Should I Redshirt a College Year?

By Cliff Cushard

If you are approaching college or already in school, you may have heard from coaches or teammates about the option to redshirt a college year. But what does this mean for you as a student and as an athlete? How does it change the coarse of your college career? Through advice of Cliff Cushard, current head women's wrestling coach for Adrian College, this blog aims to give you the best tools to make an educated decision. 

What is Redshirting

Redshirting is the practice of taking a year off team competition. In most instances these wrestlers are training and doing limited competitions during the red shirt year, but some may take the year off entirely. This is allowed through the current WCWA rules which state a wrestler can compete in a maximum of four years of competition within a five year span.

The current rules define an student-athlete's training and competing restrictions. An athlete is allowed to train with their team and compete in open tournaments (non-team specified competition). They cannot compete in a dual meet for their team or at the WCWA National Championships while red shirting. Red shirt athletes cannot compete in their team singlet or under their school name, but the team is allowed to pay all of their expenses to travel and compete. This is still up to an individual school and if the they are willing to do so - as they are not required. In some instances, the red shirt athlete might be invited to compete at their own expense. They are allowed to compete as a member of a club however, in essence, the competing red shirt wrestler is competing as an unattached, independent person with no college team.

Why an athlete would want to redshirt

For the athlete, they may decide to take a red shirt year for several reasons:  

  1. If they know they are going to take 5 years to complete their degree and/or to get a Master’s degree, they may want to spread out their competitive life to cover all five years.
  2. If they know they are going to have a challenging academic year and want to focus more on schoolwork.
  3. Some athletes burn out and need a year to recover their passion for the sport. (Though this rarely works. In my opinion, burn out should be avoided at all costs. Once burn out sets in, most athletes do not seem to recover well.)
  4. If the athlete feels they are going to have a better run at becoming an All-American by having an additional year to train, they could make the strategic decision to do their school work over 5 years in hopes that they can get the highest possible finish.
  5. On a similar note, some wrestlers make a strategic decision to sit out a year to allow a rival in their weight class to graduate and get out of their way.
  6. Some coaches may suggest that an athlete take a red shirt year to better align the team's best wrestlers. This could create the best situation to make a run at a team title.

What are the pros?

  1. When an athlete trains during the red shirt year they should, in theory, be a better wrestler the next year. Training without the pressure of competition can lead to jumps in skill that aren’t possible while working on competition, weight management and everything else that is involved in a normal competitive season.
  2. If they don’t train during the red shirt year, it might have a big impact on their success in class. An improved GPA can be a positive result as graduation is of highest priority.
  3. A higher placing at WCWA Nationals is a possibility - though not a guarantee. Just because the wrestler takes a year off, it doesn’t mean that rivals don't do as well, that other women don’t also get better during that time, that incoming freshmen don’t slip into some of those positions, or that injuries or illnesses don’t become a factor - anything can happen in this sport.
  4. The team could place higher with it's best wrestlers competing on the mat. There is no guarantee that red shirting wrestlers to best align a roster for success will actually achieve that success.  

What are the cons?

  1. An additional year of school. If your degree does not require it, an additional year of school means additional classes, potential stress, and additional payments and/or loans. 
  2. Delay of beginning your life after college. Depending on the economic climate at the time, redshirting could mean missing out on better job opportunities. It certainly means one less year of earning potential in your lifetime. This can have an impact on retirement, family and additional unforeseen options down the road.
  3. The potential emotional cost of a red shirt year. During the red shirt year, some athletes feel left out or even ostracized since they can’t be part of the team. These feelings have lead to wrestlers quitting the sport if the isolation becomes too much to bear.
  4. Even training and competing in opens, bitterness could arise when watching wrestlers you have beat place at Nationals or other tournaments. During a red shirt year an athlete could become injured or underperform, which could lead to feeling time or potential was wasted. It is crucial a red shirt wrestler is prepared for these types of feelings.
  5. There is a potential social cost. What do your friends and family think of your choice? What does the delay do to your development after college? Again, this is something that should be carefully considered. Is it worth it to YOU?

How is the decision of redshirting being advised to athletes?

To my knowledge, there isn’t any standard way of advising a red shirt year. It varies by athlete, coach, and school. Some programs seem to have no red shirt athletes, while others seem to have several every year. Discussing red shirting with your prospective coach before signing is probably a wise decision so you know what to expect and can decide accordingly.

How to decide

My advice is to weigh the pros and cons and decide what is best for you. Spend some time thinking about why you want to red shirt, or why your coach is advising the decision. Are those reasons worth the costs for you? In many cases they certainly can be, but in other cases they may not be at all. This is a personal decision you are making for yourself and I would be careful to make this decision rather than be pressured into it by other people. It might be that others want what is best for you or your team, but you may decide that the additional money and time isn’t worth it to you. Like many things in life - choose wisely.

