How Wrestling Wins – Chapter 5

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Chapter 5

Let’s take a look at a few examples of how we penalize action but please try and forget what you’re used to seeing and how you’ve become accustomed to the way things are. Instead, analyze what’s being written strictly in terms of action and non-action.

If we want action I have to ask, how can we penalize the person in the behind standing position for stalling when he’s creating the majority of the action in his attempt to return his opponent to the mat? Isn’t it the defensive man who’s just trying to stand there and do nothing knowing that he’ll be rewarded for his inaction? Who’s actually stalling in terms of action and non-action? Is it the offensive man who’s working to return his opponent to the mat or the defensive wrestler who’s hanging out in anticipation of the stalling call? Think about that for a moment; if an athlete has the ability to get to his feet which is 4 times harder to do than break free, and can’t manage to escape, then I’m afraid he’s not trying very hard.

If we want action, how can you penalize the offensive person who’s hanging onto his opponent’s ankle when being drug around the mat? Is there action there, of course there is. So why are we stopping the action and penalizing the top guy? Didn’t we just decide by all those examples that action is what everyone wants, not always engagement? How is this any different from the wide receiver, boxer, tennis player or those from basketball?

Shouldn’t it be the defensive wrestler’s responsibility to go back and attack the problem if someone is chewing on his ankle? If you say stalling is a failure to engage, who’s not engaging; the defensive man who is fleeing the hold and being rewarded for running away or the offensive man who looks like a cowboy who fell off his horse and has his foot caught in the stirrup? Yes I know how he got there; he willfully dropped down on the ankle. But if hanging onto an ankle is stalling, why wasn’t Delgado disqualified in every one of his 5 matches at this year’s NCAA’s? For 3 days he pitched a tent and set up camp on the ankles of everyone he wrestled. Now personally I rather enjoyed watching him screw up every one of his opponent’s best shots and then turn the tables and score from those positions. His creative offense gave us some of the most engaging bouts of the tournament but how is grabbing an ankle to counter a takedown any different than countering an escape by grabbing an ankle or for that matter, shooting in on a low single? There’s action in every one of those instances so let the match continue and see where it takes us? Once the athletes know the referee isn’t going to intervene, they’ll take it upon themselves to find a way out.

There is always a way out of any hold! When an athlete knows that it’s up to him to free himself, guess what, he’ll find a way out. But our sport typically handles difficult situations by creating additional rules to fix those that don’t need fixing.

The problem starts with the coaches. As long as they know if they complain the rules committee will come to their rescue, what do you think happens; they complain. Then rules are added.

You know, if you always feed your baby, he’ll never learn how to feed himself either. But if you put food in his high chair tray and leave him alone, I promise you he’ll find his mouth.

But in wrestling, as soon as someone can’t get out of a hold which is being applied by a superior athlete, the coach cries foul saying, “it’s not fair, he shouldn’t be allowed in this instance to hang onto my athlete’s leg.” Then the do-gooders on the Rules Committee go to work to appease those they represent.

What we need is better parenting. The rules committee needs to remind the coach that we’re not here to fix something his athlete should have learned in his wrestling room.

As someone who understands counter wrestling, I can tell you without hesitation that it’s not hard to get a guy off your ankle or leg if you go back to the problem and use your hands to attack his hands. In the reverse, it’s almost impossible to get free by kicking away but it is an excellent way to draw a stalling call and why you see the defensive man dragging his opponent around the mat. He’s faking frustration so the referee will say, “poor baby, I need to get involved and make sure this is a fair contest.”

Regardless of your position here, wrestling should be about action. Not if one person is moving forward or backing up, engaging or running, the question that should be asked; is there action? If there is; all’s good. If not, someone should be in the process of creating it or being penalized. The point I’m trying to make is we have such a lack of consistency regarding how we call stalling because we don’t have a clear definition of what stalling is, and we’re obstinately inconsistent with the application of the rule.

I happen to believe it would be totally acceptable, and exciting, to see one wrestler turn his back on his opponent in a match and run as fast as he can in the other direction. Crazy, I think not. What would happen in that scenario; most likely the same thing that happened when Darrian Caldwell ran the last 10 seconds of his NCAA finals match against Brent Metcalf. That was the most thrilling part of an extremely electrifying bout. The crowd roared as Brent relentlessly pursued Darrian to the edge of the mat. As the final buzzer sounded only the referee stood between Caldwell and a 5 foot drop into someone’s lap while the arena erupted in cheers.

