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Foley's Friday Mailbag: February 15, 2019

The wrestling community has been treated these past few months to a number of viral videos -- some good, some bad, and some ugly.

One of the uglier videos circulated last week with cell phone video of several parents fighting on the mats of a pee-wee wrestling tournament. The brawl, which lasted 20-30 seconds, spilled onto the mats and was watched by several of the young wrestlers participating in the day's activities. The motivation for the altercation wasn't really specified, but it was implied that something on the mat caused a comment from a parent, which inflamed some egos.

While women's wrestling is taking off, international styles are becoming easier to watch/follow, and college dual meets are seeing 15K-plus fans, there remains a cancer at the root of the sport.

The culture of youth wrestling is broken.

We see the system in tatters each time there is undue focus put onto these coaches and parents who seem more interested in their bragging rights than the growth of their children. There is no reason to ever watch children aged 5-10 years old competing at a national tournament with medal stands, pomp, and consequences. Pre-teens need to focus on developing physical fluency, creating bonds, and sharpening wrestling skills. They shouldn't be the vessel by which parents navigate discovery of lost glory.

But that might be too harsh. Parents are hard wired to protect their children, to cheer them on and enforce rules. When parents storm the mat they aren't guaranteed to be awful humans at the outlier of our sporting culture. In reality they are the symptom of the disease -- just one of the many visible failures in the culture of youth wrestling in America.

Other countries don't seem to drive their kids into highly visible, consequential wrestling events before their 10th birthday. From what I've seen, most don't leave the wrestling room in any meaningful way until they reach 12, or more often, puberty. They stay in the rooms, drill techniques, learn movement exercises, wrestling skills, and a whole heck of a lot of discipline. In the United States we seem to prioritize winning, and by any means necessary.

We are at a breaking point. The time has come to suspend all elimination-based wrestling competitions for children under the age of 10. A pre-pubescent child wrestling five times in a single day isn't building development, it's destroying joy. Parents and youth coaches dragging these babies across their home states, regions, and even the country, only to be pitted against each other in HIGH stakes physical competition, is absurd and should no longer be allowable.

There are alternatives. The United States has excellent, passionate coaches who would love to learn more about their craft and ways to improve the lives of their young wrestlers. The wrestling community needs to come together to devalue these tournaments, adopt skills-based tournaments that allow for kids to build their competitive spirit, and give coaches the tools and techniques to avoid creating a toxic culture of youth sports.

We need to take our foot off this pedal and come together to find solutions. A summit of top club coaches, officials, and leaders in the sport could be a great first step. Bring in educators and those familiar with creating positive conditions for improving physical literacy and see what they can recommend would also help wrestling be a leader in youth sports.

What we saw happen last weekend was only a sliver of what we all know goes on at these tournaments. It's time to make immediate and drastic changes to the way we approach teaching our kids about the world's oldest (and still greatest) sport.

To your questions …

Top-ranked wrestlers Sebastian Rivera and Stevan Micic wrestled last Sunday (Photo/Sam Janicki, SJanickiPhoto.com)

Q: What did you think of Sebastian Rivera bumping up a weight to take on Stevan Micic in a battle of No. 1's? Do you think it had anything to do with Micic being a former Northwestern wrestler? It seems like the match didn't get as much hype as when Seth Gross bumped up to take on Bryce Meredith. Is it because it didn't play out on social media? Or because it wasn't super competitive?
-- Mike C.


Foley: Nobody else will wrestle the guy, so he's forced to find some action!

As for the lack of hype for the match it would have been difficult to match Meredith and Gross because it wasn't as competitive. As to why it wasn't as competitive, I think the percentage of weight being ceded was a little higher, but also the styles weren't compatible for something as stimulating as the rollie-pollie, topsy-turvy affair from the year before.

Micic looked to be brutally strong, has discipline in neutral position, and generally limits mistakes. Same for Sea Bass, but when as he was outsized there wasn't much opportunity for him to find points.

