Have You Ever Seen A Time When

The swearing in of the next President of the United States involved two men who sharpened personal skills in the sport of wrestling: Donald J. Trump and Chief Justice John Roberts. It certainly was a memorable day for the country and the sport.

Intermat; Foley’s Mail Bag

The following question was recently asked of T.R. Foley at Intermat and you can read his response below. I agree that making the sport as much fun as possible is always a positive for the younger set and safety a reasonable ambition all around. But I feel he should have spent a little more time explaining why we have the problem we do with first weight class forfeits. So I did . . .

Question from Mike: I coach high school wrestling, and have seen the 106-pound weight class turn into a forfeit fest even against some of the best teams throughout the Southeast. Even if it’s not a forfeit, there isn’t a lot of talented depth at the weight class like many other weight classes. Do you see any chance this weight class moves to 110 pounds in the near future?

Response from Foley: Evidence is pointing to larger children and your anecdote is further substantiation for the realigning of high school weight classes. We don’t need 106 pounds (once 103 pounds) as a number; we need athletes healthy and happy to compete in the sport. If there is a good reason for keeping the number at 106 I’d love to hear, but asking a 14-year-old to put on a few pounds shouldn’t be that difficult and is certainly better than the alternative.

Wade’s Thoughts: I have three. If low numbers and forfeits are currently a high school issue in the first weight class, just think of the number of problems the sport would have if we discontinued the 106 pound weight class? Didn’t those who are now wrestling at 112, 119 and 125 start out at 106? Drop that first weight class and those younger, smaller kids will simply walk away from the sport because today’s millennials aren’t near as willing to pay their dues and wait their turn as the baby boomers were.

Next, if we discontinue 106, doesn’t that make 112 the first weight class? Wouldn’t there still be a problem trying to find a wrestler for that weight? The issue isn’t the size of kids in the room; it’s whatever the first weight class is because there’s nothing below that by definition to pull a kid up from to fill the void. If wrestling had a 98 pound weight class, and I’m not suggesting we should, you’d see far, far less forfeits at 106. Because as I mentioned, in every weight class, other than the first one and at heavyweight, coaches can either push a kid up a weight class or pull one down a weight. So as long as 9th grade is considered high school (and in many states 8th graders can move up to varsity), the first weight class should be 106.

This challenge we have isn’t a forfeit issue as much as it is a matter of recruitment and retention. It seems to me that high school coaches are relying on middle school programs to propagate their rosters. They aren’t making the effort that’s necessary to walk the halls and find the athletes they need to fill a starting line-up. There has to be a lot of little guys who would love to have a shot at being a varsity wrestler if you’d ask them? And why wouldn’t they give it a try, given their size, they’re not swimming in a sea of sporting opportunities.

Why Our Rule Changes Fail To Increase Wrestling’s Entertainment Value

To begin, most of us are under the impression that rule changes are designed to make matches 1) safer and 2) to a greater extent more enjoyable. At least that’s the goal. But regarding safety, most of what has been implemented at the scholastic and collegiate levels reflects a slow creep toward millennial softness. That’s never a good thing for a combative sport if spectator numbers and entertainment dollars are important.

Regarding enjoyable, a vast majority of the current rules being instituted for the purpose of making the sport more attractive to fans aren’t getting it done. If there’s a why here it has everything to do with the athletes being the ones that are expected to implement whatever rules are made with minimal involvement from the coaches.

Let’s back up a minute. The business of wrestling has a Board of Directors which is our Rules Committee. It also has a management team which is the coaches. Then downstream from there we have our worker bees, the athletes.

As everyone knows, in a typical company business structure, decisions made by the Board are given to management to implement. That’s pretty standard in corporations with personnel bonuses and vertical promotions based on how well each member of management accomplishes their tasks. The Board never communicates with those who perspire on the assembly line – just as those in the mail room never make presentations to the Board.

But in wrestling, the Rules Committee overlooks management and goes straight to the athletes. That’s never a winning formula just as the fox having the keys to the hen house doesn’t work well either. It’s actually a rare company that survives in business without middle level management motivating (pressuring) the workers to execute corporate directives.

Now for those who are glassy eyed trying to follow what I’ve written so far, maybe an example will help. When our Board of Directors decides to make a rule or clarify an existing one, they make the athletes directly responsible. They basically say, “Here’s what we want. If you don’t do this, we’re going to penalize you. If you do that we’re going to penalize you. Or you have to change this because that no longer counts.”

As much as I understand where they’re trying to go, no one does what’s in the best interest of the sport; they do what’s in their best interest. If both can be accomplished simultaneously, that’s great, but as we’ve seen, athletes take umbrage at being told what to do by the sports administrators. And given the pressure for athletes to comply and having skipped over the coaches, both the athlete and the coach will work together to find workarounds. And why not, they’re on the same team.

Now, I understand when rules penalize an athlete for something he did or didn’t do it could mean the difference in winning a match. So coaches are somewhat involved – but typically, those 1 or 2 bout points seldom affect the outcomes of a dual meet or tournament finish.

