Top-10 reasons a summer wrestling camp is a must to improve

Updated: June 4, 2024

Photo: The Chertow summer wrestling camps are an example of where young wrestlers can pick up skills.

By John Klessinger

“Summer wrestling makes winter champions.”

When I was a kid, I saw this quote from an unknown author on a brochure for the Keystone Wrestling Camp. I am trying to remember my exact age. Some of the wrestlers on my team at Warwick High School were going to the camp run by John Fritz, the NCAA champion and former head wrestling coach at Penn State. My high school coach, Jerry McDonald, was one of the clinicians at the camp. 

The camp was five days long and four nights. We were in the intensive group and ran each morning at 6:30 a.m. One of Coach Fritz’s wrestlers led us on the run through Muhlenberg College. I remembered the above quote as it provided motivation each morning. The camp was only four days. Today, I wouldn’t think the “intensive camp” would necessarily be too challenging. But then, at 14 years old with minimal exposure to adversity, it was tough. Quite honestly, dreadful. 

Through junior high and high school, I attended multiple camps. I can’t say I ever liked them. I didn’t jump for joy when camp began and mostly breathed a sigh of relief when it was over. Compared to most of my peers, I did a good amount of wrestling in the off-season. I attended a lot of tournaments, clinics and open-mat settings.

  There were mats in the basement of an apartment building in our small town of Lititz, Pa. The Clair brothers, Roy and Gene, owned the building and put the mats in the basement. We had access to the mats whenever we wanted. Clair Global is one of the world’s largest sound reinforcement and live touring support companies for some of the biggest names in the music industry.

As I said, I didn’t get excited about camps but had a burning desire to be a “winter champion.” That was the wind that blew my sail. Those winds still blow today while I coach high school wrestling.

Wrestling camps are huge for the development of wrestlers. I am not necessarily talking about the top elite-level wrestlers. They already wrestle a lot. The sport has grown in many respects. Year-round club wrestling has become 365 days a year. That is why we see these kids at a young age knocking off college studs. They are on the mats non-stop. Neither good nor bad. Only a matter of fact. 

However, for most wrestlers, the remaining 97 percent, wrestling camp is an excellent opportunity to improve quickly. I always refer back to the camp brochure quote. I repeat it every spring to kids on my team. “Summer wrestling makes winter champions” is my advertisement on why they need to go to wrestling camp. 

Here are ten reasons I believe a summer wrestling camp is a must for those wanting to become “winter champions.”

1. Summer competition and training — Many wrestlers play multiple sports and are involved in other activities outside wrestling. Wrestling camp is short, but in those few days, there is a lot of wrestling happening. In a four-or-five-day camp, wrestlers will be on a mat for 20 or more hours. At some camps, they will wrestle 15-20 live matches. That is half a wrestling season. 

2. Structured schedule — Everyone does well with structure. A big reason I like camps is the structure. It teaches young athletes discipline and accountability. Although short in duration, it is a highly intensive schedule. Start at 9, finished at 11. Lunch is at 11:30 and the second session starts at 1:30. 

3. Expert counselors and clinicians — There are many great wrestling people out there. I have never been to a camp that wasn’t effective in some way. Kids I have coached have seen Cael Sanderson, Frank Molinaro, Jordan Leen, Jared Frayer, Cary Kolat, David McFadden, Keith Lowrance, Steve Garland and many other great teachers. 

4. Team building — You can’t have a great team with one or two great wrestlers. Summer camp gives your wrestlers an opportunity to get to know their teammates better and suffer with them. Do something challenging outside of the wrestling season together to become better. Only a few days can really bring your team together and be a great benefit for the following season.

5. Seeing college campuses — I have always enjoyed checking out college campuses. Most camps are on college campuses. The camps give your kids an idea of college life: eating in a dining hall, sleeping in a dorm, etc. It is a valuable experience. 

6. Intense focus on wrestling — A camp is like a crash course in wrestling. It gives your wrestlers a few days to do nothing but focus on wrestling. There are no distractions, only wrestling. It is an excellent opportunity to work on specific areas. Plenty of camps have “themes” like leg-riding camps, heavyweight camps and intensive camps. 

7. Mindset and mental toughness training — As I have already said, camps are structured and require a lot of discipline and accountability. Camp “toughens” up your wrestlers. After a few sessions, they are tired and beaten down by a lot of wrestling. At that point, it becomes a grind. The grind develops mental toughness, which, like other challenge activities, improves mindset. 

8. Wrestle with kids from other areas — I like to go to camps far away from our location. For most of the past 20-something years, we’ve gone to camps in Pennsylvania. It allows our Maryland kids to see kids from PA, New Jersey, New York and others. Furthermore, they get a chance to watch college wrestlers wrestle and train. 

The last two reasons to attend a summer camp are specifically for wrestling coaches. I recommend getting your team to a team camp or joining your wrestlers for a few days at a camp.

9. Get to know your kids better — Every summer, I learn things about the kids on my team that I didn’t realize before camp. The better you know them, the harder they will work for you. I don’t know how it works, but it is a fact. Spending a few days with them, laughing with them, builds rapport. 

10. Stealing secrets — Being around college coaches and wrestlers allows you to see what they are doing. Most of the teams I have seen at camp wrestle and train between sessions. You see how the coaches coach, what they say to their athletes and how they drill. You can learn a lot. 

(John Klessinger is a teacher and wrestling coach at South River High School in Maryland. You can follow him on Instagram @coachkless and like his Facebook page “Coach Kless”.)