InterMat senior writer T.R. Foley answers reader questions about NCAA wrestling, international wrestling, recruiting, or anything loosely related to wrestling. You have until Thursday night every week to send questions to Foley's Twitter or email account.
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The 2103 ASICS/Vaughan Junior & Cadet National Championships in Fargo has been touted as the "world's largest wrestling tournament." Though not exactly accurate, it is a mega-event and by far the largest wrestling tournament in the United States. As results of this always successful tournament trickle in, it's a good time to ask ourselves what wrestling can do to improve participation.
Singlets are on their way out, which will add back a large percentage of wrestlers, and make that single piece of shiny spandex a relic belonging mostly to the 20th century. As leaders across the sport have recognized the need to meet the sartorial needs of modernity and are prepared to make a change towards less-crotchy, more socially-welcoming clothes, they are also noticing another issue: The growth and prevalence of kill-or-be-killed, break him-or-lose attitude of coaches and wrestlers at all levels of American wrestling.
The sport of wrestling means a variety of things to wrestling cultures around the world. In Turkey, wrestling is a about pain tolerance and showing respect for an opponent. In Japan, there is a historical connection to honor and fulfilling personal quests. In Russia, it's a part of the tissue fibers. In Mongolia it's an attachment to immortality and societal rank. In Senegal, it's a method of providing entertainment to the masses and wealth to the individual.
In America the ethos of the sport has effectively been focused on working harder than opponents in order to secure victory. We "train like a madman" and carry with us a Rocky-like approach to everything we do in a wrestling season -- from cutting weight to abstaining from sex. We are determined to sacrifice, and use that emotional angst as our engine for self-betterment and on-the-mat success. Though once one of the premier forms of training (seriously, watch Vision Quest) we have become a nation of wrestlers and coaches that now scream, stomp, slap, and huff our way through a season. That aggression-first mentality is as responsible for killing the sport as much as the singlet and antiquated ideas about gender equality.
Wrestling loses more young athletes to silly acts of aggression by parents, coaches and wrestlers than it ever does singlets. The false hope, and easy fallback of asking 10-year-olds to "break" opponents leads to horrible rates of retention, and when compared to the respect and technique based world of kid's jui-jitsu, or other forms of popular (and profitable) martial arts seems fully barbaric.
Times haven't just changed. The entire way we raise children has shifted in the last 20 years from stern leadership and corporal punishment, to the use of more words, reasoning and insight. Bad behavior is discussed AND punished, not just given the task of picking a switch.
Knowing that, ask yourself what new wrestler is going to listen to their coach as he barks at him or her about aggression and dedication when they have the option to hop online and solicit gobs and gobs of positive affirmations from cyber friends?
I'm not advocating that we simply coddle young wrestlers. The sport is inherently difficult and a key to winning is persevering through adversity. Kids want to wrestle because they enjoy physical activity, staying healthy and creating and meeting goals. Now is the time to recognize that our sport needs more participants in more areas, men and women, from the stereotyped brawny farm boys to the brainy city dwellers. We need to flood the mat with limbs, not limit ourselves through shortsighted determination-focused rules and leadership.
Coaches, like the ones we have in Fargo will need to start opting for more technique, strategy and interpersonal communication. We need less raspy-voices and grandiose posturing, and more enjoyment, both of which are major tenants of the Penn State and Cornell wrestling programs.
The sport of wrestling is in a battle for its very existence because we've often met problems by either ignoring their existence, or trying to hammer them away through perseverance. The political world and the nature of youth don't respond to such aggressive behavior. The new world responds to nuance, progressive thought, technical action, good deeds and, like it or not, positive affirmation.
Wrestling is the purest form of human sport, but to keep it relevant we need to make changes not just to rules, but also to our outlook on the nature of the sport. The last few months have given us a chance to imagine a new world of wrestling. Why not make it one with a larger population of healthy and happy athletes.
To your questions ...
Q: I've always wondered who exactly competes at the World University Games. I've noticed in the past that American wrestlers have competed at the University trials more than a year after graduating from college. (I think Molinaro was at the Trials this year??). And then this year Tsargush competed at 74 kilos and teched David Taylor. So what are the restrictions/qualifications for being in the World University tournament? I was always under the impression that university athletics isn't nearly as prevalent abroad and that talented young wrestlers in Eastern Europe just went straight to training full time. Maybe you've learned some things in your travels that could shed some light on what University Worlds is all about.
-- Brandon J.
Foley: Many foreign teams use the tournament to help build their "almost" guys into champions. Part of what makes the tournament so good is that often times we see older, more accomplished wrestlers enter from other countries, which offers the young ones a chance to compete against the best.
Our squad was made up of students who were right now in college taking a full academic schedule. That is not always the case.
Q: I'm curious what the age limit is for participating in the World University Games? Why is Denis Tsargush still eligible to wrestle at age 25?
-- Jerry M.
Foley: Wrestlers at the University Games need only to be enrolled in ONE class. Many of the foreign wrestlers we admire are getting PhD in wrestling. (That's not a joke, I'm totally serious.) More frequently wrestlers are enrolled in a few courses as they progress through their home nation's academic program.
Inside the Rings offered the advice to change the name to the Student Games to help avoid the conflict.
