Making the Transition from Folkstyle to Freestyle

cheapseats photography

cheapseats photography

By Sarah Bollinger

I began wrestling when I was 4 years old, but didn’t start competing until high school. I was aware of freestyle because my older brother competed in both freestyle and greco during the summer. Besides that, I knew very little. I didn’t know it was the Olympic style, I didn’t know it was the style in college for women, and I didn’t know it was the style for high school national tournaments like Fargo. My junior year of high school, I was allowed to wrestle in a college open tournament. I did not have a coach and freestyle rules were different. I just wrestled. I thought I was winning the match, but it turns out I was loosing by a technical fall! This is how I learned you cannot expose your back in freestyle at all, or else risk giving up points (I tried to granby...a lot). Now as a college coach and former college athlete, I can say with confidence that freestyle is my passion! I always encourage young ladies at camps to continue working on freestyle because it is their future. Once you graduate high school, you compete exclusively in freestyle. Even during high school, you have the opportunity to become a freestyle world team member. Even at a young age, there should be nothing stopping you from dreaming of being the greatest! If you put the work in, you can be an Olympic Champion!

The fear of changing wrestling styles

When it came to transitioning from folkstyle to freestyle I didn’t think it would be hard or easy, I just knew it was going to be different. Many wrestlers are scared to try a new style, but I was excited to learn more. Mostly, this was due to the challenges of my first freestyle tournament. I also had the opportunity to work with some great wrestlers and coaches because my brother was already in the freestyle and greco world. I knew that if I wanted to succeed in college and on the senior level, I would need to focus on freestyle.

Making the transition

The two steps I took to help my transition to freestyle were to practice as much as possible, and to compete as often as possible. Putting time on the mat is a major factor that you can control completely.  I discovered who were the best coaches and athletes around me and found a way to train with them. My high school didn’t invest much time into freestyle, but I was committed to improving. During the summer I would drive two hours to practice at Laguna Hills with coach Valentin Kalika in the morning, then drive another hour to practice at Mark Munoz’s gym at night. In between those sessions, I added another workout. I went to any camps or practices offered by 2008 Olympian Marcie Van Dusen whenever I could. I attended three competitions my first summer, then countless the following year. I developed a passion for freestyle and never wanted to stop. I figured out how to make it happen, and took advantage of every opportunity.

The lessons from freestyle

I learned quite a few lessons from freestyle. I learned how to be a student of the sport. It is important to watch freestyle competitions and understand the history of the greatest sport in the world. I began to recognize the importance of someone you can look up to, follow, or learn from. Every great mentor/teacher was once inspired by their own mentor, past wrestler, or coach. Whether it is Helen Maroulis or your high school coach, always look for ways to grow. My toughest lesson was that it’s ok to fail. Failure is always an opportunity to learn, “Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you.” Proverbs 4:25 NLT. Focus on your goals. Don’t get sidetracked with little setbacks. Lastly, just wrestle. I always had so much fun being on the mat because I was doing what I loved, no matter the style.  

3 steps to jump in to freestyle fearlessly

  1. Be a student. Don’t be ignorant and think you know everything. No one knows everything about wrestling. Put the work in and always be ready to learn with an open mind. Freestyle is just another way to grow your talents and explore the sport you love so much.

  2. Make opportunities, don’t wait for them. I used to pity myself and think, ‘Well, I would be as good as her if I could travel like that.’ YOU are the only one that holds you back! Don’t compare yourself to others. Use your resources and become the best version of you. Watch video, practice in your living room with your little brother or sister, work on visualization. There is always something you can do to be better. Don’t let external factors keep you from being great!

  3. Enjoy it. I got injured my sophomore year of college and couldn’t wrestle for 8 months. I never took it for granted again. When I finally let go of worrying about external factors, I had the best year of my college career. I may not have won every match, but I did everything I could and gave 100%. It didn’t matter who was on the mat, I just wrestled. I can’t stress enough how important it is to keep your passion alive. Passion is what drives your motivation, and will ultimately allow you grow.

Sarah Bollinger is the Head Women’s Wrestling Coach at Southwestern College in Winfield, KS. She was a 3x WCWA All-American with Missouri Baptist, and graduated in 2016 with a Bachelor's degree in Exercise Science and Physical Education. She was an Assistant Wrestling Coach at Missouri Baptist for three years, where she helped produce six All-Americans and a national champion.

4 Things Athletes Need to Know for Preseason

Your preseason prep can be crucial for getting yourself ready for the season. This blog is your guide to a successful preseason. Are you ready? Lace up those shoes, let's get started!


1. Long run conditioning

Now is the time to work on those longer runs. The main criteria will be setting a few longer distances or routes (depending on if you run around the track, your neighborhood, or on a trail), and repeating those distances to beat your time. It is important to chose a few distances that are challenging, make sense for your skill level, and can be completed in the time frame you have to run. 

There is a good trick to helping your body adjust to pushing harder on those long distance runs, and that is called interval training or "fartlek" training. Totally bizarre name, we always laughed in high school cross-country when our coach would get us ready for our fartlek runs! It is actually the Swedish word for "speed-play," and that is how you will approach your runs. Set your run distance for something longer and challenging. Have a way to time yourself like a stop watch, your music player, or a phone. Your first 5-10 minutes of your run will be a good warm-up pace. Then, break into a hard run for 2-3 minutes, then a recovery run for 2-3 minutes. Repeat this until your distance is complete. Your hard run should simulate a hard pace that could ideally be kept up for quite a while, and your recovery should not be a shuffle. You can play with different paces and times that you can individualize for your current shape, which will change as your conditioning improves.


2. Weight lifting plan

If you already have someone you are working with, or someone who has given you a weight lifting plan, that is great! Make sure you are implementing it and being consistent. As much as I love working with weights, I don't always think you have to get a gym membership in order to have a weight lifting plan. I am a big fan of body weighted exercises that you can do at home. Below is a sample of a body weight workout you can take and implement. 

45 seconds work/ 15 seconds rest- 2-3 rounds

1. Push ups

2. Squat jumps

3. Front plank holds

4. Pistol squat (alt. legs each time) - use alternatives and progressions from this video here

Alternative FAW (Fulp-Allen Wrestling) workout blogs from the past here and here



If haven't read my blog on how to improve your stance, you can read that here! Stance work is hugely important to work on for your preseason conditioning! Positioning applies to every sport, so do what makes sense for you! 


4. Nutrition plan  

There is a lot of research and a lot of information out there regarding nutrition plans. Do your due diligence and start reading up on different nutrition plans. My recommendation is to start with small changes, and encourage your family to take those steps along with you. We all KNOW when we have neglected certain food groups or we need to improve on our choices, you knew before I even asked this question! Take a good look at your eating habits and implement a small change by maybe adding in a new vegetable or two. Carry fruit with you so you aren't stuck with only bad choices come lunch time. Whatever it is you know you need work on, look for small ways to improve. Nutrition is about lifestyle changes, NOT CREATING A DIET. Teach yourself good habits now that will create habits for a lifetime! Not a few months for the season. :) 

Find other FAW blogs on nutrition here and our USA Wrestling feature here