Transitioning to freestyle or Greco-Roman wrestling

A young athlete executing a freestyle ankle lace or leg lace technique

So your folkstyle season is coming to a close or is over.  You either fell short, met, or exceeded your goals.  So what’s next?  You could “play” another sport, or, transition into man’s oldest sport: freestyle or Greco-Roman wrestling.  These sports have been around since before the Olympics and were in fact apart of the ancient and modern day Olympic Games.

The challenge for some to transition to the Olympic styles may be to learn, master, and apply the skills of freestyle or Greco-Roman (Greco) wrestling.  Why is this task challenging?  The task at hand is a challenge because and not limited to: some wrestlers want a break from wrestling; some coaches planning excludes High Performance Training; some coaches may not have wrestled nor teach the Olympic styles; some wrestlers do not believe these styles are important; there are more folkstyle “super tournaments” now versus then; & this style is not sanctioned by high school state governing bodies but is sanctioned by the national governing body for wrestling in the Olympics for the USA or USA Wrestling.  I’ll spend some time in the next several paragraphs giving you ideas to think about concerning the last several sentences.  Then, my thoughts will turn to how I transitioned from folkstyle to freestyle & Greco wrestling annually.  (You can skip to the end if you just want to read that part.)

The first 2 reasons a wrestler may not transition into the Olympic styles of wrestling are coupled together because they have similar explanations and could be different topics too.  In other words, they are different (and the same) and deserve being mentioned separately but described together.  Wrestling is an intense sport which requires much mental an physical endurance just to survive the season.  So, some wrestlers opt out of any type of sport related to wrestling because they are tired (mentally & physically) from the intense training.  However, if coaches plan for success by implementing High Performance Training (see video below for HPT recommendations), many of these wrestlers could transition into the international styles of wrestling with energy to spare.  Some wrestlers, by season’s end, are just drained and need a break.  And, if coaches plan accordingly, more wrestlers might transition into freestyle & Greco.  The other part of the equation suggests that practices must be made fun by adding variety and having a periodized plan that divides the year into 2-3 different seasons.  This, of course, takes some planning and a lot of thought.

The third challenge for transitioning to freestyle or Greco is that many coaches never wrestled those sports and or do not feel comfortable teaching/coaching those sports.  Let’s face it, if you are not comfortable (read confident) you likely will not do said event nor anything you do not feel absolutely certain about.  This could mean, if you are not confident in teaching freestyle or Greco technique, you likely will not.  Finally, many high school and college coaches are being paid to teach/coach folkstyle wrestling and not freestyle and Greco which could create another obstacle to overcome…

Some wrestlers do not understand why transitioning to freestyle and Greco are important which could stem from challenge numero 3 or the coaches comfort level with coaching those sports.  The Olympic styles of wrestling are important for several reasons that include: giving most wrestlers the opportunity of learning new skills; the chance to wrestle all around the globe; the ability to enhance folkstyle skills; the potential to meet new coaches, friends, foes; more repetitions of basic skills of wrestling (folkstyle & freestyle & Greco are great cross-training sports for each other); a break from folkstyle wrestling; & coaching yourself (most off-season, freestyle, & Greco  tournaments are void of coaches).  The last idea actually is critical for growth & development because all wrestlers (and humans) must be able to effectively coach themselves and get good at it!

The folkstyle “super tournament” theory.  These days, a cadet or junior high school folkstyle wrestler can wrestle year-round folkstyle tournaments across their state, region, and the USA.  Before, when I was in my teens (1980’s), college coaches primarily recruited at folkstyle high school state tournaments and freestyle/Greco national tournaments sanctioned by either AAU, USA Wrestling Federation, or USA Wrestling.  Because many college coaches recruited at these national freestyle & Greco tournaments, many more high school wrestlers were attracted to and transitioned into the tournaments where they could be seen, noticed, and talked to by college coaches.  Now, because AAU, USA Wrestling Federation, or USA Wrestling (and other organizations) sponsor/sanction national and regional folkstyle events seemingly year-round, many high school coaches opt to recruit at those events.  So where do you think many more high school folkstyle wrestlers transition to after the high school folkstyle season is done?

Because all of the high school state governing bodies do not sponsor nor sanction the Olympic sports of wrestling, not many folks even know they exist.  Or, to flip that script, as an example, can you imagine if your high school state governing body (my state is Illinois or the Illinois High School Association – IHSA) sanctioned the international styles of wrestling?  Do you think the Olympic styles would be more popular?  Instantly, more people would know about it.  If more people knew about it, more people would participate.  If more people participated, USA would have more Dan Gables, John Smiths, Rulon Gardners, & Jordan Bourroughs.  Back to the point…  Since the high school state governing bodies must rely on the national governing body or USA Wrestling to inform the masses of the importance of Olympic style wrestling, many schools, students, parents, etc. simply are unaware of the Olympic sports.  Many are unaware of the Olympic sports because folkstyle is not an Olympic sport.  Okay, that seems silly.  But, again, imagine if your high school governing body sponsored/sanctioned freestyle or Greco…  Those roughly quarter of a million folkstyle wrestlers in high school would be wrestling the Olympic style and the idea of transitioning into the Olympic sports would be moot.

So above are the challenges as this writer sees them and below is the writer’s story and other reasons of how to transition into freestyle and Greco.

