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All Points West: Luck is not a factor at state wrestling tourney
February 19, 2015 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez
As several local wrestlers go off to Omaha next week for the chance at a state crown, and something they’ll remember for the rest of their life, I don’t wish them luck because luck doesn’t exist, at least not in this sport. Instead, I wish them glory.

There has never been a truer sport. Try as you might, you cannot cheat in a wrestling match. Sure there are cautions (two will cost you a point) because of false starts or holds that might be considered dangerous, but otherwise, you face an opponent who is equal to you, at the very least in weight. Other measures: height and limbs, well that just makes the challenge more interesting, part of the drama that is sport.

Really, the only other things that will separate you and your opponent are skill, strength, and sheer will. Magic, chance, miracles … these are words that do not apply. The X Factor, if you could call it that, would be how officials call matches. These days, at least at the college level, video replay has virtually snuffed out the need for quick or questionable judgment calls. The same virtually applies to high school wrestling because most matches are filmed for training purposes.

Following rules is another matter. For example, if you lift your opponent off the mat, he should be safely returned to the mat.
Taking into consideration that all things are equal, a wrestler must know how he might gain the edge. Counting the officials, all action must be called fairly and without bias.

Before his wrestlers went into battle, wrestling great and former Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Dan Gable made it a practice of slapping some of his wrestlers to get them going – it was more of a shock to the system to thin the nerves, and usually got the adrenaline flowing. Getting pumped or psyched and going onto the mat with the proper mindset often meant the difference in close matches.

Confidence is one thing. Knowing you are going to win is quite another.

When I coached, I taught my guys the fundamentals. It was nothing fancy. I stole a line from my own mentor and coach, the late state hall of famer Chuck Deter, who led Gering Bulldog wrestlers to the top of many a podium. His mantra was to practice our “bread and butter.” Like Deter, I told my wrestlers to focus on three moves, not unlike a lot of other coaches.

First, decide on a takedown. For my guys it was the double-leg because it takes away all chance of support and shrinks the mat almost instantly. The second move was breaking your opponent down. A wrestler expends more effort trying to get up. If he’s on top, he has the advantage of gravity. That seems like an easy choice. The final move was deciding how to get your opponent to his back – the combinations were endless, but if you practiced one and fine-tuned it, your chances of success went up. It sounds simple, and given the tools, primarily hands (holds) and feet (position), that last and most important tool is in a wrestler’s head.

Drills got my guys to point where they didn’t think about a move; it became second nature. Remember, the less time you spend on the mat, the better. One of the wrestlers I coached mastered the art of throws, mere bear hugs, which he converted to an over hook and under hook. He earned four pins in one tourney, with each win coming faster. By his fourth match, he had racked up his quickest pin – 24 seconds. Given that each match is six minutes (three two-minute periods). Shortening the matches, he was able to enter each match that much fresher.

Remember, your opponent has probably been learning the same techniques, but preparations vary. As a wrestler, that meant miles of roadwork, burning lungs and legs, a sort of out of body experience. I let the pain find me, lest it find me lagging in a match. Again, the trueness of the sport prevailed. If you didn’t prepare – strength building and conditioning – you were bound to fail on the mat. There were no two ways around it.

As a coach, my wrestlers were confounded with the amount of conditioning I demanded. The Friday before I weekend tourney, I took them through the paces of circuit training that I called wall to wall – about a 60-foot stretch across the practice mats. The drills ranged from drop steps, to wheel barrows, side stepping, crab rides, and good old wind sprints, among other beneficial tortures. Just when they thought practice was over, any let down meant just another circuit and a prolonged assault on their stamina. The result: I helped them to build up this invincible spirit. They believed they were getting stronger, and that strength made them better.

As a result, they gained confidence. Their desire grew. And the smiles on their faces got bigger. By every measure, they were better. That weekend at the tourney, many of my wrestlers were surprised to find themselves in contention, even against opponents from power house schools. Even though we didn’t take home the team trophy, our tourney standing was unprecedented. I had but two seniors, one junior, and a batch of sophomores as starters among the 14 weight classes. Nearly half of them were wrestling in their first year.

A few of the sophomores had no business being on a varsity mat, but they didn’t know any better. And when they found out, they put those thoughts aside, and discovered with all things being equal, they always had a chance.
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