How to Set Expectations for the Season

By Matt Krumrie | Nov. 08, 2018, 8:14 a.m. (ET)

Another wrestling season is upon us, and expectations are high for many coaches, teams and individuals.

Setting, and eventually achieving, expectations takes planning, preparation, execution, and evaluation.

It’s easy to say one wants to be a state champion, but how does one get there? By setting goals, and expectations that start from day one.

For coaches, start with creating a great culture, and environment that wrestlers want to be a part of, says Heath Eslinger. As head coach of the University of Tennessee Chattanooga (UTC) wrestling program, Eslinger led UTC to seven Southern Conference championships in seven years. Eslinger resigned in July of 2018 to follow his passion, and is now a sought after public speaker and coaching mentor. One of his philosophies is “A Better Way” developed by Eslinger to help parents, coaches, athletes, teams, and organizations get the most out of their journey by focusing on developing intrinsic qualities that will last a lifetime and carry one through some of life’s most difficult times.

Creating a culture that people want to be a part of, and a coaching philosophy/system that focuses on the team, not just top individuals, is important.

“I believe you always coach to the masses,” says Eslinger. “The great wrestlers will be great. Create a system where everyone gets better and the whole team improves. This also creates an atmosphere where team is valued and entitlement and arrogance aren’t promoted.”

Good coaches also understand that wrestlers—especially younger wrestlers or those new to the sport—will vary greatly in skills and abilities, and what may be realistic for one individual may be different for another, says Gregg Durbin, a junior high wrestling coach in Gilbert, Iowa, and a USA Wrestling official.

Durbin focuses on the little things. He tells wrestlers if they want to improve technique, focus more when technique is demonstrated. Setting small, attainable goals helps develop/build confidence and helps a new wrestler start to believe they can achieve success in the sport.

“Sometimes you have to convince kids they are capable of more than they, and maybe you, believe they are capable of,” Durbin says. “In general, I am more concerned with short-term/immediate goals. Let’s have a good practice. Focus on changing what you are doing here with this technique. Give all you got, right now. If the short-term goals are taken care of, the long-term goals can be reached.”

Jerry Concannon is the owner and director of QuickSkills Soccer, a Pittsburgh-based soccer program providing instructional training and products for developing soccer players. Concannon also holds coaching certifications from the United States Soccer Federation and the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, and is a Pennsylvania West coaching education and license instructor.

“Setting expectations is a critical step in building your team for the season,” Concannon says.

Each year his team sets team goals and individual goals. The team goals focus on performance goals.

“Performance goals are goals that players and athletes have more control over, rather than outcome-based goals, which are not in the control of the athlete,” says Concannon. “Outcome goals are restrictive, usually to match results, or whether a team makes the playoffs, and so on.”

In addition, outcome goals can be affected by the other team’s ability, or by an official’s call.

“Things we cannot control,” Concannon says.

Performance goals, he adds, are goals that allow players to measure their performance in both practice and games based on the objectives they set for at the start of the season.

“One great benefit of performance goals is that they can be adjusted to reflect improvement in the athlete’s skill set as the season goes on,” Concannon says.

When setting goals and expectations, Concannon asks his players to ask themselves one important question:

“What can I do to help the team this season?’

Answering this question gets the player's mindset focused on the team and what they need to do to improve individually to help the team succeed. It links the team and individual expectations and goals together in a way that is both team and player focused.

For example, the soccer team might need more players that can cross the ball with both feet to help create scoring chances in front of the goal. A right-footed player might realize that if she works on improving her left-footed crossing, she can help her team and herself. She will give her team a better chance to win games, and she’ll get more playing time because her skills directly assist the needs of the team.

“We have found this process of asking this simple question to be a critical variable that helps establish team and player expectations and assists in the goal-setting process for the season,” Concannon says.

This is also true in wrestling, says Joe Uccellini, Co-State Head Coach/Cadet Director for New York USA Wrestling and owner of the Curby 3 Style Wrestling Club in Troy, New York.

Even though wrestling is an individual sport, focusing on helping the team creates a stronger culture and a wrestling room where everyone is focused on success, and helping others achieve success. Be a good training partner. Push your teammate. Support them. Be a good listener. These are all part of a strong culture and helps breed success.

At the start of each season Uccellini asks wrestlers to write down their "why." Why did you join wrestling? To make friends? To be an Olympic Champion?

“As a coach I want to know why they are in the room,” says Uccellini. “If it's to make friends that is great, but I hope that I do such a great job delivering the sport to them that they change the why to Olympic Champion.”

But every kid is in wrestling for various reasons, and Uccellini understands that. So he changes his approach with athletes based on their why. Athletes are also encouraged—not forced—to write down small goals, says Uccellini. Some may focus on saying the want to improve on top, bottom, in neutral, or overall technique. 

“Some may want to be able to hit a double leg on anyone, or be able to better defend double legs,” says Uccellini. “A specific goal will help the athlete and coach specifically develop plans for the wrestler to achieve these goals.”

Reviewing film after each match is a great way to visually review progress, adds Uccellini. As wrestlers continue to achieve specific targeted goals, their bigger goals (winning tournaments and state championships) feel like they are more attainable.

“When wrestlers feel like they have tangible evidence that they are improving it can make the sport more enjoyable for them,” says Uccellini. “That energy is great for the culture of the room.”

And just because expectations and goals are set early in the season doesn't mean they can't be changed throughout the course of a season. They should always be reviewed.

“I invite my wrestlers to hand in their own goal sheet with specific short term goals, especially in areas they want to improve on, and long term goals, like a state championship,” Uccellini says. “We have a goal wall in the office with check boxes for them to check as they achieve goals throughout the season.  Evaluation is as important as setting goals.”

Whatever one's expectations, make sure it’s the wrestlers expectations, not the parents.

“Kids should wrestle for themselves, not the parent or coach,” says Uccellini. “If kids realize you care about them they are more likely to care for themselves. If they feel like you want the goal more then they do they may question the whole process. Remember sports are supposed to be fun.”