I started wrestling as a 14 year-old freshman at Evanston Township High School (ETHS) in Illinois.  Of course, my first high school season was folkstyle because the Illinois High School Association (state governing body) sanctioned that sport.  To make a long story short (and then the blanks will be filled in), I won the IHSA State Title my senior year (1989) at ETHS.  On the road to winning a high school folkstyle state championship, yours truly also won a high school Prairie State Games title in Greco (1987), a high school Greco State Title (1988), a high school freestyle State Title (1988), another Prairie State Games title in freestyle (1989) &  freestyle State Title (1989).  The last 3 Olympic style titles qualified me for Jr. Nationals where I won the silver medal in the freestyle junior nationals (1989).

At Lock Haven University, where I went to college, I won a bronze medal in the NCAA’s while wrestling in the spring/summer annually.  In the spring and summer is where the NCAA season ended and the USA Wrestling season began.  The beauty of those different seasons to me is that there was a break and both sports complimented each other (which helped me get better at both).  The break in seasons, which was about 3-4 weeks, allowed me time to reflect on the folkstyle season, relax, move on, and set new goals.  Shannyn J. Gillespie (aka Coach Shannyn) also won at least 3 medals at these freestyle college age nationals: Espoir Nationals (U20) and University Nationals.  The challenge in college was similar to high school due to not many folks to train with or not many people transitioning to the Olympic styles so it was hard to find work outs.

For me, wrestling in the Olympic styles was fun, challenging, and a break from folkstyle.  Actually, once I heard people could be world & Olympic Champions in the Olympic styles, this became my long term goal because being the best in the world had a certain ring and feel to it.  I fell short of my goals as an athlete and never won an Olympic medal nor world championship – but the idea that I could be the best in the world drove me (and now it drives me in my profession).

My coaches in high school Elias George, John Willson, & Richard Townsell (with help from Mike Williams, Morrie Geselter and many of the Northwestern University wrestlers plus coaches) all inspired me to wrestle in the off-season and suggested that freestyle & Greco would actually help my folkstyle wrestling.  That support was really all I needed and the rest is history as they say.  Not really though…  Watching the Olympics and World Cup for wrestling on TV and learning that to be a World Champion, I had to learn, master, then apply the Olympic styles really was key to my love of and transitioning each year into those sports.

My love affair with freestyle wrestling grew as a National Team Coach for USA Wrestling at the U.S. Olympic Education Center (USOEC).  At the USOEC, I traveled to places like ItalySweden, Canada, Spain, Lithuania, Japan, China, Mongolia, Austria, Czech Republic, Greece, Bulgaria, & Mexico for international training camps, international tournaments, Pan American Championships, & World Championships.  This is also where my knowledge of High Performance Training was expanded due to studying at the U.S. Olympic Committee library, working with National Team Coaches from around Planet Earth, and learning from freestyle & Greco Olympic Champions and Olympic Coaches from other parts of the world.  Two other notes: at the USOEC, we had high school students who also transitioned back to folkstyle and had success winning many gold medals at national folkstyle high school championships; many of my USOEC students won World, Pan Am, and Olympic medals.

So how does one transition into the Olympic sports of wrestling after a long grueling folkstyle season especially if they have visions of being a world and Olympic Champion?  I think it is critical to have a High Performance Training plan that incorporates a 2-3 week break after the folkstyle season in order to re-group, re-fresh, and de-compress  (see video below for training design recommendations).  If you do not care about how long you wrestle and or your sole goal is to become a national champ in folkstyle, you may not need a break (nor a High Performance Training Plan).  If you plan to wrestle beyond your high school & into your late 20’s, a break at the end of each season (folkstyle, freestyle, & Greco) is required for a long and prosperous career.

Another idea, for an optimal transition into the Olympic sports, is to shorten the amount of competitions per season.  Here’s an example: wrestling about 30 bouts per season will give you around 60 matches for the year which will allow 2-3 weeks between seasons and keep most wrestlers hungry for more (that’s actually the golden concept – hungry for more).  To be hungry for more training and competitions (through high school, college, and late into your 20’s) takes planning on the coaches and the athletes part.  To be clear, wrestling close to 100 matches per year may shorten your career and make you not want to wrestle into your 20’s and beyond.

Now I know some wrestlers wrestle 50-60 matches just in their folkstyle seasons and I do not endorse that many matches in one season – it’s too much.  In my experience as a wrestler and a coach, this is too much and that person likely will not enjoy wrestling  outside of the folkstyle season or their career will be short due to what I call the hour-glass theory (Google hour-glass for better imagery).  The hour-glass theory suggests you have an optimal amount of matches or practices or seasons to compete and if you compete/train more than that, you will not be at your peak and or you will burn out.  In essence, once the last grain of sand falls through the hour-glass, your career/season is over – so you must control how much you train, compete, wrestle for optimal success into your 20’s and beyond…  Much of this article  alludes to & suggests ways & means to “keep your flame burning” and optimize, strengthen, lengthen your career plus thwart burn out.

Also, much of this article suggests better ways & means to transition into the Olympic sports of freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling.

Copyright © by Coach Shannyn, All rights reserved

2 thoughts on “Transitioning to freestyle or Greco-Roman wrestling

  1. Coach my name is Mark Goldman and I am the Veterans Wrestling Team Leader. I have been involved in wrestling with my son for over 34 years. He has had many accomplishments in High School, College and Internationally. He is now a High School Coach and I have been gathering information to try and keep our youth involved in the sport. Your article is right on! Thousands of our youth start out in wrestling at a young age, but never make it to a High School program. I want to help change that. I believe there are several reasons and I am trying to write a book about them.

    Liked by 1 person

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