It is very important for wrestlers to be well-rounded, because you end up in every position at some point during a match. That’s the nature of the sport [and] you have to be knowledgeable in all areas.
Most freshmen come into our program lacking bottom skills, because most of them were superior athletes in high school; and they don’t spend much time training on bottom, because they are rarely there during a match.
Guys such as Andrew Howe [NCAA runner-up at 165 pounds as a true freshman], in high school he was so good that he was hardly ever on bottom. But this year he dedicated a lot of time on bottom and actually won a lot of overtimes by getting away in sudden death.
Another attribute that freshmen tend to lack is focus. The really good kids in high school don’t have that many wars during the season. But coming in as a true freshman, you are wrestling against men a lot older and more experienced than you, and focusing plays a big role. Freshmen tend to have lapses, where they can’t stay focused for the whole seven minutes because they never really had to do that in high school. College is just a different level. Usually guys in college are more explosive, and a lot of guys like to go at a fast pace.
It all comes down to basic fundamental skills. At all levels—high school, college and international—if you are out of position, you are going to get scored on.
High school kids sometimes are so good, they can get sloppy in certain situations with positioning, but still manage to get away with it because they are the superior athlete and are used to beating kids easily.
The best way to prepare for the change from high school to college wrestling is by focusing on proper positioning to prevent bad habits. Work on position every day. Work on skills that may not be your best, along with working on the bottom position.
The bottom line is that you want to work on all your skills every day when you train. There is no doubt you are going to work on areas that are your best, but at the same time, focus on the areas that you normally get beat at. If it is the bottom, then work there, and spend a little more time on your weaknesses.
Barry Davis is the head wrestling coach for the University of Wisconsin.