As a wrestler, I see a lot of articles and posts about famous athletes in other sports that also wrestled. The articles usually come from the perspective of athletes that use wrestling to accent their primary sport. I’m looking to change it up a little and approach this article from the perspective of athletes who are wrestlers first but use track and field to improve their wrestling.
(In the spirit of taking a different perspective, I like to joke with baseball and lacrosse players and say they’re just the kids that weren’t fast enough to make the track team.)
As both a wrestling and track and field evangelist, let me first get a common objection out of the way. “It’s freestyle season. I need to be wrestling freestyle.” Fine. Wrestle freestyle. If you’re very competitive and are training for Junior Nationals, States or whatever, that’s your choice. I admire your commitment and won’t disagree with your training goals. However, if you’re one of the thousands of kids that will likely not wrestle again after high school, why not consider track for all the reasons listed below.
Also, if you’re a competitive wrestler, why not just use it for conditioning? Chances are your track coach will let you on the team knowing your wrestling commitments. Track is a very supportive environment that, like wrestling, encourages participation in order to grow the sport. You can be a part of the team and, by being part of that team, use it for your conditioning.
Now on to my Top 10 List:
1. You have a great chance at success– So many of the traits you learn in wrestling are directly transferable to several specific events in track and field. I’m not even talking about our work ethic and attention to detail. I’m talking about our physical talents. The beauty of these events is they will also help us with our wrestling too.
Pole Vault– Without getting into too much kinesiology, just think of the muscle groups and strength it takes to do the pole vault. Now think of the confidence it also requires. Who better to do the pole vault than wrestlers? We have the upper body and core strength to contort ourselves over the bar. More importantly, we have the confidence from all of our experiences and challenges competing on big stages by ourselves. We know how to compete with nerves.
Weights– I know lineman in football and heavyweights in wrestling tend to get typecast into shot put and discus. Which makes sense because where there’s smoke there’s fire. We’re typecast into these events for good reason. We’re usually the biggest kids in school and can also move well.
The learning is reciprocal here in that the shot putter can learn to pop their hips in a way that can be beneficial to wrestling. The shot put and discus teach short burst explosions as well as balance. Just think of the hip popping when you put the shot. Every rep of a shot put or discus is akin to popping your hips for a takedown or popping your hips to lift and return your opponent to the mat.
Distance runners– This is pretty self explanatory. Wrestling is a conditioning sport. The conditioning, competitive spirit and, quite frankly, pain tolerance we possess transfers directly to distance running. Running a mile or a cross country race is painful. Guess what else is painful? You guessed it, a wrestling match. Just think of the benefits here for when you’re in a match and it’s the third period or overtime. You have gained additional experience pushing through pain barriers.
2. Get out of the wrestling room and get outside. After spending months in a sweatbox, I couldn’t wait to get outside for Spring Track. I didn’t even care if the spring was still cold.
I used to remember the first few days of spring track as being really bright. It wasn’t bright; I’d just been cooped up for so long in the wrestling room, my eyes hadn’t adjusted yet.
I also remember the smell. Just like there’s a certain smell to a wrestling room, there’s a certain smell to spring that always reminds me of spring track. In addition to being a distance runner, I was also a shot putter. I can still, to this day, smell the dirt on my hands from picking up a just thrown shot put or discus where you had to wipe the dirt off. I can also still feel the cold steel of the shot balancing on my fingers.
Get outside, avoid the burnout and cabin fever of being inside a wrestling room and get a fresh perspective.
3. Supportive environment. You will enjoy it and you will enjoy the culture. I also played football and wrestled which are two contact sports that are, how would you say, slightly intense. There’s a lot of testosterone and yelling. The only time I remember people yelling at me in track was when they were yelling at me in the middle of a race to run faster. It was supportive yelling. The environment in track and field is very unique and just as supportive as wrestling. The big difference is your parents support you on outdoor bleachers rather than indoor bleachers. I can’t say enough about how similar the support network is between wrestling and track and field.
4. It gives you a chance to be on a team with everyone. With fall and winter sports, I was on teams with a lot of the same kids. And the other teams were out on the same fields so you crossed paths with them too. Being on track, it has a much more diverse group of athletes and students. There was an old wrestling poster I remember with Tim Vanni and Bruce Baumgartner that said, “Any Body Can Wrestle”. It’s the same with track. Any body can run, to include kids that may be more focused on other activities or academics. I loved being on a team with these other kids. Wrestlers have diverse interests that align well with other student athletes.
5. The girls– (I know there are girls in wrestling now. However, there were none when I competed so I’m running with it. I’m not about to leave material on the cutting room floor.)
