How to Evaluate a College Wrestling Program

For parents and athletes, making the decision to commit to a college wrestling program can be daunting. There are numerous factors to consider in order to choose the right school, let alone the right coach and team. We know that the academic needs are most important. It should be a huge factor in choosing a college. When I attended Menlo College, my father Lee Allen coached and directed all the athletes towards success in the classroom. Graduation was priority and the goal was to find a career after sport. This article specifically focuses on analyzing the team and coaching aspects, which will be important in deciding a program that fits you. 

Wrestling Goals

You should make a list of your goals for wrestling in college. There are plenty of factors which go into how to evaluate a good fit based on what your realistic goals are for wrestling. Don't tell a coach what you think they want to hear. Not everyone wants to take the journey to make an Olympic team and that's perfectly fine! A coach wants to support your athletic goals because they can bring out the best in you.

First time doing freestyle

If you are pretty green to the freestyle world, it would be best to talk with a coach who is excited to help develop your skills as an athlete. It is important to distinguish the appeal of a successful team with a wrestling team that actually meets your needs. That could mean a smaller and newer team environment may suit your needs. A large and well established team could mean you get lost in the practice room and have to rely on teammates correcting your mistakes. A smaller wrestling team could mean more individual time, and more opportunity to compete. 

photo by al case, ashland daily

photo by al case, ashland daily

Wrestling schedule

Does the team travel more or less than your goals or interests allow? When do you need to be at school for pre-season training? Is the team more or less involved in the senior level wrestling schedule than you would like to be? Adding senior and international competition will make the season much longer. If your plan is to make Junior and Senior world teams, then find a coach and team who supports those goals. If you only plan to wrestle the college season and focus on school and cross training, be sure the coach and program will support your level of participation.

Wrestling coach and team

Do your goals for your career line up with the coaching philosophy? Does the school have alumni wrestlers you can connect with to help your success on and off the mat? Have you visited the school and do you enjoy the practice structure? Do you enjoy the team dynamics? Does the team do outside wrestling activities together or team bonding? For many wrestlers (myself included), they meet their best friends on their college wrestling team. Be sure you give yourself a chance to stay with the athletes and find a connection with your potential teammates when you visit the school. 

Athlete amenities

Does the school have a strength and conditioning professional? Great weight room? Does the mat space match up with the number of athletes? Do they have sports medicine and recovery amenities for athletes? How does the school work to support their athletes to ensure graduation success? Rest, recovery, repeat along with eat, sleep, breathe, wrestle will be essential to support your longevity as a college athlete. College wrestling is about becoming a well rounded athlete and learning how to properly train. But you also must be supported academically. 

Advice from a college wrestler

Menlo College alumni and current South El Monte High School girls head coach Monique Cabrera talks about the best type of advice she gives to parents and athletes. She says that even though every coach wants to win, they should be looking at the bigger picture of getting an education, developing skills to be productive in society, and to be successful in life. She believes that knowing and understanding the program's history and background will give the parent and athlete a better understanding the institution and to help you know if its a good fit for the athlete.

 
"Student-athletes get caught up in wanting to win and life being all about wrestling. They forget important factors like cost of college, majors available, and classes needed to get a degree. Ultimately, they must decide if this program is a good fit to make it a new home."
-Monique Cabrera
 
 

Your selection will be entirely individual. Someone else's decision to be a part of one program will most likely not be the same for you. Take the time you need to fully understand what a program is offering you and if it fits with your goals. Remember, a happy wrestler is a dangerous wrestler. When you are happy with your school and wrestling team, you will find growth!

What do you think are MUST HAVE steps athletes and parents need to go through in order to properly evaluate a program to see if its right for them? The three must haves for a program in my experience was do they have my major? Even undecided something similar to what I was gearing towards. Resources is another huge must have meaning does the program have the resources and connections to support me in getting my classes, jobs, clubs and accessibility of internships to networking with others to advance my status and future. To finally actually liking my campus, the environment provided as well as the coaching staff and current student-athletes. It’s scary but most of the times student-athletes get caught up in wanting to win and it being all about wrestling that they sometimes forget the cost of college to the major and classes needed to get a degree and ultimately if this program is a good fit to make it a new home.

 

Advice when it comes to meeting coaches and the team for the first time

The best type of advice I would give to parents and athletes when evaluating college wrestling teams are the philosophy of their program and the outcome they would like to produce for the athlete as well as the team. For example, every coach wants to win granted; but if the coach looks at the bigger picture on having your athlete get an education, develop his/her skills to be productive in society and to be successful in their adult life that’s always a plus. Also taking part in the programs history and background will also give the parent and athlete a better understanding of program and the institution as well to see if its a good fit for the athlete.

  1. What does learning about the history of the program teach you? Did you talk with current wrestlers at menlo or alumni? I didn’t learn much about Menlo College beforehand. It was my Junior year in high school and I was at the state tournament in Vallejo, California when Lee Allen and Sara Fulp-Allen approached me after I head and armed a girl in the semi’s and Coach Allen said I should wrestle in College. I didn’t even know there was women’s wrestling in college until I met him. When I decided to go to college for wrestling it was between Menlo and Cumberlands out of the whopping 5 colleges that had wrestling in the United States. Menlo had my major, Coach Allen’s approach and philosophy wasn’t only to develop me as a wrestler but to develop a program and to grow the sport of women’s wrestling. If Coach Allen never approached me I don’t think I would of wrestled and be an all-American at the collegiate and senior national level to owning my own business and developing young lives through wrestling.

