When it’s age-group season in the United States, many wrestlers who just wrapped up folkstyle and are already members of a wrestling club simply stick with where they’re at. Most clubs in the country offer some semblance of instruction for both Greco-Roman and freestyle, so it is easy to see why parents won’t yank their kids out of one place and take them to another, especially for only a few months. Then again, there are plenty of youth wrestlers stretching from Schoolboy to Junior who want to try out something new. These motivated athletes have perhaps heard from others how a certain club or coach might be better-suited to help them realize Fargo glory and are interested in finding out what the deal is. A savvy lot, these kids nowadays.
But the one glaring issue staring both parents and age-group wrestlers in the face is the fact that not all Greco coaches or clubs are created equal. There isn’t a ton of blame to go around here — many folkstyle coaches do the best they can with what they know. However, this usually leads to “folk-Greco” or “Greco-folk” — in other words, wrestlers competing in Greco-Roman are using folkstyle attacks sans legs. That works in the US, for the most part. But for the athletes who are in search of profound improvement and an overall higher acumen that will enhance all of their wrestling knowledge, it’s probably not the best route to take.
That’s why we went to the experts to find out what it is parents and wrestlers should look for when seeking out a Greco-Roman coach for the spring/summer season. Although many states are already in the process of getting their Fargo qualifiers in the books, there is still time to make adjustments that matter in the long run.
1. A coach who legitimately advocates for Greco-Roman
There are plenty of coaches who teach Greco and take their athletes to all of the noteworthy tournaments, but it doesn’t mean they have passion for the style. A Greco-Roman coach who is in the loop and cares is more likely in-tune with what it is a youth wrestler needs and is enthused to be there for when the going gets tough come tournament time.
“You want somebody who supports Greco and encourages their kids to go both styles outside of scholastic season,” former US National Team member and current Naval Academy assistant coach Nate Engel says. “You want to make sure they support Greco because I think a lot of coaches don’t know how to get involved.”
Zac Dominguez is what you’d call a “lifer.” A member of the inaugural class of athletes at the United States Olympic Education Center at Northern Michigan, Dominguez has gone on to become one of the most respected voices in the sport, including having been named the USA Developmental Coach of the Year in 2013. This year, he will serve as a co-head coach for the Cadet World Team. He is also somebody who doesn’t shy away from seeing both international styles as relatable and as such, makes sure that comes across when relaying his coaching perspective.
“My first thing to look for is if the coach even talks about Greco,” Dominguez says. “I don’t even put myself out there as a ‘Greco guy’, I am ‘Freco’, that’s my word, and I’m always teaching Greco every day.”
According to Dominguez, wrestlers may also want to avoid a high school coach for the same reason. “Definitely not a high school folkstyle coach because most of them are not teaching Greco, they just don’t have that background,” he concludes.
2. It’s about points, not rules
1995 World Champion and 1996 Olympic silver medalist Dennis Hall is locked in on all levels. As the owner of World Gold Wrestling in his home state of Wisconsin, Hall is responsible for developing dozens of youngsters each year. However, he is also still involved in training athletes on the Senior circuit, which gives him a cross-section of experience that shapes his view of the sport. For instance, Hall is a much bigger proponent of teaching wrestlers the moves and motions of the classical style than he is letting the rules dictate their approach.
“Don’t get a coach who teaches to the rules, get a coach who teaches scoring,” Hall urges. “There are so many coaches who want to win matches based on the rules that they don’t train their guys to score points.”
Jonathan Drendel was a Junior National and University National champ during his competitive days before throwing a whistle around his neck. He is now the head coach of Williams Baptist College’s emerging Greco-Roman team and perhaps unsurprisingly, takes a similar stance as Hall. “These guys already know how to move like wrestlers and they know how to act like wrestlers,” explains Drendel. “All they really need are the fundamentals. Transition your stance, transition your position, transition your motion. As long as you can get guys to move out of their comfort zones to try new stuff, it might be scary, but it’s just wrestling.”
