College Wrestling 101 for Women

Amid the many opportunities available for women to wrestle in college, how to prepare yourself for a huge decision can be lost in the noise. Making sure you have a college plan is key, and we're here to help provide you with the tools to make one. 

Where do I start?

There are over 40 colleges who offer wrestling for women, which means a huge variety of options. These colleges are predominantly NAIA schools, and reach from east coast to west coast, and includes Canada. The NCAA is currently reviewing a bid that would great emerging sport status for women’s wrestling. Emerging sport status refers to the NCAA supporting more sport opportunities for women, while it builds towards a full NCAA Championship. For further resources, see national and world team member Jessica Medina’s article on the current process for applying to a wrestling college here. The interactive map below displays the most up to date resource on current colleges with women's wrestling programs. For the original college map resource, visit New-York USA Wrestling.

School environment

Major, location, and school amenities should all be factors towards your decision. When athletes are happy with their world outside of the wrestling room, they tend to do better in school and in competition. It could be to your advantage to take the worst of situations into account. If an unfortunate career ending injury should occurs (let’s hope it never comes to that), you should still be happy finishing your college degree at your school of choice. Make a list of the top 5 schools that fit your needs. Start by filling out a Recruiting Form. This form can be found on the team website where you find the school roster and scheduling information (or in the map above). The information on this form goes directly from the admissions office to the wrestling coach and helps your overall school application stand out.

Team environment

If you do an on-campus visit, stay in the dorms with girls from the team, attend a practice, eat in the cafeteria, sit in on classes, and get a tour of the downtown area. If possible, coordinate your visit with a home dual or tournament to watch the team compete. This will provide you a great opportunity see the dynamic of the team and coaches in action.

Put yourself on the map

Often, an onsite school visit due to distance is not an option, or you’ve have a hard time narrowing down your choices (there are so many options!). You have another option: get yourself to competitions where college coaches attend. Junior and Cadet Folkstyle Nationals, the Women’s Freestyle Nationals in Texas, and Cadet and Junior Freestyle Nationals in North Dakota area critically important tournaments to attend if you can get to at least one. College coaches will travel to these tournaments to do recruiting and scouting. Attending the WCWA (Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association) Nationals will give you the chance to watch all the coaches and teams in action. Be sure to let coaches know you are interested in their schools and will be attending. They will certainly want to meet you, and this may give you an opportunity to ask questions if they can plan ahead of time.

Learn freestyle and the rules

You don’t have to know all the technique for freestyle, but you should definitely know the rules. Get familiar with how to score, how to break a score tie, and that good old push out. Join a local freestyle club to begin getting experience. Attending 1-2 times per week over the summer can get you familiarized with the style you will wrestle in college. Youtube videos will be a great resource if you’ve never seen freestyle or if you’d like to see the rules in action.

Get in shape

Start using the offseason as a way to implement a consistent lifting and running program. You don’t have to be wrestling non-stop, but you should get used to adding these workouts. In college, weight lifting will be a regular part of your training. Get yourself prepared for two a days and heavy competition. You should acclimate yourself to the best of your ability.

Prepare for a different lifestyle

When you attend college as an athlete, you are there to staying on top of your academics and work on becoming a better wrestler. Your lifestyle will be different, you will be away from home, and it will be critical to have people around you supporting the tough decisions you must make. You will be pulled in different directions, but when you love wrestling, you are able to steer your ship towards the choices that best support your goals. Traveling and balancing school will be a consistent theme, but you will never regret the memories you made with your teammates and the friends you make for a lifetime!

The Secret to Conquering Your Fears

photo by justin hoch

photo by justin hoch

It's easy for many of us to name of few things we're terrified of. Whether it's public speaking, vegetables, or competition, it's the great equalizer that we all have to deal with. Our mind is a powerful asset that helps us grind through a tough practice, but just as easily can be the reason for losing a competition. A technique that has become more and more popular as of recent is called "mindfulness." The concept of the mindfulness is not to push away or ignore our fears, but instead recognize their existence and learn to live with them. No problem has ever been solved by ignoring it. You learn to understand that your fear is a roommate hanging out in your brain, and it's okay if they stay. You will learn how to live together.

One big misconception is that when you reach a certain skill level, those fears go away. The bad news is that the fears will never go away, so it is to your advantage that you learn to live with them. Even Olympic Champion Helen Maroulis who's proven that she's the best in the world, admitted she deals with intense fears. This is an excerpt from her journal entry in Rio de Janeiro, just before competition:

“I can’t stop crying. I’m making myself sick. For the first time in my life, I explained to Terry [my Coach] what my anxiety was like. What it felt like to be afraid of irrational things. I was always afraid to tell him, because I was afraid he wouldn’t think I was mentally capable of a gold medal. And at the Olympics, I didn’t want to look weak..."
-Helen Maroulis

(from an interview with Sports Illustrated)
Click to read the full article.


