Scouting Opponents: The Thin Line between Dominance and Distraction

In talking with coaches, I get questions all the time about practice structure and more specifically, how to implement the practice strategies that create “laser-focus” in my athletes. Additionally, many coaches and parents are fascinated by my methods specific to developing my team, especially later in the year when you have pinpointed specific skills your wrestlers need to develop to reach their post season goals.

Some wrestling purists aren’t going to agree with me, but unfortunately…
Sometimes you need to focus on what your competition does.

“But coach, shouldn’t we be instructing our athletes to focus on their own strengths and imposing their will on the opponent?”

Of course they should!! I would never argue against that thought process but hear me out…

This can be tricky at times because the last thing you want to do is psych out your wrestler and have him consumed with what his opponent is going to do. This can be handled in several ways but I am going to describe how I have done this with my experienced wrestlers.
One of the most memorable instances of these strategies at work and paying off on the big stage was having a wrestler, undefeated in his bracket, at Fargo and if he won his next match, he was going to be in the Jr. National FS Finals. He was facing a buzzsaw that had beaten him three times that spring and summer. All the matches had been close but we had lost each. I had watched our opponent all tournament and every time he got to a leg he just ran his opponents out of bounds. He almost never tried to finish the shot…

I was excited in knowing that we could use this to our advantage but was careful in my approach, wanting my guy to be focused on his offense and game plan, not over-thinking what his opponent was going to do, but to be aware of his tendencies so that we might capitalize on an opportunity should it arise…

Instead of letting my excitement get the best of me, I held off until 5-10 minutes before he went out to wrestle and as we went through our final routines, I grabbed him and said, “listen, if he does get to your leg, he is going to run you out of bounds. He isn’t even going to try to finish. So if he gets you on the edge with your leg up have a plan.” We won that match with the pivotal moment coming when he had our leg and, as he tried to drive us out, we spun him at the edge and he stepped out first!!

Maybe we would have done that either way but I would like to think that since we visualized and planned for it, it helped. The point here is you don’t want to over-think situations. I think you should error on the side of focusing on your own game plan rather than over thinking what your opponent is going to do. This is why I get aggravated when my guys come off the mat and, rather than going to re hydrate, recover, and fuel up for the next match, they stand mat side and watch their next opponent.

It was very rare that Coach Gable or his staff had us watching film on what our opponents did… Most of the video time was spent on you and how to better your style and focus on forcing it on your opponent. As it should have been!

All I’m saying is that it never hurts to be a little sneaky…

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