3. Partners in the room are important, but not how you might think
Competition in the room is always a big deal, regardless of style. A worthwhile Greco-Roman coach is often going to have the horses in the stable to offer intense practices. But when it comes to the developmental stages of the sport, athletes and parents have to be careful not to get too caught up in how accomplished the workout partners are and instead, focus on the overall productive influence that is available.
“Your practice partner should double as your coach,” observes Drendel. “He’s going to be the first person to tell you when you’re doing something wrong, doesn’t feel right, or is not effective. Having good training partners doesn’t necessarily mean having World Champions, but having partners who are going to correct you and push you at the same time.”
Also, more is sometimes less. It’s nice to be able to walk into a club with a substantial number of available partners. In Greco, that might even be considered a luxury, depending on the region of the country. But use caution. A lot of wrestlers in the room may spread coaches too thin and valuable personal instruction will become the casualty.
“I think your practice partners are important, but the coach-to-wrestler ratio is also vital,” Engel says. “If you have 50 wrestlers in a room and only one coach, it’s really hard to get one-on-one time and get better. Just like college, if there are ten kids and one teacher, that works because you get one-on-one time. A coach’s skills are important, but so is how they can invest their time into you.”
4. Consider the future
Naturally, everyone is always zeroed in on what’s coming next. The summer is starting to creep in, Cadet Nationals are coming, the Duals, and then Fargo. It’s a lot to cover. It is also a lot to expect, particularly if an age-group wrestler is looking for a Greco-Roman coach who is going to solve all of their problems now. The only hitch with this line of thinking is that wrestling will continue after the year’s big events are through. Development doesn’t take a back seat just because tournament season is over and if you ask multiple-time World Team member Joe Betterman, that is exactly why finding a coach you can rely on going forward is so critical.
“When you’re going to choose a Greco-Roman coach, you should be choosing a coach who is not just preparing you for today, but is preparing you for the future,” Betterman offers. “You should be picking a coach who is going to help you build the foundation that you need and is also going to help your career go further and also, help you see that dream at the end of the tunnel. You want a coach who sees the bigger picture and says, ‘Hey, you could be an Olympic Champion.’ They don’t have to be a technical genius, but you do need someone who is going to be a visionary with you.”
Other areas to look at
There are always going to be various other items parents and wrestlers pay attention to. One that seems to come up is the facility, though that is subjective. Parents may want a stand alone facility for their investment and in today’s culture of specialization, kids may want one, too. Coaches who have clubs can be expected to offer the type of specialization that makes a difference. “If you have a dedicated facility, you’re a Greco coach, in my opinion,” Dominguez. “There aren’t too many facilities outside of regional training centers and places like that. If a coach has their own facility, that probably means he is more of a freestyle and Greco guy.”
Engel agrees, but insists that it is a good idea to not get too caught up in how tidy a place is. The way he sees it, if work can get done, the place is certainly serviceable.”If there are wrestling mats, you’re good,” opines Engel. “When (Doug) Schwab went over to Cuba, he said that the 45-pound plates were all old and dinged up, but 45 pounds is still 45 pounds. A wrestling room is a wrestling room.”
Of course, one of the most overblown aspects to selecting a Greco-Roman coach (or any coach, for that matter) comes down to accomplishments. Athletes want to be able to brag that their coaches have trophy cases stocked with prestigious medals and by extension, parents feel more comfortable knowing they are paying for elite names. Wrestling revolves around this marketing angle in a big way and while there is some validity to it, what a coach has achieved doesn’t automatically translate into him or her being an outstanding instructor.
“You don’t always have to have great credentials to be a great coach,” says Betterman. “Some of these top wrestlers who were Olympic and World champions didn’t make great coaches later. They understood the sport when they were on the mat, but they didn’t fully understand when they were off of it. Then you have guys who maybe made a World Team here and there, but are great coaches because they are students of the game. I would never write off a coach because of their credentials, but the coach who hasn’t achieved all of that is likely to be a student of the game and will continue to be.”