A lot of coaches are like Mickey from Rocky. They believe there are too many distractions with a coed environment and that, to quote Mickey, “Women weaken legs.”. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, there’s nothing more motivating. Imagine you have a race and there’s someone at the meet or on your team you think is cute. This is going to inspire you to run faster to impress them more than anything you hear from a coach.
In all seriousness and much like #4, it’s fun to be on a team with different student to include your female friends. I know girl’s wrestling is growing in popularity but they’re still small in numbers. Coming from a sport that is predominantly male, it’s fun to compete on a team with your female friends.
It’s also a window into what girl’s wrestling can become with years of experience. Girls have been running track since the beginning and you can see it in their technique and the quality they bring to the table. What will girl’s wrestling look like in future decades?
6. Diversify your exercise and avoid overuse injuries. I’m not a strength trainer but I know a little. And one of the things preached is to diversify your workouts in order to not burnout or plateau and to prevent injury due to overuse. It can be healthy to get off the mat or reduce the amount of time you spend on it. It’s healthy to train different muscle groups.
You won’t lose anything just by a few weeks of running and, who knows, you may improve your cardio. It won’t be wrestling cardio but you still may be improved.
The way I see it, you’re multitasking or double-dipping. It’s like you’re getting paid to stay in shape. You’re not making money but you’re getting or staying in shape while, at the same time, competing on a team with your friends.
7. Does not require the same level of commitment on “drilling” technique. As wrestlers, we live and die by drill and it takes an incredible amount of time and attention to detail. In track, you can be successful without having to spend the same hours you spend in wrestling on drilling.
Don’t get me wrong here. Track and field, depending upon your event, can require a tremendous amount of technique. Whether it’s high jump, hurdles, shot put, pole vault and even distance running, these events require an incredible amount of practice and technique work. Wrestlers excel in these settings should you want to compete in these events. However, if you just want to be a sprinter or run distance at the high school level, fast is fast.
Put simply, if you wanted to pick up wrestling in high school, your chances of succeeding will be very small. In fact, you’re probably going to get mauled and it’s going to be very painful. In track, not only is no one mauling you physically due to your inexperience, they’re not going to be leaps and bounds ahead of you.
I had at least five guys on my Rider University Wrestling team that never ran track yet could easily break a 5-minute mile. Would they have been state champs, no, but they would have placed in and won meets with those times.
Again, fast is fast.
8. You’re competing against yourself. Many wrestlers are very talented athletically. But let’s face it, some wrestlers are grinders. It’s one of the things that attracted them to wrestling and one of the reasons they’re good. They know that if they are singularly focused and train harder than the next guy, they can be successful. The beauty of track is, even if you’re a grinder and may not be fast, you’re competing against yourself. If you grind and work hard, you will succeed. You will succeed against the clock and against yourself. Whether it’s improving your run times or the distance of your throws, it’s an internal battle for improvement. The best way to describe it is by a quote I heard that said, “Not all champions are on the podium.” But you can be a champion through your efforts and through a commitment to improvement.
9. Another outlet to compete. Wrestlers love to compete. As I like to say, people’s two greatest fears are speaking in public and dying. With wrestling, you’re going out on the mat, by yourself, and competing against someone that’s trying to kill you. (Not literally, of course.)
We love to wrestle because we love the adrenaline of these moments. Although you’re not competing by yourself, running a race provides a similar supply of adrenaline. No one is snapping your head or tying up with you, but your heart rate spikes the same and your legs turn to fire and melt the same too.
A 400m race is a little over one minute. An 800m race is a little over two minutes. A mile (1600 m) is a little less than five minutes. (If you’re good) These times translate evenly to periods or even a complete match. The self discipline you will learn competing in these timeframes, with your legs on fire and your heart feeling like it’s about to explode, translate well to the third period or overtime of a championship match.
10. Knowledge. Training for wrestling can be very cerebral. If we want to be successful, there is a great deal of education required outside the wrestling room. Whether it’s nutrition or training techniques, you can pick up a great deal of knowledge from a sport focused exclusively on running. Whether it’s training or weight cutting, we spend a lot of time as wrestlers running. Track coaches can teach you how to break down the mileage you run, interval workouts you may not have known, recovery techniques, proper shoes etc…. Wrestling and track are two of the oldest sports known to man. Why not pick up the knowledge from the other half of history?
I love the idea of a multi-sport athlete and I believe track and field is a great compliment to wrestling. I guess my biggest pitch is this, if you’re the next Cael Sanderson, Helen Maroulis or Jordan Burroughs, maybe you should be singularly focused. However, if you’re a high school kid that loves wrestling and wants to do another sport to compliment your conditioning, track and field is a great option. All the other examples I listed above are just bonuses.
Mike Westhead was a high school track and field athlete as well as a 4-year starter and NCAA qualifier for Rider University Wrestling.
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