It was a mid-December practice, and members of the Minnesota Storm Wrestling Club, the freestyle and Greco-Roman team of the Minnesota Regional Training Center, were playing indoor soccer.
“The Minnesota Storm has a long tradition of playing soccer, dating back to when I wrestled,” said Brandon Paulson, a 1996 Olympic Silver Medalist, 2001 World Silver Medalist and longtime Minnesota Storm team member. “Sometimes it is used for warm-up, sometimes for conditioning after practice. The foot skills, sprints, and agility improve athleticism.”
Paulson now coaches and trains some of the area’s best youth and high school wrestlers as co-owner of Twin Cities-based PINnacle Wrestling School. At PINnacle, playing dodgeball is popular.
“Sometimes it is a reward at the end of practice, but many times it is a quick game at the beginning of practice for a warm-up,” Paulson says. “The wrestlers have something to look forward to, and it is great for body control.”
Incorporating games into a team or individual’s training program is valuable. It helps break up the typical training rigors during a long and grueling season. But, more important, playing games teaches a variety of skills that are crucial in the development of wrestlers, especially at the youth and intermediate levels.
Tanner Sewell said members of his Little Hammers program (ages 4-6) enjoy incorporating games into practice for fun but most importantly, for skill development. The two favorite games with the Little Hammers are Hungry Hippo and Tic-Tac-Toe.
“Games serve several important purposes at the novice and intermediate youth levels,” says Sewell, President and Founder of the Northern Virginia Wrestling Club (NOVA) and Head Wrestling Coach at Fairfax High School (Fairfax, VA). “Games can be used to develop basic skills and also develop a healthy understanding and approach to competition.”
Playing games also gives kids the chance to be kids and play—something that doesn’t happen as often for today’s youth athlete.
“Put kids into small-sided, small space, quick moving, highly competitive, fun games,” says Steve Boyle, Founder and Director of 2-4-1 Sports, a national leader in physical literacy that encourages sport-centered play worldwide for kids of all ages. “And then sit back and try to coach as little as possible. Kids will figures things out. Creativity is a powerful tool in developing athletes.”
Mike Clayton, Manager of the National Coaches Education Program for USA Wrestling, says incorporating games is essential for all athletes under age 12 to fit within the USA Wrestling Athlete Development Model guidelines. Games also benefit experienced middle school and high school wrestlers looking to improve and develop.
“Games can be used at all levels and ages to help build competitive skills, motion skills, improve mental capacity, and just plain make training more fun for everyone,” Clayton says.
Incorporating games also allows coaches to present key skills to athletes in a fun way while ensuring three things happen at each practice, says Clayton:
- They get sweaty
- They get smarter
- They smile
Clayton highlights these five great games for wrestling development:
- Fox Tail: This game helps athletes focus on proper stance and position (head up, back straight, hips in, knees off the mat, toe pressure/break foot) while incorporating one of the most important footwork movements, circling to find an attack angle.
- Bone Fight: This game is easy to set up with a towel, shirt, pool noodle, or with a Suples Dummy. “Athletes learn to feel push and pull while creating footwork to keep an opponent in front of them and ideally, get them out of position,” Clayton says.
- Toe Tag: This game is fun at all levels and essential for youth wrestlers. “Learning to move our bodies in relation to another athlete develops key physical and mental skills for all ages,” Clayton says.
- Spider Fight: Develops balance, core, and back arching skills.
- Spinning Bear: Athletes develop circling skills from a modified snap-down position. This drill is great for developing both the offensive and defensive skills of the athlete.
What games does your club or program incorporate? What do the kids like and why? Comment below!