So what’s wrong with running? Where’s the athlete going to go? All you’d see would be a chase scene that would definitely end in a takedown. No one’s going to get away, the circle is too small. Either the pursuer is going to tackle his opponent from behind or the chased is going to spin around at the last minute and lateral drop his opponent into the second row. Metcalf didn’t have any problem catching Caldwell who I would guess is far faster in a foot race.

The point is someone is going to score and the crowd is going to love it because they’re witnessing action!

Heck, I’m 63 years old and if Usian Bolt, Jamaica’s fastest man in the world was a wrestler, there is no doubt in my mind I could catch him in a match. Not sure why I’d want to though but it’s called angles; as long as he stayed inside the wrestling area he could continue to run, but he wouldn’t get away.

Think about it for a moment, when one athlete turns his back and takes off running, doesn’t that open up another dozen or so scoring options that currently aren’t available to athletes when they’re facing one another? How is this any different from the wide receiver, free safety scenario that spectators love?

I know this is philosophically and maybe even morally wrong to some purists given what we’re all used to seeing but if we’re interested in action, let it occur naturally. Besides, isn’t the chase always more exciting than the catch? Isn’t that the winning formula for all Hollywood blockbusters, 2 hours of good guys chasing bad guys or the leading lady being pursued by the leading man?

Do you remember the 24 minute chase scene in Bullitt with Steve McQueen? What happened to the bad guys wasn’t near as satisfying as the way McQueen’s Mustang weaved its way through the streets of San Francisco was unforgettable. It was pure adrenalin and I still remember it 45 years later.

Unfortunately in our sport, the rules are such that any mention of allowing a chase to occur is so repulsive that it’s unthinkable. But in reality, the chase is everything and even if we couldn’t fix the issue of stalling that change alone would go a long way in attracting new spectators. It’s rather easy to do but the sport has to be willing look at stalling in the same way as Noah Webster and Peter Roget does.

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Next, we need to make our sport a two-hour container of stimulation. In it should be 10 wrestling matches, a concession stand and half-time, cheerleaders and a fog machine, MMA ring girls and a pep band or at least choreographed music, an announcer and printed program with names, weights and an explanation of the rivalries. Wrestling matches should be a Cirque du Soleil experience complete with intermission.

But who’s going to pay for all these “extras?” As unappealing as this might sound to coaches, if they schedule one less away match a year the savings will be in excess of the amount of revenue that’s required to handle all these add-ons. Plus it means one less weigh-in and three less days of losing weight. All of which has to be a good thing relative to academic performance.

Are there other things we can do during matches to make the evening more enjoyable; there sure are. But the concept should be obvious. We have to find ways to make the wrestling experience more pleasant, entertaining and relevant than staying at home. Our events need to be more than just competition; they need to be a production, a well-organized, choreographed, professionally promoted experience. Isn’t that what the UFC, the NBA, the NFL and the WWE are doing? God forbid we would follow any formula that would cause wrestling to become successful.

Think of this as the chicken and the egg scenario. Coaches will say, “when we get enough spectators to make all this effort worthwhile we’ll do it.” But the only way you get to the numbers coaches want to see is by making wrestling a production first. Everyone wants to be the CEO of a 2 billion dollar company but so few want the hard work and frustrations of starting that company in their garage and fighting through the growing pains to get to that point.

This is where the National Wrestling Association (NWA) comes into play; you’ll read about the importance of this organization a little later. One of their duties would be the creation of an Operations Manual that outlines how dual meets should or better yet, will be handled; each page breaking the typical dual meet into production segments covering the what, when and how. To accomplish this, the NWA will need to reach out and borrow ideas from other revenue sports as well as looking at those things wrestling has done in the past at different venues that have been well received.

Another initial function of the NWA would be the creation of several focus groups made up of individuals who have never seen a wrestling match before. The purpose of this is to find out why wrestling is not a serious spectator sport? To begin we should allow these individuals to view several short videos of randomly selected bouts and dual meets. Then ask, “Would you attend one of these matches now that you know more about wrestling? If so why? If not, why not and would you recommend what you just saw to a friend?”