What you should know

The concept of mindfulness is to train our minds to notice each time a thought pattern begins. When you are able to recognize this happening, you can quickly bring yourself back to the present moment. We are most effective in our matches when our mind is open to the present moment in order to react efficiently. 

Mindfulness is not about perfection. This is exactly what makes it great for athletes, and especially for wrestlers. We don't need to do a perfect takedown, we need to remain calm in the present moment to see the takedown to its full completion, no matter how that looks. The more you challenge your mind to notice when you are "drifting," the easier it becomes to stay "in the moment" during high-stress events. Some athletes use a verbal queues to bring themselves back to the present moment, others use physical queues like adjusting their uniform. Start playing with a queue in practice that helps your refocus your attention. 

How do you start

It is up to you to put aside 5 minutes of your day to focus on mindfulness. You can download an app like Headspace or Oak, or set a timer on your phone to do it on your own. Take just a few minutes to start noticing your breath. As thoughts enter, acknowledge them, and bring your attention back to your breath. It's okay to struggle, as this is a practice and never a goal. Increase your time in seated mindfulness meditation as you feel more comfortable. Challenge yourself to be patient and continue to remind yourself to put your focus back on your breath, no matter how many times your mind drifts. 

How do you apply it to life as an athlete

It can be very tempting to control every aspect of your training. We control how hard we push in our workouts, we work on controlling our opponents, our nutrition, or sleep... what about our minds? We ironically do not have as much control over our minds as previously believed. So a mindfulness practice is the ability to learn how to understand our mind. What we can control, however, is where we decide to put our attention. 

Since mindfulness helps clear the mental clutter, athletes can learn how to prevent more mental clutter from entering. Athletes are consistently dealing with thoughts of self doubt, worry, and questioning their actions towards a path of success. Mindfulness allows room for those thoughts, and helps you guide your attention back to what is most important: the moment. Ever heard of someone who was able to compete "in the zone?" The concept of "not thinking" is actually the ability to freely bring their thoughts back to the moment, without judging what does come up. This is a no judgement zone! They simply have chosen not to act on the thoughts that are saying "you can't win this match."  

A skill for life 

Its been proven that our mental health affects our physical well being. As you continue through life being involved in wrestling or not, this is a skill that you can roll over to any aspect of life. The stresses you deal with in wrestling can often be just a small reflection of the mental toughness you learn that helps you through the stresses of life. Use mindfulness as tool, just as you will use the lessons from wrestling to help you through life.  

LuchaFIT founder Katherine Shai visits the Beehive Brawl

Photo by david anderson of the richfield reaper

Photo by david anderson of the richfield reaper

The Beehive Brawl in Sevier County, Utah is on it's 20th year of providing amazing competition for youth wrestlers. This year, they had 950 young wrestlers in attendance. I was honored to be the Beehive Brawl's first clinician and international level athlete ever brought in for the competition. The kids were eager to learn and had amazing energy. See below for the entire article done on the event by the local Richfield newspaper. 

Sitting on one of the concourses of the Sevier Valley Center, a young woman holding a baby greeted people as they asked for her autograph and advice Friday and Saturday. 

Katherine Shai welcomed each one with a warm smile and a message, “lucha” — struggle, fight and wrestle.

Shai is a five-time national wrestling team member, and a three-time U.S. Open finalist. She’s also made two appearances at the U.S. World Team Trials as a finalist, and nabbed third place in the Olympic trials — twice. 

How to Break Down Wrestling Technique

We all want to learn technique and do it fast. I often have to tell athletes to slow it down so I can help them work on very specific areas. When you are challenged by technique, you need to break it up into its equal parts. Breaking down technique requires a major slow down and simplification of an area. 

Any technique you attempt will typically have three parts: the approach, the transition, and the finish. All of your problem areas will be helped by slowing down, and recognizing the three areas. You begin with just one of these areas and repeat it over and over. Why break up the move when we are supposed to explode through the entire move in competition? When there are problem areas in technique, its usually due to a few small mistakes that make it nearly impossible to finish to a score. We fail to see those mistakes when we rush through thinking the most important part is the finish. We have to let go of the desire to do technique fast in order to find the mistakes and to create the muscle memory. 

