Why Continued Education is Mandatory for Coaches in Today's Climate

photo by michael vayan

photo by michael vayan

Over the past twenty years, college wrestling programs across the US have been drastically cut. An unforeseen result of the loss of these programs was the loss of growth in the new coaches arena. As programs are beginning to expand once again, and exponentially in the women's sector, there is a shortage of wrestling coaches available for these opportunities. Enter the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA). Their goal is to ensure opportunities in wrestling for future generations by bringing the wrestling community together. Through their leadership academy, they have developed coaching and training opportunities for both male and female coaches. The ever growing responsibilities of a modern day wrestling coach has created a need for the tools provided by the NWCA. Here are a few reasons this kind of opportunity is essential:  

Why it's important

The engagement and importance of a "CEO" style coach is becoming necessary in today's college programs. However, not everyone innately possess these skills. Most learn from mentors or from external resources, which teach them how to become the best all around coach they can. Learning through resources on your own is time consuming, and not everyone may have the means to contact the right mentor. It is essential to take advantage of workshop-like opportunities to further a coach's arsenal of capabilities. 

Program essentials

The need for a program to be successful has been redefined. No longer can your athletes only be equipped with good technique and a school uniform to sufficiently compete. Today, in order to sustain a program, a coach must be supported by fundraising, travel, equipment, and proper training volumes and phases for peaking and tapering. What is required for a coach today is a completely different animal from the coach of 20 years ago. Without empowering yourself to expand your knowledge and ability to maintain a program, it will be difficult to pass those skills along to your athletes. Just like the skills and capabilities needed to be successful in the work force of today, so have the skills for a coach expanded. 

Shortage of coaches

The sport for women is growing faster than we have coaches available take up programs and positions. This starts at the increasing number of college programs, and trickles down to the needs at the youth levels. This means it is imperative for both men and women to continue their coaches education in order to meet the demand. Creating a highly educated group of coaches will create high level social, leadership, management, adaptability, and wrestling skills being taught to elementary age kids through college. 

2016 NWCA Leadership academy for women's programs

2016 NWCA Leadership academy for women's programs

You're not sure how to get back into coaching

Sometimes we don't even know where to start. Getting back into the coaching world can be intimidating, especially if the coaching in your area is very established. There is always a need for extra support when it comes to creating opportunities for kids. You don't need to be searching for a college position in order to support the growth of the sport. It is not uncommon for a head coach to become stretched thin, especially if they have multiple age or gender groups they must accommodate. Make yourself available. The more coaching education background and experience you can provide, the more you can market your skills. There are always needs for specific technique areas, getting kids to competitions, and fundraising management. There is easily a hole that will need to be filled with your expertise. From there, the more support you can create for a program, the more experience you will gain and be an asset as an assistant coach or head coach in the future. We forget that most people who are "on top," (i.e. head coach at a college or university) started with being a volunteer in the room in whatever capacity was needed. 

Increase your confidence

Not everyone finishes their competitive career and immediately feels like they can be a confident coach. Not everyone who decides to coach wrestling has had wrestling experience themselves. Many amazing youth wrestling coaches may have never competed a day themselves, but have been successful due to their ability to bring a team and resources together to create a successful program. This is due to their ability to recognize key attributes needed in a coach, and to capitalize on their own strengths. Arm yourself with skills through a well thought out program. Sarah Bollinger attended the coaches academy in 2016 when she first started coaching. Attending the seminars helped her lay a path for success:

"I was able to learn a lot from (attending) the different seminars and the online modules. After that, NWCA has always looked out for me, and with the help of Mike Moyer, I just took a head coaching position at a new program! They have continually supported me every step of the way. I’m happy I was able to attend the Women’s Leadership Academy."
-Sarah Bollinger, Head Women's Coach Southwestern College

Know where you stand

Do you know what your strengths are? Your weaknesses are? Why you haven't gone back into the wrestling room to begin coaching? Why are you not as confident in the room around the athletes/parents/other coaches as you could be? Especially if you are looking to accommodate the needs of a specific age group, the NWCA resources will help you learn how to do just that. 

Academy details

The NWCA leadership program was developed by Dr. Dan Gould of Michigan State University and will will be held July 31st through August 2nd. By applying, you have the opportunity to receive a full scholarship to attend the program. If you are a coach looking to further your career as an assistant or head coach of a college program, there are always skills to add to your resume! Along with these college-specific coaching academies, the NWCA has resources for any level coach.

Are you convinced this is right for you? Then get going on that application!




Monique Cabrera: Encouraging New Athletes to the Wrestling Room

Male or female, how do you encourage a new wrestler when they step on the mat for the first time?

