The ABCs of Wrestling

By Matt Krumrie | Nov. 26, 2018, 7:07 p.m. (ET)

Agility, balance and coordination (ABCs) are skills crucial to the development of any athlete, including wrestlers.

In fact, focusing on the basics is essential for beginning wrestlers, and for the long-term development of any wrestler.

It's important to develop the athlete first, wrestler second, says Mike Hagerty, a Coaching Education Director with USA Wrestling and six-time USA World Team coach.

“It’s like putting a strong foundation under a house,” Hagerty says. “Having a great foundation will also allow for a much higher top end for wrestlers, or any athlete for that matter. Too many youth and some higher-level coaches teach kids to be one-trick ponies with quick fix moves and never address the necessary skills that will assist wrestlers to be great wrestlers and athletes in the future. Learning and developing athletic skills of strength, balance, body control also builds confidence, which is often overlooked.”

Danny Struck, now in his 17th year as head coach of the Jeffersonville High School (Jeffersonville, IN) wrestling team, and a strength and conditioning teacher at the same high school, breaks down the ABCs of wrestling and how it impacts development:

Agility

“An agile wrestler is a dangerous wrestler,” says Struck. “Having the ability to be quick and agile will allow wrestlers to react to their second and third shots after their opponent reacts.”

Balance

“Balance is important in wrestling, and any sport in general, because it helps us be able to react faster,” says Struck. “Being able to maintain balance on one foot, or stay on your feet in general, will help you become more successful.”

Coordination

“Being fluid, and not stiff, is key in wrestling,” Struck says. “With all the funk in wrestling and the importance of being able to chain wrestle, and be fluid with it, takes a combination of agility, balance and coordination to do it at a high level.”

Physical Literacy

In many cases, young athletes develop the ABCs of sport through simply being a kid—skateboarding, swimming, riding a bike, playing with neighborhood kids (tag, hide and seek, catch, kickball, the list goes on), or by competing in multiple sports. This is related to the development of physical literacy, says Steve Boyle, Founder/Director of 2-4-1 Sports, a national leader in physical literacy that encourages sport-centered play worldwide for kids of all ages.

What is physical literacy? It’s defined as the ability, confidence and desire to be active for life, Boyle says. Another definition defined physical literacy as “the ability to move with competence and confidence in a wide variety of physical activities in multiple environments that benefit the healthy development of the whole person.”

“Rulon Gardner, Usain Bolt, Abby Wambach, Roger Federer, Michael Jordan…none of them knew they were developing physical literacy through their other early pursuits, but nonetheless they became amazing athletes well before they became amazing at their chosen sports,” Boyle says. 

Boyle continued: “Gardner may have developed ability and confidence through his farming and playing of multiple sports, Wambach may have been motivated to prove she could score using her head after pulling down so many rebounds in pickup basketball games against the boys in her neighborhood, and Bolt likely enjoyed the oohs and ahhs he received running back and forth between the wickets as a young cricketer. When he realized he was faster than anyone he knew (ability), he had the confidence and the motivation to move towards track and field.”

Fundamental Movement Skills and the ABCs of wrestling are absolutely critical to an individual’s physical literacy journey, just as learning one’s ABCs is critical to their foundation of learning how to read and write, says Dr. Amanda Stanec, PhD, founder of Move Live Learn, an organization committed to helping people live healthier lives.

“The ABCs of wrestling form the roots in which a child can grow and prosper,” says Stanec. “As they do so, they continually gain competence and then confidence, all of which increases their motivation to be active for life.”

While wrestling coaches might want to spend time focusing on wrestling specific technique and training for younger athletes, this shouldn't be done at the sacrifice of a focus on agility, balance, and coordination.

“In the long run, the athletes will be much better off with a broader foundation or deeper roots to build upon,” Stanec says.

There is another advantage to learning the ABCs of wrestling at an early age: It helps with injury prevention.

“Being able to move any and all directions with confidence is essential to being injury free, and being a well-rounded athlete,” Struck says. “Well-rounded athletes get injured less, it’s that simple.”

Looking for ideas on how to implement the ABCs of wrestling into your wrestling training routine? Check out this list of activities from USA Wrestling.