The approach

To demonstrate the approach, I am using the high crotch as an example. I begin by creating the most simple motion in order to get to the legs by placing my hands on the biceps. If your approach includes working on a more complicated set up, use the set up you have been drilling.

I keep my head position level with my opponent by bending my knees and not bending at the waist. I am working on staying low so I do not waste energy or be telling in my movements. This would give my opponent time to react. For the high crotch, our penetration to the leg is very important. Hands start inside so that I can quickly break through my opponent's defenses. I freeze my position once I have reached the transitional part of the move. If my driving leg (left leg) was too far behind my body, I would need to correct that on the next repetition. If my hands did not land in an accurate position, that would also need correction in the next repetition. If you notice, I only take two steps: penetration step and left leg steps in position for transition.

This should be repeated over and over before you decide to move on to the next section. The idea is to create muscle memory through repetition. We can only create that memory when we accurately repeat the same motion. If our movements are not accurate, it becomes more difficult to re-correct later. 

The transition

The middle part, or transition, of a move will look different for each technique whether its offense, defense, on top or on bottom. Think of this section as when you typically need to shift your body or create body motion. This will change your opponents position so scoring is possible. Back to the high crotch example, we can see that the transition is when I must change my position from kneeling, to squatting and driving. I need to put my opponent into the right position so I can complete the technique to a score. 

I should be looking for my opponent to be forced into stepping, and for it to be difficult to defend. This is where your partner can challenge you by slightly changing their body position to double check that every part of your body is engaged. This is often the most overlooked part of technique. We get excited about beginning and ending a move, but surprise ourselves when our opponent reacts. If we haven't practiced and perfected the transition of technique enough, it will be very difficult to get to the finish. The transition will be the biggest challenge if you are not prepared to explode out of your approach. 

The finish

How you finish or execute your technique depends on how you move your opponent to score. Are you lifting, driving, pushing, or pulling? In my example, I need to lift and drive my opponent to create my takedown score. Driving refers to a pushing motion where my upper body may stay still, but my feet create motion to move my opponent to my desired direction. My feet need to be under my hips to have the power I need to lift. My eyes need to look the direction I am driving so we both fall where I would like us to. I repeat only this motion with corrections each time. If my chest is too far away, my ear not attached to the hip, or my eyes not looking the right direction, I make those corrections on each repetition. Sometimes you remember to do one part, but forget another. Then you forget to add in driving feet but remembered to look the right direction. This is all a process as it takes many, many repetitions to have the muscle memory that allows you to execute all these elements without needing to think or do it slowly. 

There is no reason to speed up your technique, even after one session of breaking down. You will have plenty of opportunities during practice to quickly do your technique and train your speed. These kinds of sessions are meant to slow and methodical. Once you begin recognizing that your corrections are few and far between, you can start to put two parts together. Try out the approach and transition together. Did it create problems and did you forget steps? Don't go on to the finish until you have isolated working on approach and transition and those feel more natural. It's okay if you only work on this for an entire session. You can read up on how you should work with a coach and how to record technique pointers in your journal when working on breaking down technique here. Don't forget to be gentle and patient with yourself, it's also about enjoying the process of learning and mastering! 


Kelsey Campbell: The Injuries Have Made Me Stronger Part 2

"It was more of a challenge than I can ever describe, because we initially couldn’t figure out what was going on."

Olympic Sized Injury 

In 2012, shortly after qualifying for my first Olympic team, I began to feel a pop in my collar bone area while wrestling. Training at that point was specific and tailored to the olympic team. I was constantly aware of this injury, but didn't have the luxury of taking time to address the problem. It eventually went from discomfort to sharp pain. I would drill with someone much lighter than me, and just grabbing my normal standing single, I would literally see red. It wasn’t really a time to panic and true to my nature, I really didn’t discuss it outside of Terry Steiner, Kim Martori of Sunkist, and my physical trainers at the Training Center.

It was more of a challenge than I can ever describe, because we initially couldn’t figure out what was going on. The physical pain, the element of not knowing, and the timing made for a tough circumstance. A sternal clavicular tear has become more common and readily identified, but in 2012 you couldn’t find a single piece of literature on it. Trust me, I looked. At the time, there were maybe 3 surgeons in the entire USA, who I relentlessly pursued, that performed any type of reconstructive surgery for it. After a series of injections, I competed with it. After the games, against the advice of most, I decided to have the surgery.

Through a series of events, I somehow crossed paths with an incredible surgeon in New York who not only agreed to perform the reconstructive surgery, but was confident I’d get back to almost 100%. It was a career altering moment. I truly believe without Dr Scott Rodeo, I would have been done with wrestling in 2012. Certainly never able to really compete at the highest level. Recently I had surgery on my wrist. It was another unorthodox injury with an even more unorthodox come back. Injuries have a way of making you quit or making you better. They’ve made me better.

