Campbell head coach Scotti Sentes and associate head coach Wynn Michalak (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
Summer wrestling camps are one of the best resources to use when looking to improve your skillset and improve upon your most recent season. There are also a lot of other benefits to attending summer wrestling camps; I am going to focus on attending the camps that are held and put on by college wrestling programs. Growing up, there was not a summer that I did not attend at least one camp in the summer, from elementary school, attending the kids-level technique camps all the way to attending prospect camps in high school, while trying to get my name out in front of college coaches to be recruited. These camps help fund a lot of your smaller programs, but after speaking with college coaches here in North Carolina about their opinions on camps and the importance of them, I am starting to gather that as much of a fundraising opportunity these camps are, it is also a great way for coaches to see an athlete firsthand in a setting that they can control.
The common question that I asked coaches when beginning this article was, "What do you think is the best thing your program gets out of running camps?". Daniel Elliott, Head Coach of Gardner Webb University, places a focus on providing a small environment with more personal instruction. Similar to the experience of competing at Gardner Webb, they want to use their camp as a way to build relationships. When I asked Elliott the question above, he responded "For me, it's as much about relationships as anything else. Getting to know kids and them getting to know us. For us, it's more of providing an opportunity for kids to get better at an efficient price."
Wynn Michalak of Campbell University responded, "For a college coach, camps are a way to give back, a way to connect with the community, and a way to see wrestlers train, interact and really get an eye on some possible prospects they may not have seen yet."
Coaches constantly tell me stories of how kids showed up at their camp over the summer, kids that were never on their radar and by the end of the camp, those exact kids were instantly towards the top of their list. A lot of those stories also end with the kids talking about receiving scholarship offers to those colleges and finding success at the college level.
To get an athlete's perspective we spoke with Caleb Smith NCAA Qualifier at 125 for Appalachian State in 2022, we asked him what was the biggest part of his recruiting process and in him choosing Appalachian State, "I started going to the App camp in eighth grade and that is when I started to really want to go App. I saw the culture of the program, how the coaches coached and how the guys on the team interacted with each other and I could just tell it was a family. I wanted to be a part of that."
With Covid-19, wrestling camps took a hit over the past few years, but we are finally back and operating! Camps are popping up left and right from every major program and even your smaller local ones. Opportunities like Prospect Camps, Team Camps, Technique Camps, Intensive Camps and more! Camps are a great way to not only receive top-notch instruction from high-level coaches, but also receive instruction from current college wrestlers. On top of the instructional value of camps, there is the aspect of the competition that comes with them! A lot of camps have tournament-like events that take place, especially your team camps that normally conclude at the end with a dual-style tournament. Attending camps like this allows you to compete with high-level competition without it being at a national event or without it really having any large repercussions. Go compete and have fun without worrying about the pressure of winning a title, just get better! Use the technique taught and test it out before breaking it out in real competition.
Now let's talk about the mindset when entering a camp! It is easy to get absolutely overwhelmed at college camps, big-name coaches, big-name wrestlers you may have seen on ESPN wrestling at nationals, and the amount of technique being thrown at you. Whatever it is, there are plenty of reasons that college camps can overwhelm you.
So how do you combat that? You go into the camp with a plan or a goal, and you control what you can control within the camp! Have a plan of things you want to get better at or certain things that you hope to get better at, there are normally opportunities to request areas to learn at some point in the camp! Be selfish and be honest and look back at your season and think of positions that you can get better at. Next is to have a filter. Not everyone can hit a blast double like Jordan Burroughs, but you better believe that if JB himself is at a camp showing blast doubles, you better be there watching!
The point of that example is, to watch and listen to every piece of technique shown and attempt it while at camp, but if it's not working for you when it's time to wrestle live, learn to keep it in the toolbox, per se, but maybe just further in the back drawer! The most common advice given to someone heading to a wrestling camp or clinic is to be a total sponge. Soak up every bit of knowledge from coaches and clinicians that you can! I totally agree, but one thing that I think is commonly left out is they need to have that filter. Be willing to try anything that is shown, in other words, be EXTREMELY coachable at camps, because as we have learned from the coaches we have spoken with, they are always watching! A piece of advice given a lot is to bring a notepad to every camp you go to, and after each session write in your own words what you learned from the technique taught that day and give step-by-step instructions on how to do each technique.
The goal is to get better with these camps and use every opportunity to get better to reach the goals you have set for yourself. Use these camps as a tool to be recruited and see how campuses function, how a staff leads and the culture of the programs. Most of all have some fun and get back on the mat!