7. Decisions are seldom spectator centric: The only way wrestling is going to be turned around is to run the sport through a battery of evaluations to see if it can survive in today’s market place? I think all of us already know the results of such an endeavor but it’s this kind of due diligence that should prove to our leadership that the ship is sinking. The only way we can save it is to put it in dry dock for not only repairs but a complete refit.
Of course that requires leadership to determine what the sport should look like going forward? That means the creation of a business plan and mission statement so everyone has a clear understanding and vision of what needs to happen and why? Wrestling most definitely has to stop all the work-arounds it develops each year for ill-conceived theories and out dated approaches to growth. That’s exactly what the IRS doesn’t do and how the Tax Code has grown to be 72,000 pages thick. And we all know how well that has that worked out for the American citizen.
One of our greatest attributes we have is we’re man’s oldest sport but that is also the rope that we’re swinging from currently because we’ve been doing things a certain way for so long that we haven’t stopped to see if what we’re doing makes sense. We’re just not keeping pace with the exponential jump society has had in their recreational interests. With the advent of television in the 1950’s and astronomical speed of change that social media is having on society, those who are winning the battle of the eye balls are the ones who are one step ahead of the times.
Unfortunately wrestling is still clinging to the way things have always been done and a philosophy that society should morph to what we’re doing.
What others are saying about How Wrestling Wins:
“Wrestling is indeed in trouble! The sport NEEDS your voice. I can only hope that the “powers that be” begin to listen.”
Dan Sloan, Petersburg, Alaska
“I love it when I see someone having the guts to “shake things up”.
John Albertson, Taos, New Mexico
Regarding being spectator centric, coaches need to reconsider the percentage of suits and ties they have hanging in their closets. Then actually put some of them on every time they represent their schools; which if you think about it is 90% of the time. If this has to be a rule, then so be it. But each time a coach is seen in public he should be dressed for success and with the objective to uplift the sport beyond its blue collar roots. That means dressing one level above the company the coach is keeping.
It’s not that unreasonable to ask our sports leadership to respect themselves, their institution and the coaching profession. That starts with their appearances and those of their athletes. Coaches don’t have the right to express their individuality at matches in a warm-up suit and t-shirt or dock siders, khaki’s and a white shirt. We simply can’t afford to portray the sport as a blue collar activity run by non-professionals. We already do enough by our actions to foster that impression without appearing that way as well.
Now I know intellectually that wrestling is no better than any other sport but emotionally it should be important to all of us to believe and act as if it’s better than any other sport.
As we all know there’s nothing white collar about basketball except their coaches and those who are associated with the sport by the way they dress and expect their players to dress. I realize wrestling prefers to lead rather than follow but when others get it right; it’s not always a bad thing to follow that group or individuals lead.
Wrestling teaches internal pride and self-respect but in too many instances our external appearances are at odds with how we feel about ourselves.
Speaking of closets, here’s another rule change to digest. Wrestling should consider having multiple competitive ensembles that programs can choose from besides a singlet. Each institution should have choices in what they select to wear when it comes to competition. The only question we need to answer here is what’s wrong with choices, it’s the 21st century. Why are we forcing wrestlers to wear singlets that were originally fashioned by the caveman using animal hides which only flatters those with developed bodies? Swim suit manufacturers understand that; it’s why they make one and two piece suits for women as well as cover-ups because not all bodies are the same; just as it’s true for adolescent children versus their post pubescent counterparts.
I can’t begin to tell you how many young wrestlers I’ve talked to that won’t give the sport a try because they 1) have to wear a singlet or 2) have to strip down to their underwear for weigh-ins. Remember, this is the century of sensitivity training and where self-esteem issues are high on everyone’s list. Making a young person wear something that isn’t flattering is an immediate turn-off just as having them stand in front of dozens of their peers in their underwear is embarrassing. If you’re not sure this is a big deal with kids; take a group of elementary children and divide them into shirts and skins for a game of kick ball. Then see how many children on the skins side ask if they can be a shirt instead or say they don’t want to play? This is a really BIG deal with kids that we seem to overlook to our detriment.
I recently showed this segment of How Wrestling Wins to a friend who coaches and he responded, “Oh my God, you’re right on the money here.” And continued, “You have no idea how many times I’ve heard, “I know I’d get in great shape if I came out for wrestling but I’m not wearing that leotard.” And when I tell my P.E. classes that we have a home match tonight I hear the girls snickering and whispering, “gross . . . man thong!”
Now I’m not proposing we eliminate the singlet but rather consider expanding what’s available to athletes. Why not be fashion trendy and offer multiple competitive combinations?
Think about football and the University of Oregon for a moment. How great are their uniforms and the 56 different combinations they can select from for any game and especially how well the public and their spectators have taken to the game of football’s new look.