Q: Here's a thought regarding ducking in dual meets: have the conference tournament seeding reflect the school's performance at that weight, not the individual's performance. In the Big Ten, at least, record in-conference duals as the first seeding criteria. So just seed "Iowa 125-pounders in the tournament.This clearly doesn't fix everything (it wouldn't even really impact 125 at Big Tens this year), but I think it would be an improvement.
-- Irv O.


Foley: A similar system was considered for the international ranking system but was ultimately canned. The theory for the international scene was to ensure that if your top point-scorer was injured or lost their wrestle-off the country could still see ROI for having traveled and participated. However, the downside was that the stronger countries might start wrestling-by-committee.

That could also be the issue here. Instead of being punitive for the school ducking, larger schools could take on weight classes with two or three top-level wrestlers. That means that the power schools would have another advantage over the lesser schools who might not be able to fill out their rosters in quite the same way.

Good idea, but I think a straightforward approach of valuing the dual meets might still be the answer we need! Simple solution to a complex problem.

Q: Do you think Missouri will beat Oklahoma State on Saturday and extend its winning streak to 36? Or do you like the Cowboys to pull out the victory?
-- Mike C.


Foley: I'm done making predictions. Did you see how bad I whiffed on the Michigan dual? The better way forward is to tell readers that I KNEW something was going to happen and write about it the week after. Can't take any more embarrassing misses.

The only thing about the Mizzou winning streak that jumped out to me was that I started hearing about it in the first place. Tends to be that once you hear these things they come undone. I'm not saying it's a jinx, but something about the streak being spotlighted makes me think there are rough waters ahead for the Tigers.

Q: Super impressed with Vito Arujau of Cornell. Am I crazy to think he could reach the finals in Pittsburgh (as long as he's not on the same side as Spencer Lee)?
-- Mike C.


Foley: Not sure you'd be crazy, but it would certainly be an unexpected result given Sea Bass is a pretty dominant No. 1 and the top five wrestlers have combined for only two losses. Vito's win over Pat Glory was pretty slick. Definite All-American.

Helen Maroulis wrestling at the 2017 World Championships (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

Q: We haven't heard or seen much from Helen Maroulis lately. We hope she has recovered from her injuries. Do you know if she's wrestling now and/or planning to wrestle soon?
-- Vince M.


Foley: You should follow her on Instagram. She's around! As for her not competing, she's still recovering from a surgery to repair damage in her shoulder and needs rehab to get it back and ready for competition.

I don't know when she plans to come back to the mats, but I hope it's on a timeline that allows her to return for the World Championships and the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Helen is one-of-a-kind!

Q: Bo Nickal wrestles collegiate at 197 pounds. It seems like the non-Olympic weight class of 92 kilograms (202.4 pounds) could be a good freestyle weight class for him this year. But where would you project him in 2020? 86 kilograms (189 pounds) or 97 kilograms (213.4 pounds)? How do you see his style translating to the senior level?
-- Mike C.


Foley: I'd imagine that Bo tries to make the 2019 team at 92 kilograms. Not sure if J'den Cox is going up, down, or staying put this year. But it might not matter. Bo knows pinning.

He may have plans to compete in 2020, but if so I'd be almost certain that he'd go up to 97 kilograms and take on Kyle Snyder. While there isn't much indication he could take on that size right away, he is pretty nifty and tricky and has a more freestyle-friendly body than Snyder. That could mean tricky situations for Snyder and some positional advantages for Nickal.

Not predicating the upset, but I think that any pressure he gives Snyder will make the defending Olympic champion even more formidable come Tokyo.

DeSanto still firing up the readers!
By Ibra O.


I noticed that Austin DeSanto of Iowa has had several team points deducted this year. When the ref raises your hand there is no need to make derogatory comments to your opponent. I also remember the match that he had with Stevan Micic at the NCAAs last year when DeSanto was blatantly trying to break Micic's arm while wrestling in frustration. The great thing about wrestling is we are forced to shake hands before and after the matches. Unlike many sports wrestlers are supposed to be good sports win, lose or draw. Then DeSanto gets suspended by Brands for only one match. Are you kidding? Both DeSanto and Brands are setting bad examples. This hot head needs to be kicked out of the entire league.

