The holiday season is here and what can be a joyous time of year for many Americans can also be a tough time for the wrestler in the family. Just when they may be hitting their stride on the mat they must now deal with the temptation of an overabundance of food at family gatherings and disruption in their training routine.
It doesn't mean wrestlers can't enjoy this time of year, they just need to be smart about it, says Nick Spatola, a former wrestler at Indiana University who now runs Spatola Wrestling at a Fort Thomas, KY gym that provides individual and group training, wrestling camps, and clinics in the Cincinnati metro area.
"I always held a chip on my shoulder and felt special at holiday gatherings," recalls Spatola. "While everyone else was indulging, I was still in training mode which meant eating healthy and still working out. My whole family knew what was going on and I could feel the respect. This gave me mental confidence and made me feel like I was a warrior in training."
This is the time of the year for coaches to discuss with the team the goals set forth at the start of the year, says Ian Assael, director of the Bison Legend Wrestling Club and Bison System Wrestling Camps in Lewisburg, PA. It's also a time of year for parents to provide support for the wrestler and for wrestling teammates to come together to keep one another motivated.
One way to do that is to write out a holiday meal plan and to schedule added workouts outside regularly scheduled practices. “Stay in a training routine,” says Assael. “Scheduling some sort of activity for first thing in the morning will make you wake up and get your day going. This could be wrestling, lifting, or running/cardio. If there are clubs in your area where you can get some extra workouts in, that is also beneficial."
Mike DeRoehn, head coach at Lakeland College in Sheboygan, WI, and the head wrestling coach of World Class Wrestling School in Fond du Lac, WI, says the best athletes he's coached buy into the concept that wrestling is about more than just participating in a sport and that mindset can help guide wrestlers through this time of year.
"Is your daily lifestyle — training, nutrition, hydration, sleep habits, friends you hang out with — more conducive to success than your opponents? Remember, there are two pains in life. The pain of discipline and the pain of regret," says DeRoehn. Sometimes getting out of the wrestling room for a day or two while training over a holiday break can also be mentally refreshing, he adds: “Coaches, your athletes will thank you for breaking it up."
Brandon Paulson, a 1996 Greco-Roman Olympic Silver Medalist and co-director of PINnacle Wrestling in Shoreview, MN, agrees. If a break from the sport is needed, try incorporating other activities into your routine. "This is a great time of year to get a little cross-training in. An hour-long soccer, football, or even dodge ball game will keep you active and rest your mind as well," explains Paulson.
Mike Krause, Director of the NXT LVL Wrestling Academy and the Team Shamrock School of Wrestling in Hartland, MI, says this a great time of year for wrestlers to continue to challenge themselves. Want to eat a little more? Run three extra miles in the morning. Want to take the day off? Put in a two-a-day workout the next day.
"Do the extra things and eat sensibly," says Krause, a former wrestler at Michigan State University. "If your break is long and you have no practices scheduled, make one up yourself."
That's what Spatola did over holiday breaks when he was competing, going for runs outside and focusing on the physical and mental aspect of the sport. "I used to visualize my opponents and see myself getting my hand raised in the big match," says Spatola.
Spatola’s gym features a quote on the wall that says “it's the hard days that really count.” And this time of year, when it seems like everyone around you is taking it easy, definitely fall into that category."If you can manage to drag yourself to practice and make it through it, you just got better,” he says. “Everyone can train when they feel good, it's training on those hard days that create results."
No matter how dedicated one is to the sport, Spatola says this is still a time of year to remember who and what is important. Train hard, remain focused, but rest the mind and body when you can and enjoy family time at every opportunity.
"No matter how hard you are training, you can always make time for these special people during the holiday season," explains Spatola. "Although you are a warrior in training, it's important for your mind and body to relax and just spend time with the people you care most about."
Holiday Training Tips:
Coaches and parents, provide knowledge: Don't assume all kids know how getting out of their routine can affect them on and off the mat. Don't be overbearing, but if you see them slip, gently nudge them in the right direction or try to get them to refocus.
Moderation is key: If one does indulge some holiday cookies or a larger than usual meal, schedule an extra workout, practice a little longer or add an extra running/cardio or weightlifting session.
Mental edge: This is the time of year one can work on honing the mental aspect of the sport. By keeping motivated while others may be taking time off, you can gain an important psychological edge knowing you did the right things and made the right choices.
Get the whole family on board: Inform all family members so they understand what the wrestler is going through. If no practices are available, schedule a fun activity that keeps kids active, like sledding, ice skating, or a family walk. It will create memories and help maintain the wrestler’s fitness level.
Rest: Eating right is important, but so is rest and sleep. This is also a time to heal up and get focused for the home stretch of the season. Don't feel bad if you occasionally miss a workout or overindulge a little.
Holiday Cross-Training Exercises:
Lakeland College wrestling coach Mike DeRoehn recommends incorporating these winter cross-training opportunities into your holiday routine:
- Run outside in deep snow where you need to really get those knees up and high step while lifting your boots.
- Grab a teammate and push/pull each other in a sled to work on your leg drive
- Find a hill to sled down and then get a workout in going back up, doing these exercises in intervals of three:
- Sled down/bear crawl up
- Sled down/bear crawl up
- Sled down/bear crawl backwards up
- Sled down/carry a partner up
Note: This archived feature first appeared in USA Wrestling's newsletter in December 2013.