How To Become A Better Wrestler – 4 Steps To Bridging the Gap From Beginner to Elite Wrestler

Coach Daryl Weber
Coach Daryl Weber

How To Become A Better Wrestler?

Transitioning From College & International to Coaching Youth & High School was difficult!

I asked myself…

What were the important differences between elite college wrestlers and most youth, middle school, and high school wrestlers?

What were the similarities?

Establish a Goal.

I determined my goal(s) to be:

  1. Develop each wrestler to their full potential (on & off the mat)
  2. Be sure those that were willing and able to wrestle in college, would be physically and mentally prepared for the challenge.
  3. Also, those that don’t want to wrestle in college should be prepared and motivated to get a higher education of some form.

How Do I Accomplish These Goals?

I had to develop proven systems that encouraged the proper physical and mental development

Step One – The Technical System

In order to be successful at all levels, including college, it was obvious that my wrestlers would need excellent technical skills.

I knew that the way we were taught at Iowa could not just be 100% replicated at the youth & high school level. I did know that if my goal was to produce successful college wrestlers, I could not justify teaching anything but the best technique.

To reconcile the situation, I developed a system that simplified the techniques I saw at the highest levels, and made them concrete enough to be understood and performed by anyone. Once the core skills were in place, the athletes would advance to higher levels by building off the basics they had already been taught.

The biggest mistake that I see many youth and middle school coaches and wrestlers make is relying on “Middle School Moves” to win most matches in youth and middle school, only to have to relearn the basics when they get to high school.

So often a youth wrestler is so much more experienced or mature than their competition that they can win a lot of matches with “junk holds” and then when they get to high school they struggle because they haven’t had the basics drilled into them.  This also happens with high school wrestlers that move on to college as well.

Step Two – The Strength & Conditioning System

Another important foundation of high-level wrestling is physical strength, which is difficult to find when dealing with younger athletes. Additionally, the awkward proportions of young athletes made it extremely difficult for them to perform the complex multi-joint lifts which I viewed as the core of any strength training program.

To bring these worlds together I again focused on the capabilities of my athletes and related those skills to the highest levels of wrestling. Since they were not ready for complex lifts, bodyweight exercises, and progressions leading to the major lifts like:

  • Dead lift
  • Squats
  • Cleans

…were the foundation of our strength program.

In college most knew how to lift and had a good foundation of strength coming in so the intensity was a big factor in the strength program.   Although, intensity levels are still high in our lifts a lot of focus is on building a strong foundation of strength.

Step Three – The System to Engineer Mental Toughness & Confidence

The last area of emphasis was not scalable, but is similar in that it brings younger athletes up to the level of college

athletes. If I was going to produce wrestlers who were ready to succeed academically and athletically in college, not simply be recruited, they would have to have a strong sense of personal accountability.

Athletes who were willing to make excuses for their failures and shortcomings always struggled when placed in high-pressure environments, like college athletics.  Expectations needed to be set that were based on the principles of success and it was my job to make sure the athletes needed to know how important these habits and philosophies were.

This was done by a constant message being delivered.  You can’t expect to deliver one good speech and think your job is done.  It takes constant reminders, conversations, explanations and teaching to even have a chance of getting through to most.

Setting rules and enforcing them is necessary but not enough by itself.  Athletes must understand why taking the tougher path is important if they want to have success, in anything. It is also important to expect everyone to strive to develop these habits of success.  We make it a point that respect and admiration doesn’t come from getting your hand raised, but rather from how you get there.

Step Four – Create the Right Program Culture – “Next Level Mentality”

An athlete who trains to win the state tournament will often fall short, but an athlete who trains to be the best in the country can win a state title incidentally. By keeping my focus, and the focus of my team beyond the state tournament, I ensured our best chance of success there. 

This was a core philosophy of Coach Gable’s.  He wanted every wrestler on his team thinking of being an Olympic Champion.  Did everyone have that frame of mind?  No, but those that did brought the level of everyone else up.  I think this is an important concept, no matter where your team is.  If you are not challenging yourself at a level higher than what your true goals maybe, well someone else probably is

In conclusion, my goals were what gave me the clarity to put these systems in place. Without my goals, I would not have looked for the common threads between the highest and lowest levels, and I may have wasted time experimenting with tactics, holds, and ideas that are immediately satisfying but falter at the highest levels.

Now that you have heard my thoughts, I would love to hear yours.  What do you think is important when developing a wrestler or athlete?  Let me know what you think by posting below and I will be sure to comment back.

Daryl Weber


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