Keeping Wrestling Relevant in the Offseason

By Matt Krumrie Special to USA Wrestling | June 21, 2014, 12:35 p.m. (ET)

Wrestling may be an individual sport that competes mostly in the fall and winter, but smart wrestling teams instill the ideas of esprit d’corps and community service all year round.   

"We try to come up with unique ideas," says Kevin Black, a four-time coach of the U.S. Women’s World team whose day job is head coach of the River Falls (Wisc.) High School wrestling team. "We want people to remember us, to see us as part of the community and then, we hope it generates interest and inspires younger kids to wrestle or locals to support our programs." 

Case in point: During his hometown’s River Falls Days parade in July, Black has his wrestlers pull a float—typically a decorated pickup truck with a trailer—through the entire 3-mile parade route using nothing but a rope and their muscles. The display of strength and teamwork never fails to elicit applause and photo opportunities from the inspired crowd, he says. It creates a life-long memory for team members and keeps River Falls wrestling at the forefront of the minds of community members.

At other times of the year, Black routinely volunteers his wrestlers to help local businesses relocate when needed. "We pride wrestlers on being tough, strong kids, so when a business moves, we want to help," says Black. " It's pretty cool, we enjoy doing it. I make sure I volunteer our wrestlers whenever needed."

"We try to come up with unique ideas. We want people to remember us, to see us as part of the community and then, we hope it generates interest and inspires younger kids to wrestle or locals to support our programs." - Kevin Black

Summer is always a good time for wrestlers to take some time off away from the mat, to rest and recover. But that doesn’t mean you can’t engage in offseason team building activities that promote the sport while building community relationships. Throughout the country, wrestling clubs and communities put on different events throughout the summer months, whether it’s a fundraising event like a golf tournament, or volunteering at pancake breakfast or participating in community service projects, such as helping the elderly with home repairs, or a farmer with chores. 

Dan Tramontozzi, founder and head coach of the New Jersey Wrestling Academy (NJWA), took the unique approach of intertwining wrestling with a charitable organization aimed at the fight against cancer: Pin Cancer. Next month, as part of Tramontozzi’s annual outdoor exhibition event, wrestling teams from New Jersey’s Phillipsburg and Washington High Schools will compete on the football field at Washington. Last year over 700 fans attended, raising $5,000 for Pin Cancer. Prior to the event, each team passes out promotional flyers and is responsible for securing sponsors and donations through local businesses.

"It's very important for successful wrestling teams to build a strong camaraderie outside of the practice room," says Tramontozzi. "And they do just that when they take the time to give back. When a team comes together for a fundraiser it shows their community the type of character the sport of wrestling builds and reflects well on the wrestlers, coaches and their school."

The offseason tends to offer more opportunities to connect with the community, says Coyte Cooper, a former All-American wrestler at Indiana University who is now a volunteer coach at the school. Because there is less competition, he notes, summer is good time to experiment with fun activities that student-athletes enjoy. One tactic: get-to-know-them videos of team members that can be uploaded to Facebook and other social media sites. "A consistent presence is the most important thing because it keeps folks in touch with the program," says Cooper.

When Virginia Tech head coach Kevin Dresser was a high school coach, he would put on a bingo fundraising night, with wrestlers working the event. Danny Struck, head coach of the Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School wrestling team, has wrestlers personally write and send birthday cards to as many people as possible, whether affiliated with the wrestling program or not.

Steve Saxlund, co-founder of the Rumble on the Red wrestling tournament in Fargo, North Dakota, supports numerous offseason promotional events, such as traditional team/club golf tournament and the non-traditional summer beach wrestling event. "All these activities fall in the realm of team building," says Saxlund. "The wrestling season is a grind and doing something fun with your teammates in the summer is always a good thing for your program."

Troy Dulaney, a coach with Indiana's Yorktown Wrestling Club plans a fun, active break for team members every June. Instead of practice, up to 40 youth and high school wrestlers are split into teams. Their task is to head out into the town, on foot, to gather a list of pre-determined pictures, post them to Instagram and then return as a team to school. It's a technological scavenger hunt that gets them away from the mat yet still provides a cardio workout while building team unity. It also increases team visibility within the community, says Trent McCormick, head coach of Indiana's Yorktown High School wrestling team. Wrestlers get their picture at the local fire department, or take a “selfie” with a local police officer or business leader, who get a kick out of interacting with a local youth sports team.

"This inspired the wrestlers and helped recharge their batteries when they discovered classmates and non-wrestling friends were engaged in what they were doing," said McCormick.

In the winter, Mark Reiland's Iowa City West High School team helps the local optimist club unload Christmas trees on a Sunday afternoon. Getting out in the summer is equally as important, he says.

"You want to show the community that wrestlers are hard workers," says Reiland. "I think the more the community sees these fine young men the better. I think it builds a sense of partnership which hopefully continues into the season and having the public take part in coming out to watch the team compete."

Anthony Flatt, Chairman of Georgia USA Wrestling, points out that these promotional, fundraising and team-building activities also affords coaches valuable chances to reconnect with athletes, especially those athletes that are busy with other sports this time of year.

Scheduling social and community-oriented events in the summer also helps keep wrestling top of mind all year round, explains Flatt. And that is a key component of building and maintaining a healthy wrestling program. "This helps build stronger ties in the wrestling community and helps us build long-standing relationships with coaches and supporters."