  2. What kind of non-wrestling values were important to you in choosing a program? The support and trust of being part of a family to make it my home away from home which helped me leave the inner-city. Menlo’s wrestling program in my experience supported the development of women’s wrestling as well as the growth of young women to become great women to impact, inspire future generations and those around them.

  3. What do you think are MUST HAVE steps athletes and parents need to go through in order to properly evaluate a program to see if its right for them? The three must haves for a program in my experience was do they have my major? Even undecided something similar to what I was gearing towards. Resources is another huge must have meaning does the program have the resources and connections to support me in getting my classes, jobs, clubs and accessibility of internships to networking with others to advance my status and future. To finally actually liking my campus, the environment provided as well as the coaching staff and current student-athletes. It’s scary but most of the times student-athletes get caught up in wanting to win and it being all about wrestling that they sometimes forget the cost of college to the major and classes needed to get a degree and ultimately if this program is a good fit to make it a new home.

Mallory Velte: How I Chose Where to Wrestle in College

photo by  tony rotundo

photo by tony rotundo

Mallory Velte started her wrestling journey in California. Despite first being told she could not join the team, she has pushed past obstacles to become a 3x college national champion, a junior and senior world team member, and one of the top wrestlers in the country. Read about her decision making for wrestling in college, and how the lessons she learned can help make your search more simple.

How she started wrestling

I am originally from Sacramento, California, which is where I first started wrestling. I am currently finishing my degree (last 2 classes!) at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. I was drawn to contact sports and wrestling my whole life, but didn’t have the opportunity to go to a school with a wrestling team until 8th grade. I asked to join the team, and was denied by the coach, so I thought wrestling wasn’t for girls. When I was in high school, I was approached by the wrestling coach and encouraged to participate - there was 1 other girl on the team so I was excited.  

I love the constant physical and mental challenges of wrestling- the tough gritty aspect of our sport is why I have kept with it.  I choose to attend Simon Fraser University in BC, Canada due to the great wrestling team, and the academic opportunities. I’m a psychology major, and finishing my minors in Early Learning and Kinesiology.

Choosing a college

I was no superstar coming out of high school. I had won the state tournament twice, but aside from that I didn’t have inherent talent in the sport. I knew I needed to choose a university where my wrestling would continue to develop and get me to the top of the national podium.

I never thought twice about not wrestling in college, so I only applied to schools with women's wrestling teams in the WCWA. However, I knew I wanted to compete with a team that could help me become the best wrestler possible. I also wanted to go to a school with quality academics so I would leave with a diploma with a good reputation. Additionally, I knew I wanted to go to a big school in an urban area - basically I didn’t want to be in the middle of nowhere.  I visited the top schools at the time: King, Lindenwood, OCU, Menlo, and then Simon Fraser. Visiting the schools was important for me, because I didn’t want to make a blind choice about where I was going to live for the next 4-5 years. Each school visit gave me the opportunity to get to know the coaches and the team to see if I would fit in. Many high school girls I speak to talk about needing to get a “full ride.” For me, I didn’t want to sacrifice quality of academics, training, or quality of life because of money. Luckily with blind faith, a little help from my family, working a part time job, a partial wrestling scholarship, and applying for external grants and bursaries I was able to afford my college of choice: Simon Fraser University.

For high school wrestlers starting their college search

Here are my six recommendations for female wrestlers looking at colleges:

1. Take your SAT and ACT early! It can add to your scholarships and entrance awards.

2. Narrow down your choices! Location, academic programs, school size, and team success.  

3. VISIT THE SCHOOL! Find a way (even if that means your parents won't be able to come). It’s so important to envision yourself at the university to know if it's the right choice.

4. Ask as many questions as you can with the coaches and academic advisors.

5. Don’t commit too early! Coaches will pressure you to sign your letter of intent - but a good coach will let you take your time and decide.

6. Follow your gut instinct - if a coach or a team rubs you the wrong way, it’s not the right team for you.

What she knows now

I wish I knew that money would work itself out. I was very stressed about what I could afford, and I think that clouded my judgement at times. Visiting the schools I was interested in was expensive and tricky during my 12th grade year of high school. But I made it work because it was a priority to me. 


Mallory Velte is a student athlete at Simon-Fraiser University in Vancouver, Canada finishing her degree in psychology. She was 5th at the 2015 Junior World Championships, a 3x WCWA National Champion (2016-2018), a 2x National Team Member, and a 2017 Senior World team member.

Jessica Medina's Advice on How to Wrestle in College

This is your guide to becoming a collegiate female wrestler. Included is a list of programs, clubs, and training sites. You will also find general questions and a plan of action to take as you find the best college for you. 

“Women’s wrestling is one of the fastest growing sports at the scholastic and collegiate levels. The NWCA is committed to growing women’s wrestling from the grassroots level to the colleges. The NWCA is currently in the process of pursing emerging sports status for women’s wrestling in the NCAA."       -National Wrestling Coaches Association
 

The article originally appeared on Team USA- USA Wrestling.