It’s imperative that we understand from these current non-spectators the direction wrestling needs to travel if we want to become both profitable and relevant as a sport; currently something we are neither. We just can’t afford to continue to make mistakes; we’ve made too many already. Actually, if we were as smart as we’d like to think we are, the only annual decisions wrestling would have to deal with are should we sign this year with NBC Sports or ESPN and how do we handle those spectators who are on waiting lists for season tickets?

But regardless of your viewpoints so far, I hope you’re enjoying the entertainment value of reading these pages. At the very least I would imagine that most of you are pleased that someone who has a rather large megaphone in the sport is attempting change. But regardless of your position, won’t you at least agree that wrestling needs to do things quite a bit differently than what we’ve been doing?

Now I don’t claim to be all seeing except on odd numbered days or omnipresent but on even numbered days; but I promise before you’re done reading I’ll convince you that my vision for the sport is a lot further down the road than current rules allow or our leadership permits.

Said another way, I’m not smart enough to score in the 90th percentile to make wrestling great but I know I can move it to a passing grade. Will there be holes in some of my logic, of course there could be but I doubt it. Will I error at times in my choice of adjectives or where I point the blame, it’s possible. It’s even probable that I could be wrong at times. But wrestling currently has a 43% average of getting things right; it’s not just failing survival class, it’s what has put the sport on life support. So when you disagree with something I wrote, ask yourself, “is what I’m reading better for the sport than what we currently have?” I know every bone in your body will be screaming to stick to your guns and your initial, “I don’t like it” gut feeling but if you’re honest, you’ll agree that my efforts are at least going in the right direction.

To that end people say I tend to think outside of the box. On the face of it I see that as a compliment. But I also know to beware when I hear things like that because that’s how leadership maintains control over the masses. You see, anyone who is labeled inside the box is thought of as normal; it’s the vanilla that people prefer they’d be and where the masses reside. Conversely, if you’re considered to live outside the box you’re at a minimum peculiar and in the extreme, odd. In this way, any wisdom that comes from those who think outside the box can be dismissed by those in power as possibly creative and fun but not practical.

But that parallel doesn’t even exist in wrestling. The sport doesn’t think inside the box nor is it outside the box. Wrestling doesn’t even know there is a box. But I think most of us would agree that businesses should function in a businesslike manner. So why is wrestling doing everything it can not to appear professional, or businesslike? All anyone has to do is look at the cloths a majority of the coaches wear when they represent their institutions at school functions. There’s a reason why Dress for Success sold the number of copies it did.

In business corporate America focuses on making money, whereas wrestling concentrates on spending it. It’s so bad we don’t even have empathy for the producers which borders on being an entitlement. The sport doesn’t care how their budget’s get replenished or who has to suffer to make that happen, as long as it happens. We have more takers than givers in wrestling and I’ve heard that phrase used more than I care to admit from some of the sports most influential figures.

Successful sports have spectators and wrestling doesn’t for as many reasons as this document has pages. Basically the willingness to please those who buy tickets is simply too much work for coaches to take on as a responsibility. That would require that we put the spectator ahead of our need to win matches. Granted, winning is the cornerstone of coaching but without spectators, there won’t be matches because we won’t have a sport. This non-normal thinking is a waterfall model for failure.

I could go on if you’d like but if wrestling were inside or outside the box regarding anything it did, the sport would already have its own television network and every collegiate coach would be enjoying six figure incomes.

So here we go, settle in, the roller coaster is about get underway. And while you’re waiting to reach the top of the first chilling drop lets cover a few ground rules.

  1. If you want to provide feedback on anything you read here, your opinions are always welcome but your viewpoint doesn’t count unless you offer an alternative solution. Anyone can tear an idea down; it only takes 4 to 6 IQ points to accomplish that as evidenced by many of our sports forum posts. So we’re expecting to hear how you would do things differently and tacking a new idea to an old rule is the same as painting over those rotten floor boards; it doesn’t hold weight. So please try and be a little creative.
  2. If you take the time to offer an alternative solution we expect you to affix your name to your viewpoint? Be accountable for your ideas and screen names don’t count.

So let’s work together here to put the sport inside the box or at least next to it. A nice start would be to “clear out the clutter.” This is what Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia said he wanted to do with the highest court in the land when he was given his robe. He was referring to individuals and ideologies that keep this esteem body of intellectuals from moving forward.