Again, we shouldn’t care what the coaches think or the fans that don’t go to meets, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the wrestler’s ability to compete. It’s all about the spectators who buy tickets and what they see, it’s about the perceived strategies multiple outfits provide and how the sport is viewed by the media. Athletes do care about their appearance and sometimes that means a well-fitting singlet, then again it may mean something else. This is why the fashion industry from Paris to Milan to New York is an ever changing 1.2 trillion dollar industry.
Wrestlers should be able to choose between long, short and no sleeved compression gear tops matched with half, three quarter or full length tights. Or maybe consider MMA fight shorts that originated from the world of surfing and provide a “cool” look with compression tops? Just think of the fun schools could have designing their own distinctive looks with all that fabric while athletes (or coaches) choose what works for them.
Some might select to stay with the traditional singlet or select to show more skin by moving toward a lower side cut international singlet. Remember sex sells and none of this would affect the safety of the matches or the ability of the athletes to compete.
The University of Maryland football team has 87 various uniform combinations, why can’t wrestling have a fifth as many?
I doubt it might happen, but if the high school association or NCAA becomes concerned about our choices of uniforms relative to modesty or decorum, we might consider reminding them of their approval of the sometimes transparent, often scant and definitely sex defining suits we see in swimming.
Just think, our athletes could select to combine any one of the singlets with shorts similar to what use to be the norm in 1970 wrestling or select to wear anyone of the new singlet styles by itself. Or they could be creative and have one half-length tight on one leg and a full length cut on the other like Flo-Jo Joyner wore in the Olympics when she was the fastest women in the world. Or a full length sleeve on one arm, no sleeve or half sleeve on the other. The options, looks, colors, designs and perceived strategies for each are endless. The point is its creative, its fun and no one is hurt by the creativity. It also sends a message that we’re a wide open sport with few boundaries; we’re creative and deserving to be checked out.
As for our youth, long sleeved compression gear is the equivalent of a cover-up in swimming but with form fitting and slimming characteristics.
All this is a win-win for everyone and if the sports goal is to work toward reducing the amount of skin infections, what better way of doing that than minimizing the use of singlets which provide the most skin on skin contact?
Of course there’s the likelihood of increased scoring when “slipping out of a hold” becomes far more difficult to do as a result of additional material. But is that a bad thing?
Maybe this is too much change for the average wrestling fan to digest? If it is, at least consider short sleeve compression tops and half-length shorts (pictured here) as a compromise with our traditional singlet being the other. Athletes should have choices when it comes to attire. Why would anyone balk as long as each outfit meets the current standards of safety? We already do it with our equipment; don’t we allow athletes to choose from 21 different headgear designs, 5 various shoe manufactures and too numerous to mention knee pads and sock or no sock options?
Nationally on both the scholastic and collegiate levels, wrestlers are allowed to wear t-shirts underneath their singlets for those who have a doctor’s note for dermatologic skin issues. To that point, we have been doing cover-ups for decades and there hasn’t been one safety or strategic issue ever mentioned. So what’s the problem?
If we look back in time there has always been precedent regarding change. Wasn’t it the ancient Greek’s that wrestled in the nude? Amateur wrestlers in the 1930’s were bare-chested and wore full length tights. In the 1960’s and 1970’s wrestlers wore full length tights with short shorts over buttoned down tops.
If for no other reason, do it for our little guys because we need as many of them as we can attract. And as far back as I can remember I’ve never known one wrestler who came out for the sport because he couldn’t wait to wear a singlet but I have known hundreds that didn’t come out for the opposite reason. So over the years, this issue has to translate into thousands of youngsters who haven’t tried wrestling because of the way we handle weigh-ins and our selection of uniforms.
And while we’re talking about wrestling attire, I’m curious, why are shoes mandatory? They aren’t required by any of our martial art cousins or in the UFC; so why is wrestling the only mat sport with shoes? Why not make them optional, it would certainly stop the penalties of shoe laces not being secured and all but eliminate the issue of one wrestler hanging on to another wrestler’s ankle in overtime.
Can you think of any good reason why we shouldn’t make some visual changes? It certainly conveys to society that wresting is undergoing change? It works in retail sales when companies change the look of a products packaging and then market it as being “new and improved.” Besides, what’s wrong with having a variety of options relative to what an athlete feels good about wearing? Certainly not the cost of development; let the athletic clothing companies handle that end of things and then enjoy the return on investment from sales.
Whether you agree with adding fashion statements or not, please don’t get caught up in the specifics. Think variety, new and improved, skin infections, styling, strategic applications and self-esteem issues. This is really a no-brainer but somehow there will still be members of the rules committee who won’t like the idea while those from marketing and promotions cheer it.