For the past decade, I have been coaching boys and girls high school wrestling. It has been easier enrolling girls to wrestle than boys because I myself am a woman, and wrestled for the high school where I am currently coaching. Feedback has been vital in order to encourage boys and girls to wrestle for the first time. It helps me understand how I can best support their goals and keep them coming back to the mat. Typically, I ask a new athlete why they want to join the sport. There are various reasons to why a young teen wants to join wrestling: from getting into shape, to being more confident, and my favorite to be a part of a family. Over the last five years I have reiterated to high school athletes that wrestling isn't just a team, but a family and a culture to help shape and support becoming a better individual all around.

Instilling values in a new wrestler

Wrestling isn’t just a sport but a lifestyle. How you approach wrestling is how you will most likely approach the rest of your life. I believe student athletes get value from others' experiences who they can relate to. With the support of past captains and alumni, I encourage many to visit the team and share how wrestling has influenced their everyday lives. They preach the importance of staying committed to yourself to get a task done, just like staying committed to finishing a wrestling season. Discipline is needed beyond high school when you decide to go to college, into the military, or to the workforce. Finally the values we have created speaks to supporting, inspiring and lifting each other up on and off the mat through sportsmanship and trust. Our student-athletes continuously do community service and volunteering their time and knowledge to younger kids who choose to participate in wrestling. They are involved in their local community centers and help put on bully boot camp seminars which are free in the Los Angeles area.

Monique's coaching values 

Over the course of my wrestling and coaching career, I have had amazing coaches. Thomas Griffith, Ray Castellanos (current boys coach at the South El Monte H.S.), Lee Allen, Donnie Stephens (Cumberlands), and Terry Steiner. These coaches have supported not only wrestling, but girls wrestling. I have been face to face with quite a few coaches who have told me “I don’t get paid to coach girls,” or “girls do not belong on the mat unless their keeping stats." This is why the coaches I've named have been stand outs for women's wrestling and great influences for me. I needed both the good, the bad, and the ugly coaches in order to develop my style and to have a better understanding of how to develop a girls league in Southern California, but still support boys wrestling at the same time. Wrestling is a win-lose when sport in a match. However, when it comes to promoting, developing, and growing a sport like wrestling, it must be a win-win for both the boys and girls wrestling programs. We have been able to do this successfully at South El Monte High School.

How coaches should encourage new kids to try the sport

The biggest success I have had was having my captains and returners talk to friends and peers to join them at Open Mats during the off season to try the sport to learn at their own pace and to see if they ultimately like it. At the same time We have partnered with BTSLA to run a youth wrestling program where we have our returners and captains volunteer coach and work with the 6th-8th graders that will be joining South El Monte High School soon. This creates a community and team culture so they are accepted and welcomed as incoming freshmen.

What goes around comes around

I am honored to give back to my community and the high school that I came from. When I wrestled for South El Monte High School (2002-2005) I was the only girl until my junior year. Myself and Teri Milkoff were the only two girls who placed at girls regionals and state while being part of an all boys team. In 2014, thanks to the support from my high school coach Ray Castellanos, I was given the platform to create an official girls team. This allowed me to become the first head coach for girls wrestling in the San Gabriel Valley and Southern California Region. I have been lucky to have the support system from my colleagues when I invite, instruct, and coach both the boys and girls on the team. The influence you have on your athletes, male or female, will affect how they decide to give back to this sport. 

photo by dana barsuhn

photo by dana barsuhn

Monique Cabrera wrestled in California and was a state placer. When she wrestled for Menlo College, she was varsity captain and a 2x WCWA All-American. She placed 7th and 8th at the Senior US Open in 2007 and 2008. She is currently on her 4th season as the head girls coach at South El Monte High School where she also heads the local Beat the Streets LA youth program. 



Emma Randall: The Problem with Specializing in Sport too Early

Why early specialization is happening

There is a lot of pressure for young athletes to be successful. Being successful on the playing field has education, career, and social implications. The better the athlete, the greater the scholarship amount to play a collegiate sport, the greater chance of continuing on a professional level. The better the result, the more recognition the athlete or the parent receive from those around them. The notion that sport is fun, which instills healthy active lifestyles and teaches life skills has been put on the back burner. The idea that multi-sport athletes produce whole athletes with better overall skills, is second to specialization. It is believed that single-sport sport specific skills produces the highest quality. Here's the danger with this mentality: it feeds the mindset that if specializing at 18 is good, then specializing at 13 is better. And if this is the case, then we should begin specializing our children in one sport at 8 to get an earlier start ahead of peers.