Hopefully these Foundations of Wrestling that I will address one by one here will mark the beginning of clearing wrestling’s clutter:

  1. Wrestling must increase its Gross Domestic Product.
  2. Coaches should coach and delegate.
  3. It’s about the spectator stupid.
  4. It’s also about the athletes.
  5. Developing a branding oversight body.
  6. Adopt a national alliance partner.
  7. Decisions are seldom spectator centric.
  8. Activity outshines inactivity.
  9. Simplify the rules.
  10. Complicate the sport strategically.
  11. Protect our youth.
  12. Wrestle where you belong.
  13. Stop the excuses, smell the coffee
  14. Lunch with your faculty and administration.
  15. Why is Team USA Wrestling continually failing?
  16. Stop undervaluing the sport.

1. Wrestling must increase its Gross Domestic Product: Our survival not as a mainstream sport but a sport period means one thing; increasing our GDP. In the context of countries, it’s the total market value of all goods and services produced on an annual basis. In wrestling that means the total worth of all things developed, created, produced and sold; with ticket sales being our largest and most important revenue source.

Wrestling’s survival means having a healthy GDP which is defined as having more revenue coming in than going out. It’s a numbers game. This is how it works:

As spectators increase, revenue expands, the media takes notice, administrators smile, current challenges become non-issues and wrestling removes itself from the endangered species list.

This shouldn’t be too complicated to understand, but the implementation might take some doing. We’ll discuss all this and more as the weeks unfold.

Chapter 6 next Sunday.

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7 thoughts on “How Wrestling Wins – Chapter 5

  1. I’ve never been a wrestler.

    My father once said wrestling was gay.

    Even if my father hadn’t said that, I probably couldn’t have been able to wrestle. I was born with asthma. I might have been able to build up some stamina for wrestling, but my stamina would always have been wanting.

    My nephew tried the sport for a few years back in middle school and dropped out. This is why I got interested enough to comment.

    I tried to read up on the sport, tried to understand what he was getting into. I failed.

    Is wrestling too subtle for us non-wrestlers?

    Someone told me wrestlers worry about balance and foot position and leverage and several other thigns. To this day I wouldn’t know if a person had good balance or foot position.

    I can understand when a wrestler accomplishes something. I can recognize a takedown, but not how the takedown was accomplished.

    I find takedown/stand up wrestling boring. I see a takedown. I see a standup. I thought wrestling was about pinning.

    I can recognize a pin is happening most of the time, except if I try to watch the Olympics. A momentary pin in the Olympics happens too fast. It’s over before I even have a chance to get excited thinking something has happened. I gave up trying to watch Olympic wrestling.

    The one second pin in College is almost too fast. It’s over before I realize something is happening.

    You wish to address my (non-wrestler) view of wrestling?

    Understand biases and limitations non-wrestlers may have.

    Non-wrestling spectators are excited by pinning. It’s like a knock-out in boxing. It’s like a touchdown in football. It’s like scoring a goal in hockey.

    You keep shortening the time a wrestler needs to be pinned.

    Olympic wrestling seemed to do away with it all together.

    Maybe you should lengthen the time for a pin to three or five seconds combined with a rule, when the wrestler being pinned relaxes, it’s over. In this way, you can’t have wrestlers relax while being pinned like they did in professional wrestling where a professional wrestler would relax for the first two hand slaps and then get out before the third hand slap.

    Maybe you should do away with the time (1 second, 2 second, whatever) for the pin altogether and just say, it’s over when a wrestler is pinned and he relaxes.

    Maybe you should do away with the rule, a wrestler can be saved from a pin with the period running out of time. I think there are some boxing rules (I am not a boxer either) where a boxer can’t be saved by the bell.

    Maybe wrestling should say, the only way to get out of a pinning situation is to struggle out of a pinning situation. Time doesn’t get you out. You can only get out of a pin by struggling out.

    This takedown/stand up business is like the football players moving the football back and forth without ever scoring a touchdown. It’s like hockey players controlling the puck without scoring. Sure the hockey players are experts at passing the puck, but so what. It’s boring.

    Get rid of technical falls please. The goal of wrestling should be pinning.

    Do we end a football game when one team is ahead by twenty points? Do we reward the football team that has the most yardage? Does a hockey game end when one team is ahead by three points? Do we reward the hockey team that has control of the puck most of the time? We reward the football team that has the most touchdowns. We reward the hockey team that has the most goals.

