Peterson: Creating variety will also keep wrestling fun

Updated: January 12, 2018

By Ben Peterson

Can wrestling really be fun? Is it possible to enjoy the hard training that most wrestlers endure as they compete on a high school, college or international level? I have been asked this question many times!

My answer to all of these questions is “yes!” Parts of the lifting, conditioning, weight control and technique drilling may not be enjoyable at the time. But we are preparing to play and enjoy the game.

Some may say the fun is only in the winning. But I believe there is enjoyment in much more than just winning. Let me address four elements that are needed for us to fully enjoy the game of wrestling, and for that matter, probably any sport or game.

1. Move the mind & body.

For centuries people have been finding incredible variety and enjoyment in moving the human body. It is fun to play and move with skill and variety. Dance, playing a musical instrument, acting, physical work, and even simply running or walking can all be enjoyable activities done with our bodies. Eventually most things we do with our body can be turned into an enjoyable activity. Weight lifting was hard labor for me. But my son enjoys it. He loves to lead a group of his football players through a workout. He has made “working out” enjoyable by adding variety and the company of teammates.

God made the human body to move and adjust with the control of the mind. And yes, watching others play is also a lot of fun. Watching an athlete stretch to complete a move or skill can be most enjoyable. That is why more and more stadiums, arenas and gyms keep getting bigger: because people love watching up close. The human body is beautiful and attractive in many forms.

From the smallest to the biggest, from the youngest to the oldest, it is fun to see what we can do with our bodies. And for wrestlers, it can be a blast to see what we can personally do on the mat. Stalemates and stalling situations avoid activity. No one enjoys them. But flurrying can be invigorating to do and to watch.

2. Learn the game well.

Wrestling is no different than any other game. It is not much fun playing a game you do not understand. You must learn the rules, the scoring, the techniques and tactics. It’s no fun to have the official stop action because you went out of bounds or penalize you for breaking a rule. It is never fun to be penalized or stopped from doing something you enjoy.

The more techniques you know and master, the greater variety you can use while playing. As a coach, I always urge wrestlers to learn the basics well, to be comfortable in the neutral position, riding and getting away. But then I tell them to keep a bag of tricks ready for use when their opponents least expect it. A hip toss, tilt, roll or cradle can be used when an opponent gets out of position

Surprises are a lot of fun to throw in here and there as you practice and compete.

Tactics of the game are so important. Knowing where the edge is and even where the officials are could make all the difference of when to hit a move. The more you learn about the game you are playing, the more you will enjoy that game. Learn all you can from many others and you will enjoy the game in a variety of ways.

3. Keep the body in condition. 

Because we play the game of wrestling with our bodies and play it at fast speeds, the condition of our body is essential. In fact, all aspects of mind and body use must be expanded. Alertness, strength, speed, explosiveness, smoothness, control, flexibility, recovery, automatic reaction, and no doubt several more factors affect our ability to compete in wrestling at a high and more intense and often more enjoyable level. And yes, it is those “workouts” that increase our abilities in all these areas, so that we can enjoy higher skills.

Many wrestlers struggle to embrace the workouts. They need to think of the fun they will have competing with less physical strain and hurt. Actually, they may still hurt, but they will be competing at a much higher level and enjoying it more and more with others who are also at higher skill levels. And it is a great thing for coaches, parents and fans to be confident our conditioning will permit us to perform the game at very high levels.

My personal experience was that when I was in very good shape, I still got tired. But the pace I had, with other good and even great wrestlers, was a thrill for me and for those watching. Why compete in the sport on the ground? Why not do it flying? Flurries in practice as well as during matches can be extremely invigorating.

Our bodies and minds were made to enjoy working together. With age, we former wrestlers miss the thrill of playing at those high levels. So we become fans watching countless matches or we coach by leading and encouraging youth to enjoy what we once did.

As a coach, I urge wrestlers to stay in good basic shape all the time. It is no fun to always be getting back in shape. And then peak your condition during the wrestling season and especially for the biggest events. That is the way you can enjoy competing  at the highest levels with the best wrestlers. Being able to compete with the best wrestlers at a very high level is a lot of fun both in practice and meets. This pattern of thinking and training sets wrestlers up for their greatest enjoyment and success.

4. Pursue Excellence.

The pursuit of doing something very well can bring great pleasure. I think that enjoyment is a reflection of the way God created man. He enjoyed creativity, beauty, and excellence when He was creating this world. Wrestling is a form of art. The pursuit of doing it with excellence can bring great pleasure. Doing your best and reaching an element of excellence can bring real gratification. There is satisfaction in a job well done!

To enjoy high mountain views you need to get to the top of a mountain. Many people drive to the top of Pikes Peak and enjoy the view as tourists. But a few run and climb it and they talk about it all their lives. They put in the work to enjoy it in a whole new way, and then they climb other peaks that don’t have roads. Some hikers and some wrestlers find “peaks” to climb all alone. They never forget it, but they may find it hard to fully explain the experiences to those who have not been there.

The more you know about wrestling, the more varied you can be in using your “wrestling machine”. The more conditioned your machine is, and the more you seek excellence, the more you and your fans will enjoy it all.

• Ben Peterson, the Wisconsin native who was a 1972 Olympic gold medalist and two-time NCAA champ at Iowa State, is a monthly columnist of WIN Magazine. To subscribe to WIN either in print or digitally, click here

(Find other articles and the book “ROAD TO GOLD” by Ben at: Ben & John Peterson run Camp of Champs Wrestling Camps. Contact  them at:  PO Box 222, Watertown, WI 53094; 920-918-0542; n