What are the consequences 

The overemphasis on being successful has been detrimental to sports. The need to be successful, as well as specialization, has lead to overtraining in which athletes are investing entirely too many hours for their age. The ten thousand hour rule (Malcom Gladwell's rule which insists investing 10,000 hours in anything makes you a master in that area) only reinforces this idea: “If I am going to be successful, I have to fully invest myself to the task with deliberate practice for at least ten years. The later I start my ten years, the later I achieve my goal.” The repeated motions of sport or even the amount of time in sport can lead to severe or career ending injuries at a younger age. The amount of pressure in the form of expectations of success from self, parents, coaches, and even social media can lead to anxiety, fear of failure, and even burnout. When we over identify in one role in life, such as the role of an wrestler, we limit our sources of joy, confidence, and support. If were to loose our identity as a wrestler because of injury, not making the team, or losing a state title, we start to wonder am I really a wrestler? If I am not, then who am I? Where do I fit into this world? What talents or skills do I have that I can be confident in? Who can I turn to for support? This is dangerous for anyone, let alone a young athlete when their mental health is at stake.

How to combat the problem

It starts with education to the stakeholders involved. Parents rarely choose to do something they know will hurt their children. Coaches rarely make choices that would set their athlete back. Providing coaches and parents with the pros and cons of specialization allows them to make an educated choice on how to act, instead of following today's social norms of youth sport. Believing early specialization means more success is a dangerous narrative.  As a parent, encourage your athlete to be diverse. Just because she wants participate in one sport, doesn’t mean you can’t encourage her to build hobbies and social activities around other positive areas of her life. If your athlete pushes back, make it a family event which provides a well needed break from sport. As a coach, encourage your athletes to try other sports and hobbies and provide down time if it’s a year round program. Value the whole person and not only the athlete's success on the mat or playing field. Shake up practices with warm-ups that include different sports and skills that are unusual for your sport. Utilize cross-over training sessions with other teams in which your team jumps into volleyball or basketball while the next week they jump to learn your sport's skills. If you see an athlete continually exhausted or injured, encourage them to take a mental and physical break. It's easy to believe that by allowing a week or two away from sport, they will easily walk away. In reality, the athlete will come back more motivated and healthy to do a sport they love.

Emma Randall is the head girls development director for Beat the Streets NY and was a member of Team USA’s coaching staff since 2012. She was a coach for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, and has been coach of numerous world teams at all age levels.

Emma earned her B.A. and M.S. in Sports Psychology from Lock Haven University where she competed for the team and wrestled on the senior circuit. In 2016, Randall earned her USA Wrestling Gold level coaching certification. She is one of 68 coaches to hold that certification and the only woman. Through her own business, Evolve Leadership and Performance Training, she is dedicated to the growth and development of females and coaches in sports.


Defeating Impostor Syndrome as Female Coaches

L.A. Jennings and athlete, photo by bordertown

L.A. Jennings and athlete, photo by bordertown

Wrestling has a problem: women aren't coming back to coach. And when they do, they face an uphill battle because they fail to internalize their own accomplishments. This is called Imposter Syndrome, a term coined in 1978 by a clinical psychologist. It has become a buzzword in recent years, and couldn't be more relevant to the sport of women's wrestling. 

What is imposter syndrome exactly? It is the feeling that you don't belong, don't deserve to get that promotion, or be the coach to that athlete in the corner. It is common amongst 70% of the population, but more common among minority groups. It is extremely prevalent in athletes, as the constant drive for perfection causes fraudulent thoughts. There is always something more to achieve, higher to gain, a way to work harder. When it feels like the work is never done, it is easy to become dissatisfied and dismissive of accomplishments. This, on top of being a female in a male dominated sport, is the perfect storm for imposter syndrome. 

How it relates to wrestling

In the wrestling world, and in other male dominated sports, we have certain expectations about who is in the athlete's corner. Most of the time, we see men in the corner operating as the coach. This causes females to feel they need to prove themselves. First as athletes, then as coaches. We start believing that we can't possibly be as accomplished as those around us (successful males wrestlers and coaches). It feels easier not to try, and to leave the possibility of success to others instead. We fail to imagine how deeply flawed others actually are. We paint of picture of what a wrestling coach should look like, and then we say... "that's not me." We know ourselves from the inside, but we only know others from the outside which is filtered information. When it is difficult to internalize your own accomplishments, the prevalent emotion is the fear of being exposed as a "fraud." 

These feelings can paralyze women with wrestling experience and intimidate them from coming back into a coaching position. Not only did they have to battle to have the opportunity to wrestle (possibly as the only female on an all-male team team), but coaching becomes yet another battle full of the same anticipations of skill.

You don't have enough experience 

As women we often downplay our experience. Research shows women are more likely to internalize failure and criticism than their male counterparts. When the opportunities for females don't look the same as male wrestlers or coaches have had, it can feel like accomplishments were out of luck and not hard work. That the achievement had nothing to do with talent. Could this be the reason some women do not return to their sport to coach?


