Oklahoma State head wrestling coach John Smith explains how any wrestler can improve his quickness when shooting, sprawling and escaping-without a partner’s help.
As a coach, John Smith is an impressive man. He has led OSU to three consecutive NCAA titles and more than 200 dual victories. His 2005 team crowned a school-record five individual national champs and won the NCAA title by 70 points, the second largest margin in history.
As a wrestler, Smith is even more impressive. During his collegiate career at OSU, the grappler compiled a 154-7-2 record (going 90-1 during his junior and senior seasons); notched three Big Eight titles; and took home two national championship trophies. After his junior season, he won his first world title—an accomplishment unmatched by any collegiate wrestler. The first American to be awarded the Master of Technique and Outstanding Wrestler of the Year from FILA (the governing body of amateur wrestling), Smith also has two Olympic gold medals and a 100-5 international career record.
Whether you are awed more by Smith the Coach or Smith the Wrestler, his expertise is undeniable. Improve your shooting, sprawling and escaping quickness with these tips from the Master of Technique himself.
You Can Do It, Put Your Hips Into It
Technically, focus on keeping your body tight and penetrating with your hips under you with your head up and arms parallel to the mat. Any time your head and shoulders extend past the top of your hips, you won’t have any power. Your hips are the strongest part of the body; don’t leave them behind.
A Quick Shot
Wrestlers don’t need pure speed—40-yard-dash speed—to have a quicker shot. It’s about moving from a square to a staggered stance, changing levels and penetrating as quickly as possible. Repetition is the best way to work this. The more you repeat your shots, the more instinctive they become.
Practicing Your Shots
A key element, and one of the most challenging parts of wrestling, is learning to move your feet with your knees bent. Most people are very off-balance in a wrestling stance. Working on skills from your stance teaches you to move well on your feet.
We do a drill called Shadow Wrestling, which is just visualizing and wrestling an imaginary opponent. You circle your opponent, move in and out with your feet, legs and hands, and take shots. Focus on your technique, the quick penetration to get a leg, and work on explosion through shots over and over.
I like Shadow Wrestling because you’ll always have a partner. If you can visualize someone, you can drill as long as you want, because he never gets tired. You can put in 100 to 200 shots in 15 to 20 minutes. That provides all the repetition you need to develop and hone your quickness. You’re in a stance the whole time, which is very physically demanding. You’re an animal if you can go longer than 15-20 minutes.
Sprawling is about quick feet, picking up your legs and sprawling them back. The quicker you are with that, the better and more effective you are applying hip pressure. Sprawling is hard for most athletes, because they never learned to pick up their feet.
It’s all about keeping your head up. To put hip pressure on your opponent, your head’s got to be up—not down. To really lay on the pressure, you’ve got to drop your hips to a point where your back bows. You know you’re hitting a sprawl properly if your toes dig into the mat, your legs are extended, and you’re driving your opponent’s head and body to the mat. If you’re doing this right, your opponent will feel twice the pressure of your actual weight.
We do a drill called Hand Sprawl. To do this drill, bend at your knees and drop your right hand to the mat. Quickly pick up your right foot and extend that leg back. Perform again with your left side. This drill teaches you to stay in a stance and sprawl your legs back quickly.
We also do the Sprawl and Circle, which is the Hand Sprawl with one further step. When you sprawl, you have a bent leg and a long leg. The long leg is the one you extend back to avoid your opponent’s shot, and the bent leg is used to recover from the shot, drive into the opponent and score points. You work moving from defense to offense in this drill.
Tie these sprawl drills in with your Shadow Wrestling. This forces you to concentrate on taking shots and sprawling to respond to shots. Shadow Wrestling is an unbelievable workout because you can incorporate both.
The Hard Part
People really struggle with this part of wrestling. When I’m working with a freshman, whether he was a two-, three- or four-time high school state champion, this is his most difficult skill to hone. The skill level across the country is poor right now. We’re not teaching enough about what wrestling from the down position is really about.
Escapes are all about attitude. Here’s an example I often use: Pretend someone is holding your head under water. Are you going to come up? Or are you going to stay under and take the chance that you may never come up again? You need the attitude that you’re going to come up, you’re going to fight back and you’re going to survive. That’s what down-wrestling is about—attitude.
A Standup Escape
There’s no question that a standup is the strongest, most effective escape move. It’s explosion straight up to your feet. To perform a standup, push back into your opponent while simultaneously gaining hand control so you can turn and finish the escape. But, the standup is more attitude than anything else. It’s the I-will-get-to-my-feet-and-get-out mentality. Without that attitude, this move is very, very difficult against certain opponents.
We do a Wall Standup, which you don’t need a partner for. Start in the referee’s position with the right side of your body next to a wall, which simulates your opponent being to your right. Explode up to your feet and push your back against the wall. It’s just like a standup in a match, because the pressure from the wall is the type of pressure your opponent will use. From there, turn away, escape and repeat over and over. This is a tough drill, so perform it for only 12 to 16 minutes.
The Wall Standup develops leg strength, speed, quickness and back pressure, which are the skills necessary to standing up and escaping.
Last Wrestling Words
There’s no excuse not to have a good shot, sprawl or escape. You don’t need a good workout partner to develop these skills, so that is an excuse I’ll never buy with my student athletes. We’ve got drills to improve quickness, speed and power that you can do on your own. The drills I provided produce great improvements quickly, and they require nothing more than time and hard work. Our best athletes use these drills year-round, and their abilities on the mat reflect that.