Cliff Cushard is the head women's coach for Adrian College in Adrian, Michigan since. He has been an assistant coach for the men's team, and for the women's team since it was established in 2015. He also serves as Michigan's USA Wrestling Women’s State Director. 

Cushard has coached Michigan women's national teams since 2010, developed over 20 wrestlers who have competed at the college level and/or represented the USA in international competitions; and mentored several All-Americans who have won national titles. All of his daughters wrestle, including the two oldest having placed numerous times as All-Americans. Samantha was the first-ever female All-American for Adrian College at the 2016 Women's Collegiate Wrestling Association national tournament.

Why Men's Wrestling Gear Doesn't Cut it for Women

This blog is in partnership with MyHouseSports

I want to be open and candid about wrestling partnerships. First, if we don't work together to build a community of businesses that provide wrestlers what they need, then it makes it difficult for people to create a living around the sport and then in turn give back to the sport what it needs. Second, I am thoroughly impressed by what MyHouseSports Gear has created, and the gear they are providing for girls in our sport. I did not have this while I was wrestling, and it is still limited as to what is provided for us. 

I still own my first wrestling t-shirt that was bought for me as an elementary school wrestler. Even though the graphic of the wrestlers on the tee is rather weird, at the time I didn't care. There were women on it, and it was something made for me! Since that time, I have been extremely passionate about gear for women in wrestling. Throughout college I pushed and helped get women's cut clothing for our team. On the national team, I worked on the fit and feel of women's cut singlets for my wrestling club the New York Athletic Club. Today, I am passionate about helping girls find sports bras, shorts, and practice gear that fits their bodies and helps performance. 

But why all the trouble? Not only are there barriers to entry for girls in the sport of wrestling, but the last thing we want to have happen is a wardrobe malfunction. Baggy men's shorts, t-shirts that don't fit our bodies, and less-than-supportive sports bras are a recipe for disaster in a wrestling room –– especially if you are the only female in the room. 

This is why I am partnering with and bringing you to a company who has taken the time to make sure the gear fits well and performs well on female athletes at different sizes. I was so impressed when they discussed the different methods they used ensuring that their singlets fit girls and women at different sizes and how they had to adjust the neck line so girls could get the singlet up over their hips. Now that's what I'm talking about, a company that understands we have hips! I know many of you have and are still wearing boys singlets. How frustrating is it when your teammates are confused as to why you are complaining about the fit? It may be obvious to us, but not as obvious to the opposite gender that boys gear just doesn't cut it anymore. And it shouldn't! 

MHS is offering LuchaFIT readers an exclusive 10% off* on products when you order with the code LUCHA. Here are my favorite products from MHS right now and why I love it:

*note: coupon code does not work on sale items, custom team gear, or team stores


These take the cake. It is rare that I practice in shorts anymore. I am drawn to workout gear that covers more surface area (preventing mat burn, skin infections, and just all around comfort). I am a stickler about the see-through factor, as leggings are a no go if you can tell the color of what you are wearing underneath, and these create the ability for you to wear whatever you want underneath! Waist band is next in my book. With out a secure waist band, the fit around your legs means nothing. With a thicker waist band on the MyHouseSport leggings, I feel extremely comfortable moving, sprawling, and working on my par-terre defense! They've sent me samples, and i've put them through the ringer of hard practices, multiple wash cycles, and they still feel as good as my Lululemon leggings that were 2-3x the price. 



These singlets are a great addition, especially for the freestyle season. What makes freestyle singlets different from regular season? You need two singlets, one red and one blue. The singlet can have any design, but needs to distinctly show a red or blue stripe on each leg and across the back. If you are wrestling internationally, the federation is beginning to request that the singlet cut is done in the racer back style. MyHouseSports Gear allows you to customize your singlets for your team, or for yourself! 


Compression top and shorts

Since the NFHS (National Federation of High Schools) has approved the two-piece competition uniform, more wrestlers have began to choose this option. The availability of shorts and compression tops for girls is quite limited. However, MHS has seen the need for this option and created gear for the girls looking for a different option than competing in a singlet. 



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.

Register Now: Girls & Boys Combat Camp in Denver, CO

It is so exciting to announce that LuchaFIT will be teaming up with local Denver gym, Train.Fight.Win for an amazing opportunity to learn wrestling, boxing, kickboxing, and MMA style combat! When you're looking for things to do with kids in Denver, or even if you are in the neighboring cities of Colorado, this should be first on your list. Expand your knowledge, learn something new, or help encourage first timers to get exposure to combat sports. The passion behind these events is all about creating opportunities for kids that allow for more awareness of the benefits of learning combat sports. Let's get into meeting the clinicians!

L.A. Jennings

L.A. is the owner of Train.Fight.Win and is an experienced MMA and kickboxing coach. She is a martial arts historian and author of the book, She's a Knockout! A History of Women in Fighting Sports. She recently had the opportunity visit two cities in Pakistan, Karachi and Islamabad, with Women Win and Right to Play Pakistan in conjunction with the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan, to learn about how women and girls are finding their voice by playing sports.