Another revolutionary change we should consider is matside weigh-ins. His is an old idea but none-the-less relevant. It would eliminate all those embarrassing moments that currently exist for little Johnny when he’s in a locker room and has to disrobe in front of his peers. Can we afford to lose even one child because he doesn’t like to surrender his cloths in front of others? That alone should be reason enough to modify our behavior.
But the main benefit of mat-side weigh-ins is controlling excessive weight reduction issues that contributed to the death of three young men in the 1990’s which is the reason why we have the current weight management system.
If you think about it, the sole motivation behind weight reduction is fear; the anxiety athletes have regarding their size relative to that of their opponents.
Wrestlers know if they aren’t the biggest and strongest kid in their weight class they’re likely to lose. History has proven that size matters and wrestling is no different. So athletes do whatever they can, whenever they can, to drop as much as they can, and if it’s necessary to find ways around the current weight management system to achieve it they will; all to gain the upper hand.
Weight cutting is about one thing and one thing only; the internal need to win. If we can change the way we handle weight loss to the point where athletes know their performance will drop with every pound lost, we’ll eliminate the problem that we created ourselves.
Mat side weigh-ins achieves all our goals.
Remember, cutting weight only works when there’s recovery time between stepping on a scale and walking on the mat. The greater the variance between the two, the more successful weight cutting becomes.
Remember the tragic deaths of those three athletes, their passing was during the period in our history when the rules committee decided to allow night before weigh-ins. That was a gigantic mistake for the sport. It opened the door for our athletes to consider dropping another weight class below what they were already cutting to given the increased recovery time the new rule provided.
Once athletes realize that with matside weigh-ins they have zero time to rehydrate before competition, the dynamics of weight reduction immediately shifts toward minimal weight loss. There isn’t a wrestler alive that wants to go through the miseries of cutting weight without a corresponding benefit.
A prediction; as soon as the rules committee approves mat side weigh-ins, athletes will correct in 100 minutes what the sport couldn’t fix in 100 years.
And just think of the spectator appeal; weigh-ins becoming a part of the show just as it is in horse racing where the jockey has to jump on a scale in front of everyone fully dressed holding his saddle. This is such a strong concept that athletes would even disregard their own coach’s demand to drop a weight class if it was going to reduce their chances of winning.
But this makes too much sense to institute because we’d:
- Be taking the annual expense of the weight management system out of the sport.
- Reduce the conflicts that too many coaches have with medical personnel over weight issues.
- Eliminate the ugly visual of kids rinsing and spitting in water fountains not to mention all the other unseemly methods of weight reduction that goes on.
- Diminish the issues football coaches have with allowing their athletes to wrestle due to our obsession with weight loss and screwing with their player’s body mass.
- Remove the concerns that parents have about letting their children come out for wrestling when it involves poor eating habits, academic fatigue and constant irritability.
- Be taking the “feel good” right of making decisions away from those who get off on being in charge and making decisions.
House cleaning issues; if we instituted mat side weigh-ins some might ask if we need to redo the weight classes or create a weight allowance for the additional clothing and equipment. Obviously some verbiage would have to be added to clarify the change. But what’s important to remember is the very same athletes who are wrestling one another today will be wrestling one another tomorrow under the new rule. The only difference you’d notice with this rule change is a definite uptick in the number of athlete’s that are smiling.
But most importantly, what we’ve done here is severely curtail excessive weight loss on our own. We’ve demonstrated to administrations everywhere that we can manage our own sport. No longer do we need administrative big brother or the medical community looking over our shoulders with a “we know best and you don’t” attitude. Being honest, I can’t think of one harmful aspect of matside weigh-ins that would overshadow the gargantuan benefits.
Now I realize that all my proposals thus far would require the sport to consent to change; that dreaded six-letter word. But that’s certainly better than hearing what Ronald Reagan referred to as the nine most dangerous words anyone can hear. “I’m from the government and here to help you!” Of the two, I’d rather change something on my own than be told what I was going to change.
From a marketing perspective, after we’ve decided who we are and what we want to be, the NWA needs to plan an entire media campaign around man’s oldest sport being forever young. Every one of our organizations from the Hall of Fame to the NWCA to the NHSCA has to be onboard with the movement. And why wouldn’t they be, unless Sinclair Lewis was right:
“You can’t explain something to someone whose comfort level is based on not understanding.”
But regardless, this is the beauty of the NWA; they will tackle our areas of need that aren’t currently being addressed by the sport as a whole or any group individually. We need to show solidarity and a centralized sense of purpose for our goals to have maximum impact.
I remember seeing quite a few years ago now a bill board for the Los Angeles Clippers that was nothing more than a large photo taken from the waist down of several basketball players in action. The caption across the top said, “Our athletes can go all night in shorts.”