Comments

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Yes Man (1) about 6 months ago
RE: Mizzou’s unbeaten streak
Mizzou will finally face a top tier team in Oklahoma State. Too much is made of Mizzou’s unbeaten dual streak; Mizzou placed second at Cliff Keen Las Vegas earlier this season. However, Mizzou is solid and continues winning with 3 starters sidelined.
twolverton (3) about 6 months ago
You are spot on with your view of youth wrestling. While there are great things going on with the sport, in many states, including Iowa, high school participation has declined a great deal. In my opinion, this is in large part to the problems that exist at the youth level. Kids start way too young. There is far too much emphasis on winning trophies and "getting to state." By third grade, over half of the kids who start are finished with the sport and we do not get them back. It is broken and needs to be fixed.
JDom (3) about 6 months ago
I totally agree with your thoughts on youth wrestling. We need to stop having 4 and 5 year olds wrestling in tournaments and matches, surrounded by screaming coaches and parents, etc. It does nothing for allowing a kid to grow into the sport. Also, I have been hearing a lot about the "ducking" issue. My only concern is that a guy who is legitimately sick or injured is not "ducking" anyone. To then penalize a guy for having the flu seems overboard.
Lehigh Fan (2) about 6 months ago
Coached youth wrestling for nearly a decade. Uneducated parents are the problem. By uneducated I mean those who don't know anything about wrestling. They insist their child use headlocks, cement jobs, and other high risk/reward moves. This is so they can record the child getting the big move pin and put it on social media for all their friends to 'like'. Its nauseating.

I actually had a rule that if I were coaching matside no wrestler was allowed to use these moves in the first period. That way they had to wrestle for at least one minute. It was the best I could do.
JW1 (1) about 6 months ago
Yes please undo the undo.

Re youth, a good analogy is the American development model in youth hockey which focuses on skill development and play at early ages. www.admkids.com/about

Plenty of time for testosterone later.
uvagrappler33 (2) about 6 months ago
DeSanto seems to be a poster child for what Foley finds wrong with youth wrestling.
djhart69 (1) about 6 months ago
Ok St-Mizzou might be interesting to watch but the team score won't be close. Cowboys will win 7 of 10 with bonus points at 125, 184 and hwt.
dbestsport (1) about 6 months ago
I think the answer to the lack of covergage of the Rivera/Micic match is, no one knew? I watched the match and the announcers seemed surprised.
coolbeans (2) about 6 months ago
Right on the money Foley, Human egos is the base of most problems on this planet. Youth wrestler's parents are a problem to be dealt with.

It is notable for MZ to have a very long winning streak, however if you avoid the top tier teams it's not as difficult. Kudos to Rivera for taking on a challenge!! I would love to see Bo challenge Snyder. My money is on Bo. Love Helen and best wishes.

ANYONE at the NCAA has a shot at the title depending on a multitude of variables. Keep up the great column Foley !
rjbielat (2) about 6 months ago
Lehigh Fan, I like that. I've got a 7-year old, and headlocks annoy me to no end. I tell him that we work on our doubles and singles for a reason. There is no reason for those high risk moves at the youth level. We should focus on technique. I'd rather have my son wrestle for the full 3 minutes than get a 1st period pin.

This is our first year "competing". We attend a tournament about every other weekend, and I always let him decide whether he wants to wrestle on a given weekend. Here in MN, most tournaments are 4-man round robins. I've seen a lot of good parents and coaches, but I have seen some real a-holes, too. My son has qualified for "state" this year, but we're not going because I don't feel the need to put any pressure on him. Wrestling should be fun, and if a kid drops the sport by 4th or 5th grade, who the hell cares how he placed at state when he was 10 years old?
D_W (2) about 6 months ago
I doubt the youth wrestling culture has changed much. We just get to see all of the altercations because of the prevalence of phones that can take video.

I grew up in south central PA. By the time I was out of school, we had fights in little league, wrestling (parents fighting in the stands in a high school contest when they unintentionally sat next to each other and their kids wrestled), football (game ending), soccer (game ending) and field hockey (game ending).