The mentality 

Because of my background, but I’m stingy about everything, including who I surround myself with. When I injured my collar bone, there were MANY bad days, I’m sad to say. I’d entrusted myself to people like Coach Steiner, Kim Martori of Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club, and my sports psychologist at the time, and I credit them so much for lifting me up. Terry Steiner especially. I can’t even say it enough- there were many lows. But you just make a decision about what your goal are and you plan accordingly. I clung heavily to my faith, too. I read books about people who’d faced similar experiences. I’d watched my roommate at the time, Adeline Grey, win MULTIPLE world medals and I don’t think she stepped on the mat with two good knees for years. That inspired me. Some days I had to look inward, some days I looked outward. But I’d look at those that really had been there, I humbled myself in my situation- a rough Olympics and a rough year of rehab- and I just tried to grow through it.

Plus, as I mentioned, There is a stubbornness and a stinginess within me that I don’t think I was ever taught. I just wasn’t done with the sport and I hadn't accomplished what I had set out to, so I continued. If the injury had ended my career, and surgery had not been an option, I could’ve been surrendered and moved on. But that wasn’t the case. I try to make the most of my situations. Belief has been really important in all of this. Faith and belief.

"Get healthy, really get healthy- do it right with patience and with self-motivation- and then get back to work."

The lessons

As a younger athlete, injuries have taught me patience because young athletes are initially impatient. It’s just the nature of things. As I’ve grown as an athlete, injuries have given me wisdom. Coach Izzy Izboinikov and I have had a lot of conversations about this as I have continued. He’s taught me that as I get better, and as I continue, I have to become more committed. And the same is true with injuries. You have to show up earlier, you have to warm up longer. You have to do the exercises that your trainer tells you to do. The band work, the annoying and tedious reps that seem pointless. I tore my sc joint just being a gritty athlete. I had done everything right and the wear and tear still caught me- and in return- changed my perspective completely.

I’ve seen athletes do it a lot of different ways. A lot of older and even maybe more accomplished athletes than myself back off of training. They feel they need to take it easier on them selves. That’s the way for some people. That’s not me. That’s not the way I’m wired. For years I have been a training partner for Clarissa Chun, and I saw her never let up. Even through surgeries, wins, and sometimes losses. Her wrestling always evolved. I was there when she hurt her shoulder a couple years before medaling in London. I saw many athletes retire because they couldn’t come back from a shoulder injury. But Clarissa was a different breed and I tried to imitate that aspect of her game. Get healthy, really get healthy- do it right with patience and with self-motivation- and then get back to work.

I still train the way I know I need to train. I still go as hard as I feel like I need to go. If I think I need an extra work out, I do an extra work out. If I decide to back off, my coaches know me well enough to know it’s needed. You have to know yourself. You have to be true to yourself. But the main thing is wisdom. Like I said, showing up earlier, warming up longer, stretching, cooling down. It’s not rocket science. But you have to put the knowledge into practice. And for me, if I don’t put it into practice that’s it. I lose a week of training because I didn’t want to give an extra 30 minutes to warm up. It’s my new reality. And it’s fine, I’m OK with that because I know my goals. And like I said, I just plan accordingly.

My advice for wrestlers

Reaching out to seek input and advice from people you trust is huge. I didn’t have a lot of resources early on but I constantly sought out people I trusted who knew others who could help me. I had extremely humble beginnings and learned a lot about staying healthy through trial and error. Through a combination of focus, work ethic, and surrounding myself with the right people, I eventually was in a position to work with high level experts, even if only a little.

As young athletes mature, you want to keep an open mind (but again, with the element of wisdom) about who you train with. Variety in partners is what allows your wrestling to constantly evolve. However, don’t be afraid to draw the line if you feel like you’re not quite in a place with your physical health to train with just anyone and everyone. Right now I’m fortunate that my coaches guide me a lot with who I should train with. There are people I like to roll with, but sometimes they aren’t the best for me if I’m recovering. Get the most out of that particular workout by sparring with the best partner for that day. With the increase in camps and clinics run by elite men and women, young women these days have more direct opportunities (especially with social media), to connect with athletes and coaches with sport specific questions.

I’m grateful and happy that young athletes I’ve coached at camps and clinics have reached out to me through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with questions about weight management, injuries and training. I’m always more than happy to share my knowledge and experiences.

Connect with Kelsey:

Facebook Fan Page

Instagram: @KelseyCamp

Twitter: @worldchanger55