Balancing School and Club Wrestling

By Matt Krumrie | Feb. 01, 2018, 8:30 a.m. (ET)

In today's wrestling world it's not uncommon to find middle school or high school wrestlers who practice with their school program by day, and then get additional training with a club program in the evening.

Even though in Missouri it's a state activity association violation to compete for both a high school program and wrestling club during the season, the opportunity for others across the country to train with a club and school program is a great way for kids to take their wrestling to the next level, says Matt Infranca, Director of the MOWest Youth Championship Wrestling Club and Kids Director for Missouri USA Wrestling.

"I have been both a club coach and am currently a high school coach, and it's great to have both," says Infranca. 

The reality is, the landscape of sports has changed. The school program is no longer the only option, and in some cases, because of budget cuts or lack of coaches in some programs (especially in the middle school level), the best option. So training and working out with a wrestling club can help provide additional training, coaching, different workout partners, and opportunity that today's wrestler desires.

"It's a good thing to find balance in your training," says Infranca. "I always talk to our kids about finding a coaching style that fits them. There are many styles. If one isn't working, explore others. There is no right or wrong way to wrestle.”

When a high school coach and club coach work together is when the wrestler can make the most gains. A club coach may have one style or mentality. A high school coach may have a different style or mentality. That “difference” in approach can be beneficial for any wrestler.

"Everyone learns at a different rate and in different ways," says Jody Strittmatter, founder of Young Guns Wrestling Club, one of the premier wrestling clubs in Pennsylvania, and the nation. "It's important for athletes to understand there are different ways to execute technique, and that working with different coaches can work differently for each athlete. There are some timeless principles, but opening yourself up to learning different ways to see how it fits your style is very important."

But no matter what style or approach a coach has, the focus of the club and high school coach should always be about helping the wrestler reach their potential and achieve their goals.

"The most important thing in all these scenarios is the wrestler, therefore the club coach and high school coach need to put their ego aside and keep the athletes best interest in mind," says August Manz, head coach of the Thomas Jefferson High School (Council Bluffs, IA) wrestling team, and a coach with the COBRA Optimists Wrestling Club (also of Council Bluffs).

Wrestlers have options when it comes to choosing a club program, so they should find one that fits their training goals, style, and philosophy. A high school coach can actually be helpful in guiding a wrestler to a club, or coach that aligns with their school programs philosophy, training goals, and style.

Some advantages of training with both a club and school program include:

Different philosophies/different training partners: Practicing with a wrestling club to supplement school-based opportunities helps wrestlers gain unique training experiences, new ideas, and a fresh perspective, says Luke Brugh, an Assistant Coach with Virginia Elite Wrestling Club of Christiansburg, Virginia, and Head Coach of the Christiansburg Middle School program.

"There are different ways to show the same move, and different terms that coaches use in training that can end up meaning the same thing," says Brugh.

Brugh, a Virginia state high school champion who also competed at James Madison University, coaches wrestlers who compete for both school and club programs. He likes the fact that wrestlers can practice with their school program, and also get in additional training in a club, where they can find different workout partners, see different styles of wrestling, and learn from many different wrestling coaches. Many outstanding wrestling coaches are not able to commit to the grind of a long school-based wrestling season, but are willing to serve as a volunteer or part-time coach with a program. That can only help grow the sport, and help teach those who want to succeed in the sport.

Team approach to development: In many cases club coaches and high school coaches have existing relationships, through wrestling circles, and the coaching fraternity, so they can work together, in the best interest of the wrestler. One example: Cadet World champion Daniel Kerkvliet competes for the Simley High School program in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota. The Spartans are a state and national power led by head coach Will Short, a former University of Minnesota wrestler. Kerkvliet, meanwhile, also trains with PINnacle Wrestling Club, a Twin Cities club led by former Gophers national champion wrestler Jared Lawrence and former Gophers All-American and Olympic Silver Medalist Brandon Paulson. Short, Lawrence, and Paulson have trained, coached, or been a part of the Minnesota wrestling circle for decades, and all understand how the connection between the high school and club program can do what all coaches want: Benefit the wrestler, especially a wrestler as talented as Kerkvliet.

Focus on specific training needs with a club: In other scenarios, a young girl looking to grow as a wrestler may not have wrestlers around her weight class, or other training partners to workout with in their school program, so training with a club gives girls another opportunity to develop, in some clubs against other girls specifically, and in other clubs, against boys who can help push those to get better as a training partner. A school program may focus on the team aspect, such as working on a certain style over a period of time. In a club, an individual can get personalized instruction focused on their specific needs.

Clubs focus on Olympic styles: In addition, school programs typically only work on folkstyle. In a club setting, wrestlers can also train in the Olympics styles of freestyle and Greco-Roman, because once folkstyle season is over, the club typically moves right into freestyle and Greco training.

The reality is, not every school is filled with elite wrestlers, or even enough numbers to find someone in the room who can push the best to get even better day in and day out. A club wrestling experience can provide that opportunity.  When that happens, high school and club coaches should talk then, to come up with a strategy that benefits the missing link in the wrestler’s training.

"The high school coach can focus on conditioning, mental toughness, and technique, while the club coach focuses on live wrestling, and situational wrestling,” says Manz. “If the high school program has the type of room that will provide strong practice partners and workouts, then the club coach needs to focus on technique, and mental preparation needed to meet the goals of the wrestler."

Both coaches need to keep an eye out for the wrestler and make sure he or she is not being over worked during the grind of a wrestling season. Giving the wrestler the proper amount of rest when needed is crucial. In the best case scenarios, club coaches and school coaches’ work together to provide a great opportunity and experience for a wrestler, no matter what age group or skill level. If a wrestler is willing to put in the time with a club and school program, they are obviously dedicated - and coaches will respect that, and work even harder to help kids achieve their goals.

"The athlete picked that school and club for a reason and they should trust that those coaches want nothing but the best for them," says Manz.