That's at one school through the 1980s and 1990s.

The football fights involved players and coaches, the field hockey fight followed when the same two teams played each others (that's right, the boys got in a fight at the end of a football game - the game was ended early. I guess the girls didn't think it was settled yet, so they took it out on each other - same schools, building resentment). Then, same two schools again with the soccer teams. Can you imagine the video potential there these days to get three different teams with the same two schools fighting?

There were threats of cancelling football that year, then soccer, then field hockey. None of them materialized.

I sat in chem class with a soccer team player who punched the other teams' coach (who confronted and threatened him).

the idea that this has somehow gotten worse because we can record it is just stupid. I'd imagine it's gotten to be less - there's fewer actual incidents and more passing videos around on facebook.

What was much more prevalent back then, also, was the majority of parents dropping their kids off out of complete indifference for their kids' activities, showing up for nothing (not watching games, etc) and coming only to pick their kids up after practice or games. I don't see a lot of that now - parents are a lot more involved, and not just the ones who started fights 30 years ago.

FWIW, one of the wrestlers of the parents who got in a fight (mentioned above) is now in prison long term.

We've got to get out of this hand wringing garbage, shaming people because one or two somewhere have gotten in fights. It's stupid. There are places in the world with real problems. Nobody got shot, nobody strapped on a vest bomb and blew up, it's not a big deal and it only reflects on those folks involved, not "a broken culture" in the sport.
parasling (2) about 6 months ago
Foley is correct about Youth Wrestling. My youngest is a senior and finishing his career after having wrestled since age 6. We have seen it all in youth (and sometimes middle school and high school) wrestling, both good and bad. We've often joked that TLC should have a show for boys like Toddlers and Tiaras only called Psychos and Singlets. It would be big hit!!!!
johnnyknj (2) about 6 months ago
Yes, our youth wrestling models need major work. Not only are they too competition- driven for too young kids, but the creep to year round wrestling is pervasive. Us oldsters remember when wrestling was a seasonal sport - even at the D1 level. Now 12 year olds are wrestling 9-10 months a year. I know many kids with potential who just burned out by the middle or end of high school! My own son was done after 1 year of college wrestling - just didn't want it any more after 10 years of scholastic, tournament and club wrestling. For kids pushing to be AA's maybe the system fits. For the other 99.9%, it is often counterproductive.
PAgrapple (1) about 6 months ago
Not fair to call this a youth wrestling program issue. This is a problem with overall culture/society needing instant gratification.
Coaches of all sports and teachers coddle youngsters at a young age.
Not everyone deserves a trophy at the end of the season.
cradleman (1) about 6 months ago
Have to laugh at the gentleman's comments about youth hockey being a model.🤣
Seriously the problem lies within the area of money. There is a lot of money being charged for these tournaments. Hell there are enough tournaments that you can claim all American status if you place in the numerous National tournaments. Someone is making tons of money at these tournaments so they won't stop. The amount of forfeits at the HS level should give anyone an indication that there is an issue. Keep it up and instead of a realistic and reasonable drop of 2 weight classes maybe we will have to consider 5 or 6. Parents should not be allowed anywhere near the mat. They should be in the stands.
chuck jean (1) about 6 months ago
Michigan vs. Rutgers Sun. Afternoon on Big Ten Network would really be something to see Micic Bump-up 2-wait classes and take on Ashnault Just to see the action? It maybe a better move for him (just in case) if he would loose to Surinano? That way he would virtually be guaranteed to hold the #1 Ranking @133???
FredHall (1) about 6 months ago
In regard to kids wrestling, I helped a bit with a local kids club a few years. The head coach and I thought a short non-competitive period of about 6 weeks could be beneficial to 2nd grade and unders. At the end asking parents what they thought and if it was a good plan, we found the parents were still keeping score even if nobody else was. One mother told us they'd not be back the next year because her son was getting beat in drills and he'd never been beaten before ! This about a boy no older than 10.I always thought its better to lose young than wait until high school and never taste defeat. If they get to high school or beyond undefeated it doesn't often go well.
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