As for Russia, they offered up their starting squad in hopes of putting on a strong performance at home.
Q: Give us your preseason top five teams for 2013-14 with a projected lineup for each.
I will go with ...
1. Penn State
3. Oklahoma State
5. Ohio State
-- Tom K.
1. Penn State
2. Oklahoma State
4. Ohio State
Too early to tell which of these teams will make it through the grind of the season, but the smart money is still on Penn State and the final year of Murder's Row. I also wouldn't be shocked if Ohio State showed up at the NCAA tournament and placed second.
Q: As I'm sure you are aware there are several videos of the Dapper Dan Wrestling Classic's all-time great matches. The Dapper Dan, of course, being the premier all-star high school wrestling dual meet between Team USA and Team Pennsylvania. I came across one match that is of legend among regular attendees of The Classic: Nevada Walker (Commodore Perry High School, Pa.) win in OT 19-17 vs. Luke Becker (Cambridge High School, Minn.). Where on earth might one find a video of this seemingly amazing match? Becker went on to win a Division I title, but Walker disappeared into obscurity. By accounts I've heard from those who attended, Becker was absolutely dominating Walker early, before Walker decided to put on a takedown clinic, put it into OT, and win it with yet another take down. I've checked everywhere. Have you ever heard of this match and if so any knowledge on how to find a video of it?
-- Ryan P.
Nevada WalkerFoley: His name is Nevada Walker? Are you serious? That sounds like the name of a fictional bank robber from Gettysburg on the run from the Pinkertons. Heaven's bless ...
The Dapper Dan is always a winner for the fans. I asked around and nobody had a solid idea on where you could find one right now. I'd love to watch any and all that include Cary Kolat ...
Readers: Any hints? Locations?
Q: Lower weights count on slickness. Upper weights are bruisers. That's the simple reason for the difference in success in MMA.
Foley: I don't agree.
The lower weights are faster and might have to poses comparable speed, but it's always relative. What does slickness mean anyways? Are we talking striking or grappling? There is a definite difference in numbers of strikes thrown and the amount of force exerted. Lightweights throw more punches with less damage, while heavyweights tend to throw fewer punches with much more power, and calamitous results. The key to that difference is that the force of a heavyweight punch is far greater in proportion to his size than the lightweights. What is proportional is the amount of force it takes to get knocked unconscious when hit in the head, which of course favors the big men.
I'd expect, based on slickness in grappling, that wrestlers would be MUCH better suited than others in MMA. Though he ultimately suffered a KO loss to Jose Aldo, NCAA runner-up Chad Mendes had won the first round against the champion by utilizing his wrestling, against the quicker and slicker striker.
Also consider that the UFC carries far fewer lightweights than they do upperweights, in part because they can't deliver the type of "exciting" knockouts fans tend to enjoy. Lightweights aren't big sellers, so with fewer bodies it's been difficult to get the sense that there are a lot of wrestlers. However, if you look at the impact Team Alpha Male has had on the sport, I'd argue that wrestling might be most prominent among the smaller guys.
COMMENT OF THE WEEK!
By Patrick B.
I personally do not qualify as a Paralympics or PTSD candidate, but I do have a neurological condition called Benign Fasciculation Syndrome (BFS). My lower leg muscles twitch continuously 24/7/365 which leads to fatigue, pain, stiffness, and cramping. My hands and feet suffer from paraesthesia -- constant numbness, pain, cramping, pins and needles, and stiffness (basically they feel dead). I have random symptoms throughout my body. In any event, I started to coach youth wrestling a few years back. (I had been out of the sport for 30 years -- I am a few months from being 50.) One of my fellow coaches is Zach Flake (2003 Senior Nationals finalist, four-time All-American, three-time finalist at JUCO and NAIA Campbellsville). Since there is no cure for what I have and it seems to be getting worse and more debilitating over time I made an agreement with Zach. Zach wants to start his own wrestling camp (hopefully up and running next summer) and in return he will get me back in wrestling shape. (I saw a story of a kid with Autism doing MMA.) The experiment has been going on for nearly six months (averaged about 1 session per week -- we are up to 2 right now). I did not think I would make it this long, but wrestling is helping me cope with many of my symptoms. I find I am in no worse pain after an hour session with Zach than if I just camped in front in the TV, but in better shape and more flexible (less stiff).
My point is that I have spent tens of thousands of dollars on diagnosis (MRI, EMG, specialists, etc.) and experimenting with medications. Wrestling and Zach have helped me more than the dozens of doctors and meds I have taken. Hence, wrestling is therapeutic and there should be more opportunities for people as you suggest in your mailbag answer. My wife and friends thought I was nuts, but they are now seeing the results. I am much more flexible. I have been complimenting my wrestling activities with rock climbing, biking, hiking, insanity workouts, and weightlifting.
BFS makes you stiffer and hence slower to react. It messes with your balance and makes you fatigue and cramp much faster. BFS causes me to have shooting pains up and down my arms and legs when I am in a precarious position. None of this is good for wrestling. But I am holding my own with some high school kids and while I am nowhere ready to compete -- I hope to try an old timers tournament next year. If anything, this experience has not only helped me, it will make me a better coach.