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Is Your Program’s Pipeline A Pipedream?

Ensuring your wrestling program’s success starts at the youth level I think we can all agree. If you don’t have an active youth club that can attract and develop wrestlers to progress through your program’s ranks into the middle school level and ultimately your high school team – odds are you’re frustrated like me.

I’ve been coaching for 20+ years at every level, but my latest high school coaching position really exposed me to how important an efficient youth program is to the success at the high school level. Traditionally, I believe most coaches view the typical progression model for their athletes looks similar to a pipeline. Kids enter at one end at the youth level and are pushed through the process over the years hoping what comes out the other end is a viable high school wrestler that can contribute to the team. For many programs, this pipeline process works just fine. Pipe sizes come in many sizes. Some programs appear to have pipes 6″ wide, while others make it work with pipes half that size. I felt like I was faced using a 1″ pipe, that had holes in it and causing air pockets.

Starting at the beginning, there are many factors that block entrance into most program pipes. Kids and parents today are different than generations in the past. Community support can hinder wrestling growth. The high school team’s current success plays a factor attracting the younger wave of wrestlers. Lack of coaching staff and parental support systems, the list can go on. I was faced with all of these and more I’m sure.

I needed to find a new way to build my program’s pipeline, so I threw the pipeline out completely. I rigged up a funnel instead with anticipation that widening my entry point would attract more wrestlers into the wrestling room.

If you’re reading this hoping to see data that this worked out for me – I apologize. At this point I have no before and after numbers to show that my decision worked out. However, anything is better than what was in place. I’m crossing my fingers as I type this. I will though share my plan I have mapped out for the coming year for my club.

I did a little Q&A with students at my school, asking non-wrestlers questions during conversations and here’s what I noticed. They may not be on board with wrestling itself initially, but their interest sparked when talking about various MMA styles and other combat sports. In which I asked, if there was an opportunity for them to participate in one of these other wrestling-related activities would they be interested. The majority of them replied with enthusiasm. Which got me thinking.

At the end of the day, I believe wrestling is wrestling. Styles may vary slightly, scoring can differ, but the skills cross over into one another. Even these other combat-style wrestling forms can develop a wrestler without them acknowledging it per say, so I added them to my club’s year-round training schedule. First, it gives my current wrestlers a break thinking they are wrestling all year… which they are but don’t tell them that. Second, it introduces other students to the wrestling room that would’ve never entered before.

I chose to add Judo, Beach Wrestling, Grappling, and Sambo to my year-round training schedule on top of Freestyle and Greco-Roman. All these styles can provide skill development to my current wrestlers to take into their Folkstyle season. Plus, I’ve been given an opportunity to build new relationships with non-wrestlers that should make the transition from “not trying wrestling” to actually “giving it a try” easier.

Do I know anything about these other forms – absolutely not. I’m having to learn myself the basics which is fun and I don’t mind. I find little things now and then from one style that I feel could be helpful with traditional Folkstyle and I’ll share that with my wrestlers. My goal is once I have established a core group of athletes in each new style I will look to find or hire an expert to develop and train them further.

Check out my Year-Round Training Schedule I have planned for my club.

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