Good teachers focus on being educators. And good teachers prepare for each class by creating a lesson plan. Coaches are also educators, and good coaches prepare for each practice by creating practice plans.
“Just as every school teacher has a lesson plan for the day, every wrestling coach should have a plan for each practice,” says Morris Bird, Program Director for Beat The Streets Los Angeles. “Having a practice plan promotes organization and structure. Coaches benefit from not having to think up what to do in practice on the fly. Wrestlers—especially youth wrestlers—benefit from a structured and organized practice because it keeps them on task and moving from activity to activity.”
The Long-Term Athlete Development Model that USA Wrestling follows is most effective when coaches learn to make daily decisions that benefit the child, the program, and the sport of wrestling far into the future, says Mike Clayton, Manager of USA Wrestling's National Coaches Education Program.
“Sure, mastering a headlock today for a 7-year-old helps them win some youth matches,” Clayton says. “But does it help that child develop core skills of stance and motion, level change, recovering from shots, and clean finishes?”
Clayton’s point? Good practice plans focus on that long-term development, not immediate gratification. Starting early, good practice plans focus on fun, and fundamentals.
“The foundation of sport and why one plays, coaches, or supports the sport of wrestling, is because at its core it is fun, and it is supposed to be fun,” says Rob Schoner, head coach of Wisconsin’s Hamilton High School wrestling program.
One of Clayton’s favorite parts of the job is to work with coaches as they prep and conduct a practice, or practice plan. As part of the various USA Wrestling National Coaches Education Program (NCEP), coaches submit practice plans and go back and forth with Clayton, asking questions on what the coach wants to achieve in the workout, and, asking what impact today’s decisions will have on the kids as they look toward junior high, high school, college, or even international levels of competition.
Clayton says the ideal practice plans include some mobility and athletic development at the start of practice. Stretching - especially static stretching - has little place in the early parts of practice. Written practice plans should change each day. Coaches need to be prepared to change on the fly, for things to not always go as planned, and to improvise when needed. So, having a back-up plan, plan B, or go-to practice plan change to fall back on can keep things moving without anyone realizing the practice plan hit a snag.
“Kids’ focus and energy today may not be up for what we have planned,” Clayton says. “So, we need to be able to adapt on the spot. Can you do that? Do you have backup practice plans?”
“Where people get tripped up with a practice plan is when it is so strict it must be followed to the letter and minute throughout the workout,” says Schoner, who participated in USA Wrestling's Coach Apprentice Program (CAP) trip to France for the Junior World Championships last fall. “This mindset will set any coach up for failure from minute one.”
Practice is where coaches can set the stage for the early development of youth wrestlers. This is also where kids can fall in love with the sport, or lose interest, if practices are not fluid, organized, or don’t keep kids interested.
“It all starts with a practice plan,” Schoner says. “A coach and their staff must have a plan to stay on point and be able to reference back to keep the practice moving, which is especially important with youth wrestlers who have shorter than normal attention spans.”
Schoner provided this sample wrestling practice plan:
· Games: Always start with something fun! Spike ball, mat ball, dodgeball, and so on.
· Warm up: Tumbling, UWW poster exercises, running, walking, dynamic stretches.
· Basic skills drills: Back step, back arch wall walks, back arch with partner, shadow wrestling with movement and level change, hand fight drill.
· Attack drills: motion with various setups, various shots, double, single, high-C with variations once learned.
· Counter attack drills: Beat the shoulder, chest wrap, reshot.
· Defense drills: Sprawl, front ¾, down block.
· Sparring/chain wrestling: From the mat only, crackdown position, full match.
· Live: Very little if any for youth, and usually situational.
· Mat drills: Hold/work back base, sit on ankle when picked, knee slide.
· Cool down: Slow jog, repeat of dynamic stretches, foam rollers, few sprints.
Mike Callahan, a junior high and junior varsity wrestling coach at Miami Trace Middle and High School in Washington Courthouse, Ohio, says practice plans help him manage time, set short and long-term goals, and serve as teaching tools.
“I found as I look ahead to my plan, it would remind me to look up finer points of technique, and I would write notes to relay to the kids,” Callahan says. “In the hectic schedule of a practice and trying to herd kids, a practice plan is a great tool to keep me on track.”
A good practice plan will guide the coach through the practice and be flexible enough to allow the coach to modify the plan as needed, says Bird. Because it’s an individual sport, a youth wrestling practice often includes a series of team and individual instruction, coaching wrestlers who have a wide range of ability.
“A good practice plan will not address needs of only one set of abilities, but should keep in mind the range of abilities that the kids possess,” Bird says.
Good practice habits—and bad practice habits—are learned early in one’s wrestling career. A practice plan helps coaches stay organized and kids interested. Interested kids stay in the sport, and grow in the sport.
“Habits start forming the day a child steps on the mat,” Clayton says. “It’s up to each of us to create an environment where these kids can learn, grow, and have fun developing into our great sport.”
Create that environment through the creation of practice plans.