The point is . . . the penalty or the pain that’s associated with the “bad” behavior needs to be placed on the entity (the coaches) that’s directly responsible for managing the behavior. If stalling meant a team point instead of a bout point, coaches would get involved and become highly motivated to protect their interests.

So the implementation and enforcement of rules should be the responsibility of those with the greatest egos (which isn’t a bad thing) and the most to lose: the coaches. My proposed solution of a point earned is a point scored is a prime example of giving leverage to getting coaches involved. The adoption of this one rule, I believe, would transform wrestling forever. Why, because it places athlete performance squarely on the shoulders of coaches. If you haven’t read about a point earned is a point scored, look to the right and drop down 16 blogs. It’s worth the visit.

In closing, wrestling will only take its’ next step in becoming a viable entertainment product when those in power reinstitute the chain of command. They have to place the onus for change on those who sit matside. From there, you can bet they’ll pass the pressure downstream.

This is the way small businesses become big businesses.

An Olympic Challenge

Were you aware that the IOC (International Olympic Committee) just added Baseball, Softball, Karate, Skateboarding, Sports Climbing and Surfing to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic program calendar? That’s certainly great news for the 474 athletes these sports will add to the ten thousand plus that are already a part of the Games.

As exciting as that may be, I have a question, “What does that mean for wrestling?” Is the IOC sending us yet another unstated message that we’re bound to overlook again? Are there any alarm bells going off in Colorado Springs or Switzerland?

It’s obvious, at least to me, that the International Olympic Committee is fine tuning their programming – which is their right and responsibility to do. They’re looking for the greatest possible mix of sports that will maximize profits while increasing their global exposure. And if they can eliminate a few sports who might be considered liabilities in the process, that works for them.

So, is there a message in all of this for wrestling – especially when we received only 49 votes for reinstatement out of the 96 that the IOC’s Executive Committee cast? This means, if my math is correct, that there were 46 members who didn’t want us back or care that we’re man’s oldest sport.

Doesn’t that suggest that we’re either daft politically or our negatives outweigh our positives? We already know that wrestling can’t give away enough tickets to the 500,000 tourists that the Games attract, or the 10,000 plus athletes who are present, or to millions of local residents to begin to fill whatever small wrestling venue the IOC gives us for competition. So given our rather non-existent popularity that has to be strike one; strike two and three has to be our own in your face posturing of – we’ll do what we want to do with total disregard for the UWW’s parent organization.

It will be interesting to see how all this plays out in Tokyo. Should we be given the green light for 2024 and 2028 then kudos to USAWrestling and the UWW. But from where I sit, given the IOC’s policy of having no more than 28 sports, and seeing that they’re testing the waters with 6 new sports, maybe we should be paying attention.

A Bonus Thought

Regarding funk wrestling and the frustrating frequency of stalemates that occur from those positions, what do you think about . . . a 3-count 1-point rule? If the person being “funked” can hold his opponent on his back past the 90 degrees for a 3-count, that’s 1-point. Control isn’t necessary. That doesn’t dissuade those who funk from diving between someone’s legs to gain control, but doing so, for the purpose of hanging on for a stalemate, it will cost them a point. This rule gives both supporters and opponents of funk the ability to have their cake and eat it too.

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15 thoughts on “Have You Ever Seen A Time When

  1. Numbers in Junior High programs are even worse than the varsity teams. Why not combine them? You could strengthen the lower weight classes and provide more depth for the middle and heavier weight classes. This wouldn’t interfere with eligibility requirements (6 years for PIAA) and would also allow us to add weight classes for more participation. A varsity wrestling match lasts approximately an hour, while most other sports are two hours in length.

  2. Hey Wade, I would just like to point out that USA wrestling especially Rich bender has been trying very hard to help women succeed. I think you might admit that the most friction concerning wrestling has to do with girls wrestling with boys. I live in an all Mormon community. Parents simply object. I can assure you that I will do whatever I can to help our daughters/children share their dreams and be successful!

  3. Hey Wade thank you for your response I think you are incredible and I appreciate all that you do and have done for the sport of men and women’s wrestling. Your work is outstanding and your enthusiasm is is always such a pleasure to read. I was thinking this morning that because we are at such a unique time in reference to the growth of women’s wrestling, those of us who are “pioneers ” could use some extra cachet. There has not been enough of a spotlight which would give us more authority and respected Information that must be delivered throughout the country immediately.

  4. Please don’t find my questions an attack on the sport of wrestling.

    These questions need to be asked, and answered, to save your sport.

    You probably tried to answer these questions throughout your articles. Is it time to create a summary of your findings and conclusions in one place?

    Wade said,
    “To begin, most of us are under the impression that rule changes are designed to make matches 1) safer and 2) to a greater extent more enjoyable. At least that’s the goal. But regarding safety, most of what has been implemented at the scholastic and collegiate levels reflects a slow creep toward millennial softness. That’s never a good thing for a combative sport if spectator numbers and entertainment dollars are important.”