L.A. Jennings is a professor, competitive fighter, gym owner, coach, and author. She has had extensive experience in the world of expectations and dealing with her own fraudulent feelings. The reactions from the combat community were often dismissive or reluctant of her accomplishments. As a coach, Jennings was often asked to leave the competition preparation areas. It was assumed that she was a girlfriend of a competitor and not a coach. Those reactions created an internal self doubt that perpetuated a dialogue about not belonging: 

"My feelings are based on other's reactions, and then I start second guessing myself. We have this power and authority (as females) to be there, yet we still feel nervous being in the corner."

-L.A. Jennings, Owner, Train. Fight. Win. MMA Gym


The idea of our mistakes revealing something negative about our abilities is often the root of the problem. Those with perfectionist tendencies fall victim to imposter syndrome more easily. When we have certain expectations of what makes a "perfect" coach, we tend to nit-pick and compare ourselves to our internalized expectations, or feel like we aren't the right person for the job. Jacque Davis, girls Program Director for Beat the Streets New York and National Team Head Coach, has often had feelings of comparison while making sure she is properly preparing her athletes: "I feel paralyzed about making a mistake and it effecting them. 

Did I hand fight with them too much, did I not try and make them laugh enough, did they need to get a better sweat?"

-Jacque Davis, Head Coach BTSNY, Junior World Team Coach, College All-American


How do we defeat it?

When noticing feelings of intimidation or when questioning capabilities, look at the athletes who trust you and your judgement. L.A. Jennings reminds herself about her athlete's reasons they want her in the corner, "I look at my fighter who trusts me and i know they wouldn't put their time and energy into training with me if they didn't think I was appropriate for cornering them. They trust me and they are here for a reason."

Self doubt is internalized. Look at the external factors that exist, because they often help distinguish what you are perpetuating internally and how others actually see you as a professional. It takes a leap of faith to recognize that others feel just as anxious as you do. Hold yourself accountable when you find the inner voice saying you don't belong. Hold others accountable when they hide behind what they may deem as modesty. Their lack of self-recognition is a form of imposter syndrome. When you "air your dirty laundry" of mistakes and lessons for others, you empower yourself to empower others. Confront and call out the things that may isolate others from doing what they are actually passionate about. When we command authority of our internal language, we can see the shift in our world and how we perceive ourselves. 

Tournament Analysis: Girls Folkstyle Nationals

Attending the US Marine Corps Folkstyle Nationals in Oklahoma City was the first time in quite a while I was able to watch a national high school wrestling event. It was a great opportunity to get the know the wrestlers, have them get to know me, and ask what kinds of content they would like to see on LuchaFIT. After all, this website is all about creating fun and valuable content for the wrestlers, coaches, and their supporters! As with most national tournaments, I saw a lot of excitement, a lot of heartbreak, and a lot of desire to become better wrestlers. Here are a few key pointers I saw that those attending (and even those wrestlers not in attendance) could learn from. 


The girls who were able to hold off an attack and counter with their own offense were the wrestlers who were able to stay in the match. From there, these wrestlers were able to widen the gap in score. How? The little adjustments in defensive positioning, and the mentality to keep fighting with their defense. This allowed the defensive wrestler to see the right moment where they could re-attack, or allowing the match to go back to the feet by shutting down an opponents offense. This is what coaches are talking about when they say "don't give up easy points." Forgetting to stay in the moment (especially in defense) and starting to panic about the score, or potential score, creates those lapses in concentration. Create opportunities for yourself by focusing on defense. 


Recovering with technique even when you are in poor position is a great strategy to prevent getting behind in the score. Find your way back to your feet when you've taken a bad shot, in a front head lock, or when your opponent is trying to pressure you down in a tripod. Re-create these "bad position" scenarios in practice where you are at a disadvantage. The top level girls in the country are able to find creative ways back to their feet when they know their positioning is putting them at risk for getting scored upon.


This encompasses so much more than having the strongest collar tie at the tournament. In the post on improving the speed of your takedown, I discussed how wrestlers tend to cling with their collar ties because they think that is the way to distract their opponent. How often do you see matches where both wrestlers are tied up tight and locked in place either head-to-head or ear-to-ear? There's typically no action and someone is bound to be called for stalling. The top girls know how to create movement through fakes, and be in position (hands inside!) without getting distracted with so much tying up. They are able to create movement without clinging, and able to use fakes to distract and create an offense.

Go-to strategy

I noticed the wrestlers who were behind in a match but came back had 1 or 2 techniques from each position in their arsenal. They were able to use mis-direction to get to their strengths. Even if their go-to attack wasn't perfectly executed, they knew how to continue the pressure forward. That relentless pressure put their opponents back on their heels, and makes it hard to defend the attack. Narrow your focus in the wrestling room and perfect a few moves that work well for you.