    You may think scoring points for takedowns or escapes or reversals is exciting. You understand how difficult (or easy) scoring those points are. You understand how those takedowns and escapes and reversals were done. Non-spectators, like me, do not. We don’t notice the foot work or hand work or other things you can appreciate. After a while, we find it boring.

    We understand when a wrestler weakens and relaxes while being pinned. We can see the the wrestler straining to keep a shoulder blade off the mat. We see the wrestler working for the pin straining to press the shoulder blades down.

    Think of the excitement and sense of relief or frustration when the wrestler being pinned works out of the pin. Think of the sense of finality when the wrestler being pinned fails to escape, and gradually weakens, and finally relaxes, and we see the shoulder blades go down.

    I don’t know how you address the gay issue. Maybe that’s an issue you can’t address and must hope goes away on its own.

    Being a non-wrestler, I’m hesitant when you ask me to post my real name. I’m sticking my nose in your affairs when I don’t know what I’m talking about. I am probably the last person who can give you advice.

    I can’t speak for all non-wrestling spectators. I can only speak for myself. Maybe you should find a way to poll non-wrestling, prospective spectators, to ask them what they think.

    This is what I think. This is my two cents. Take it for what it’s worth.

    Forgive me if I use a throwaway email address and just give a first name. I am very hesitant sticking my nose in when I feel I don’t know what I’m talking about.

    • Rick . . . this is the best read I’ve had in years. Thank you, thank you and thank you for writing. No apologies necessary regarding the name issue. If I can get responses from others like this one maybe I should rethink asking for name and rank.

      This was so insightful, helpful and amazing all at the same time. If I may ask you permission, I’d like to copy it and make it part of my next blog entry. YOU ARE SPOT ON HERE. Exactly what our sport needs to hear. Bravo. Cheers. Well done and appreciated.

      Regards . . . Wade

  2. Ted . . . you are right on target. Wrestling sees something they believe to be a problem and then develops a penalty for it. Instead we must always find ways of incentivizing action so we can be appealing to the masses. It’s so simple to do but those who decide are either low information voters and can’t figure it out or they lack intestinal fortitude.

    As you know, when you make negative rules no one will take a shot at you. Creating positive ones means there is going to be change for the better but that same change, because it’s uncomfortable, will have those who lead sidestepping some arrows.

    • I remember when you suggested that we allow a coach the option of using a wrestler twice in a dual meet. Great idea on bringing strategy into a dual meet. Now with the starting of the meet at different weights, it is an even better idea. Who opposes it – coaches! Why because they do not want to make decisions they could be faulted for. In football why did the 2 point PAT take so long to get put into the pro game – because the coaches fought against it.
      Several years ago, maybe decades, there was a pro freestyle league started that allowed a coach to make one mid match substitutions a dual. I took a van load of my wrestlers to a meet and after the meet all they talked about was what the coaches could have done different to win matches.
      What is the attraction of pro sports – star power! What do wresting coaches do – avoid star power. Yes the team is important but how many times after at a dual meet or a tournament have we seen many fans leave after the popular [star] wrestler competes? The reality is that we care more about team power and the fans care more about star power. I don’t know how to resolve that promotional issue.

  3. I agree we must do a much better job of marketing our sport, but we must have a product that people want to see. What did basketball do when defenders discovered that they could slow the star players scoring ability by putting their hand on the players hip? They changed the rule to aid the offense. When football defenses could impeded the receivers all over the field, what did they do? They changed the rule to aid the offense.
    When blocking with the head was illegal what did we have – exciting high scoring matches. In the 1972 Olympics offense ruled and the crowds loved it. What happened? 22% of the matches ended in disqualification and FILA saw that as embarrassing and starting changing the rules resulting in low scoring defensive matches. They made a knee jerk reaction that was wrong. The Olympics including wrestling had many “tourists” [with no qualifying required many countries brought full teams that had individuals that were not competitive but came along for a free trip with room and board provided] When qualified was required tourism was eliminated, but the rules were already destroyed.
    We have a big disadvantage in our sport – there is no team strategy, no game plan, no substitutions. We must have high scoring matches where no matter how far behind you are there is always the danger you can win lose by a pin.

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