    Is there a slow creep toward millennial softness? How many coaches or athletes will agree with this statement? Will the Board agree with this statement?

    What rules should be changed/discarded to reverse this slow creep toward millennial softness?

    Please sit down with people who know your sport intimately, go through every rule, label the purpose of the rule, list the intended and unintended consequences of the rule, whether the rule should remain as is, changed, or discarded.

    I think you said, somewhere, wrestling adds new rules every year. I agree with you if you believe this is not a good thing.

    It might be easier to throw out the rule book and start with a fresh set of rules, but the powers that be wouldn’t accept such radical surgery.

    What exactly is the goal of wrestling as seen by the spectator?
    As seen by the coach? As seen by the athlete?

    The rules should determine the goals. If wrestling has become soft, which rules are to blame? Aren’t most rules made for safety reasons? Which rules are not made for safety reasons?

    Hasn’t wrestling always had a problem entertaining spectators?
    If I go back to National Wrestling Hall of Fame guides from the 1940s, won’t I find concerns raised about increasing spectator attendance?

    There are a lot more combative sport choices for spectators these days.

    What does wrestling offer spectators other combative sports lack?
    What do other combative sports offer spectators wrestling lacks?

    What combative sports do spectators find entertaining, and why?
    What is it about wrestling that is entertaining? Is not entertaining?

    Are the rules in other combative sports simpler or easier to understand?
    Are the goals clearer? Do other combat sports suffer a slow creep toward millennial softness?

    If I am asked to name a combat sport, I might name judo or karate or kung fu or jiu jitsu or tae kwon do or a mixed martial art. If the game show, Family Feud, were to ask 100 people, at random, to name a combat sport, would wrestling make the list?

    If I were rewriting your rule book, I would impose a time limit on a match. The match would last the length of the time limit no matter how many pins were scored.

    Only pins would count toward the team score. For example, you pin your opponent four times in fifteen minutes, you get four team points.

    If the wrestlers left the wrestling area, I would return them to the wrestling area in approximately the same position they were in when they went out.

    I wouldn’t have periods.

    I wouldn’t allow submission holds or chokes.

    The only other rules I would have would be for safety.

    I wouldn’t have rules to prevent punishing rides designed to soften up an opponent as long as the opponent isn’t being threatened with injury. It’s up to the opponent to know how to counter the punishing ride. To those who object to punishing rides, I point to the punishing submission holds of some martial arts, and suggest punishing holds that don’t lead immediately to submissions should be permitted if wrestling truly were a combat sport.

  5. In 1 point annual increments, raise the minimum fat percentage for high school to 12%.

    • Jack . . . I would believe and I’ll start by saying I don’t know the number but I’m guessing at least 10% of all high school students aren’t at 11% naturally. We wouldn’t want to voluntarily eliminate any percentage of students who may become wrestlers by having minimums.
      But I like your willingness to join into the conversation and out of the box thinking. Thanks.

    • I believe that the growth and progression of women’s wrestling is the key. It will be really tough at first

  6. Years ago – when wrestling was just one of two (or three) winter options for athletes – our numbers were healthy. Today, youngsters have a wide range to choose from – and so do their parents. I believe their criteria is heavily influenced along the lines of safety, excitement, enjoyment. Today’s amateur wrestling struggles with the last two.
    As Wade points out, the Olympic committee, understandably, wants to market exciting events, which results in higher viewership, which results in more revenue. Gee, sounds like a business, doesn’t it? Whether we like it or not, almost all the higher levels of sports competition are exactly that, a business – and wrestling competes in that crucible – frankly, towards the back of the pack.
    The rules makers and the powerbrokers of wrestling seem to be stuck in concrete. We teach the correct wrestling technique, but coaches and referees permit it to executed in small 15-30 second skirmishes – sandwiched by whole minutes of . . . athletes leaning on each other?
    Reminds me of frogs in a frying pan, no sudden movement that will spook them, so they just sit there . . . and get fried to death.
    We still have time to implement healthy, exciting rule changes (I.e., “A point scored is a point earned.”) that can bring our sport to the forefront. But one thing is for certain – conducting (wrestling) business as usual – is a sure invitation to our precious sport’s funeral.

    • Chad . . . thank you for your contributions to this discussion and most certainly all the time and levels of leadership you gave to the sport. The ONLY way any of this will ever happen is if the sporting community as a whole stops attending matches to the point where we finally get the attention of leadership. OR, if a person of power like Bob Bowlsby goes to the NCAA, not the wrestling rules committee but the big boys and convinces them to save us from our own folly. Coaches will NEVER institute rules that will force them to retool their way of thinking. So we write only to entertain ourselves.

  7. Also some states still have 98 and 103.

    • Thanks Neil, I didn’t know that. And I bet those states don’t have a forfeiting issue at 103 because of having a 98 pound class.

  8. Hey Wade,
    Got a solution for coaches trying to find 106. Sounds like a good time to get a girl on the team!

    • You’re right. What an outstanding thought. Hope coaches are reading this, that addresses several issues the sport has and turns them into assets.

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