Katherine Shai

The author of these blogs and founder of LuchaFIT! Katherine will be teaching fundamental wrestling techniques, and will teach her unique style approach to combat and body movement due to her diverse wrestling background. Besides her own career as a Team USA Wrestler, she has done clinics and camps throughout the U.S. and has worked with elementary age kids to adults. She is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer, and has been working with Denver local BBJ fighters on how to transfer add wrestling technique to their competitive game.

Girls Combat Camp

Who: Girls ages 13-17
When: June 26, 27, and 28th, 9:00am to 1:00pm
Where: Train.Fight.Win.

This program provides wrestling, kickboxing, and MMA training for teenage girls, of any experience level. This camp teaches a diverse range of martial arts techniques and fitness workouts that benefit any girl, whether she is an experienced athlete or a beginner. The camp will include wrestling, kickboxing, and MMA techniques and drills as well as workouts to build strength, athleticism, and coordination.

Register Today!

Cost: $200 for one student, $150 each for two or more students

Youth Empowerment Camp

Who: Kids ages 10 to 13
When: July 9-13th, 9:00am to 11:30am
Where: Train.Fight.Win.

This program is designed to teach kids of all skill-levels basic self-defense and combat techniques. The goal is not to teach young people to engage in fist-fights, but rather to make them feel more empowered by learning martial arts in a safe and inclusive environment. The program includes boxing, kickboxing, and wrestling techniques, as well as games and some self-defense programming. Taught by TFW Owner L.A. Jennings and LuchaFit's Katherine Shai.

Register Today!

Cost: $200 for one student, $150 each for two or more students


Toska Adams: The Journey is Never Over, Giving Back to the Sport of Wrestling

Wrestling provides so many avenues for giving back. Have you considered officiating after your competitive career is done?It's important for women and girls to know there are other opportunities for them to stay in the sport of wrestling even if its not coaching or competing. Many women started in the sport through roles which supported the tournament organization. Becoming a head pairing master was a coveted role and one held by women ( and men) at the local, national and international level. This person was responsible for hand writing the brackets, recording the wins/loses, determined who would wrestling who in consolations, wrote out the bouts and sent them to the mats as needed. This was before we had technology like TrackWrestling to run our tournaments. The idea of women being on the mat was a different story entirely... for competitors and for referees. Toska Adams has been changing that mind set at the same time many of us have been pioneering women competing. Today, it is not as rare to see a female referee. This is thanks to hard work and pushing boundaries by women who wanted the roles as referees. Now Toska has the opportunity to show other young women finishing their career competing the possibility of raising hands of our sports future greats. 

How Toska became a referee 

My son began wrestling in Middle School. When we began freestyle season, we would travel around the state to different tournaments. Since he was a schoolboy heavyweight, we would often drive 2-3 hours for him to only wrestle 1 or 2 times. Some of my friends invited me to get involved with running the tournaments. I tried pairing for one year, but that was not for me. The next year I decided to start refereeing. That was over 20 years ago.

Why other's should referee 

Anyone male or female can become a referee. Contact referees in your state and find out what tournaments they are going to and ask if you can go along. If you are not sure who to contact, please email me, and I will get the information for you. Women now have the same opportunities as men to officiate wrestling due to the speed in which women’s wrestling is growing.

When I found out I was selected as USA Wrestling Women of the year at Fargo was great. When I was elected by my fellow officials to the USWOA board. Its amazing to meet again wrestlers who have grown up and tell me that they have family pictures with me raising their hand. During the past two years, countless people including coaches, parents and wrestlers have come up to me and tell me how much they missed me officiating and they are all glad I returned. Wrestling is about the people!

How has it impacted your life?

When I became a FILA (now UWW) official, I had the opportunity to travel overseas a number of times. One of my favorite tournaments I traveled to several times was the all women’s tournament in Sweden. I have also traveled all over the United States to tournaments. Because I am a teacher, during the summer I have been able to combine sightseeing with my travels to tournaments. My favorite memory is the year I traveled to the women’s college duals in Iowa. The first day of the tournament was my birthday, and the girls sang happy birthday to me while they were warming up.


Do not let ANYONE tell you that you cannot officiate wrestling. There are still people that believe women should not be part of wrestling. They are wrong! I have always worked very hard and learned as much as I can to continue to improve and be a better official. I found that to be equal, I had to be better.

Toska Adams has been officiating freestyle, greco and folkstyle for over 20 years. She has traveled to Kiev, Sweden, and Poland to officiate for Team USA. She currently holds the position as treasurer for Kentucky USA Wrestling. She was awarded Women’s Developmental Person of the Year and USA Wrestling Woman of the year in 2014.

To get in contact with Toska to learn about your opportunities to become a wrestling referee, email her at