As it turned out this was the most successful advertising campaign in their franchise history and they were selling exactly what you thought they were; sex! And excitement by trying to appeal to the smallest demographic they had at the time; women 21 to 40 years of age. But that’s not the important part of the story although sex and excitement does sell everything from coffee to automobiles. Where the idea for the ad campaign came from is the point.
The Clippers had hired a public relations firm to survey the ladies in that age demographic to find out what they liked about basketball, what they didn’t and what they wanted to see or not see if they went to a game? The point that’s critical here is they didn’t ask those who were already ticket holders or coaching the sport; instead they asked those who weren’t going to games what they thought. The feedback they received led to the campaign.
Sadly wrestling does the opposite. We turn to the coaches for their opinions and then look for validation from those who are already spectators. That’s not the way to survey anything you want to improve but it’s certainly a great way to keep status-quo by leadership who wants status to remain quo.
Being blunt here, neither the opinions of the coaches or our current spectator base matters if we want to grow. Coaches are going to coach because their contracts say they will and our current spectator base will attend matches regardless of the rules because they love the sport even with all its failings. How we grow is to talk with those who don’t go to matches to find out why our product is still on their store shelves gathering dust?
This is why the formation of the National Wrestling Association is so important; they will be the group who takes the lead to attract new spectators to the sport and coordinate the expansion of our athlete base. But right now we’re killing ourselves; we’re an unorganized composite of organizations, event operators, publishers and equipment manufacturers. That’s not a bad thing but overlooking the need for an overarching umbrella organization is to keep ones head in the sand.
As for the Clippers, they paid a lot of money to find out what interested the women and once they found out, they followed a plan. Wrestling must do the same, we need to contract a public relations firm but until we do, let’s piggy back off of the Clippers success. Sex and excitement are the cornerstones of sport entertainment; a point that wrestling needs to embrace if they expect to convert fans to spectators, at least on the feminine side which represents over 50% of America’s population and controls 90% of the family budget.
So let’s begin with an advertising campaign.
Wrestling has the best conditioned athletes and bodies in all of sport. Not only can they go all night in a singlet, but all week too!
That might be a bit much but you get the idea. We can start with that, or some part of that, and then market it to the world. Is it true? Probably, but the exciting part is we don’t have to prove it; those who disagree with us have to disprove it. But even in the argument, wrestling wins because the battle will take place in the media. The worst that can happen is we win by all the press we’d receive in losing.
But would we really lose is the point. What other athletes have a jacket to pants differentials of 10 to 12 inches and bodies like jacked-up runway models? What sport has athletes that can bench twice their body weight without chemical enhancements and run a marathon on an empty stomach while carrying 5 to 7 percent body fat? What athletes are so tough mentally that they have the highest percentage of Navy SEALS, Rangers, Green Berets and Delta Force members serving our country? There’s more that could be written here but you get the point.
Now regarding the rules, most would agree we need to keep everything simple, especially for the spectators we have and those we want to attract. But the rules are only 50% of the equation and they absolutely need to be easy to explain and understand. The other 50% is the strategic side of the sport and that has to be complex. Because spectators love having opinions that they can defend and share with whomever will listen. So the more strategic we are, the more engaged and empowered our spectators become.
Spectators love when things are so complex that any opinion they offer is defendable and every response is debatable.
Think football for a moment. After each play isn’t there a chorus of opinions flowing from one spectator to another; some challenging the coach’s play calling while others are thinking about clock management. Another group is arguing the defensive captain’s choice of zone coverage versus man to man and the list goes on.
Each of us have to understand, currently the number of coaches, fans, athletes, spectators and support personnel we have in our sport is less than 5% of what we need to survive. Our very existence will rely on how quickly we can attract the other 95%.
Unfortunately this is the same 5% who got us into the mess we’re in now and who currently control 100% of what we do as a sport because the other 95% doesn’t exist to have an opinion.
Our goal should be to provide action, concede that spectators are actually customers, keep the rules simple and easy to understand while engaging our spectator base strategically.
So where do we begin? Our challenge is attempting to make changes to established behavioral patterns; that’s always near impossible to do. All I can think of is asking my readership here, as politely as I can and the sport in general, to think about what’s at stake if we don’t retool? The last 50 years has seen wrestling decline so substantially that even that blind squirrel who can find an acorn every now and then can see it. Men’s and Women’s Gymnastics didn’t alter what was normal and customary behavior for them and one may ask, “Where is gymnastics now?” We just can’t allow what happens to gymnastics happen to wrestling because we’re afraid to change.
“Don’t embrace the status quo.” – Howard Schultz, CEO Starbucks
Remember, everything I’m trying to accomplish here is to attract the spectators we don’t currently have, not to please the ones that presently exist. Although I hope they’re beginning to see where the sport has to go.
Chapter 9 next Sunday.