is “Intensity…that’s what it takes to be a champion.” Your students need to drill intensely, wrestle live relentlessly and push themselves daily. You have to be mentally strong; “tough when you are tired!” This will carry over into matches so you consistently win close bouts.

7. Leadership — Be a great role model and strive to inspire your students to make the best possible choices daily.  The training, academic and social decisions students make today will impact not only their season but also their future careers and lives.

8. Academic Guidance — Emphasize the importance of academic excellence consistently. I remind my wrestlers often to “Be a scholar athlete…not a dumb jock”!

9. Personal Conduct — Off-the-mat behavior is crucial to the success of the team. Each member of the wrestling team, including staff, must conduct themselves with honor and integrity.

10. Quality Staff — You need to surround yourself with good people and get everyone on the same page working together positively and efficiently. This does not mean just find great assistant coaches. It also means work hard to network with your booster club, alumni, athletic director, all school administration, other coaches and teachers, etc.

11. Strength/Nutrition/Mindset — Make sure you have an organized strength training program and customize as needed. Help your wrestlers develop the discipline needed to control their weight and make weight safely and efficiently.

Help your team and each individual develop the self confidence and mindset necessary to rise to the occasion when it matters most and win their toughest matches. Consistently making wise daily choices in all three areas will enable wrestlers to get the most out of themselves.

12. Fundraising — You need to embrace fundraising and earn program and alumni support. Engaging former wrestlers and parents is critical to a program’s success.

Get organized! All of the areas above require much thought, planning and organizational skills. If you make a consistent commitment to all of the items above you will find success! Make a commitment to excellence. Work hard, work smart and success will follow!