A Wrestler's Experience with Herniated Disc Surgery

UWW PHotographer

UWW PHotographer

By Victoria Francis-Weiss

Just a month after becoming the 2016 Olympic Trials Runner-up, I was back home and injured. I had a herniated disc in my low back and the symptoms were so intense, it hurt to sit or carry my laundry. It was a scary time not knowing what recovery from this injury would entail, or if it was possible. I was too eager to return to training and thus worsened my situation and lengthened my recovery time. Fortunately I was able to recover from this injury with the help of my family and medical staff, and have been able to continue my wrestling career. This is how I overcame the biggest injury of my career, and how you can hopefully avoid the the same fate.

The Injury

College graduation weekend was an exciting time home for my husband and I. He was home on leave and proposed to me. We spent a lot of time visiting family, and attended my graduation from Lindenwood University. After a long weekend of driving and sitting, I was experiencing some light sciatic pain (pain starting in my low back and radiating down my leg). I tried to ignore it, thinking it was caused by tight muscles. I had a bulged disc less than a year ago that had given me sciatic pain, but this was not as intense. On Monday I was continuing my training at the the gym and did a lower body lift, all seemed well. But later that day sitting at home, the pain became intense and it was clear to me I had injured a disc again.

The Diagnosis

Within a couple days I went to my doctor, and after hearing my symptoms, they agreed that I had a bulging disc again. A vertebral disc lies in between two vertebrae in the spine, and holds the vertebrae together. This allows for slight mobility and absorbs shock. A disc is made up of a soft but sturdy outer portion that contains a gel-like inner core. A bulging disc means the disc is protruding from its normal position. Sometimes, this can happen without any symptoms. Conversely, in my case, the disc bulging into nearby nerves caused symptoms such as pain, weakness, tingling and numbness in one or both legs.

Managing the injury was very hard on me emotionally. It was already my second disc injury within one year, and I was aware degenerative disc disease ran in my family. Would I be able to continue wrestling? Would I be plagued with disc injury after disc injury? I had just graduated college and became engaged. I was at a point in my life where I was content with my wrestling career and could possibly retire. Thoughts about moving on with my life, starting a career, or starting a family often danced in my head. But I still felt I had to leave wrestling on my own terms, not because an injury knocked me down. After long mental battles within myself, I decided to continue on with the intent to return to the mat and competition full force.

My doctor immediately referred me to physical therapy. We began with light stretching and soft tissue work to allow the disc to heal. We set off with the goal of being ready for my summer tour, which was only a few months away.

Rushing Recovery

My symptoms had become far less intense after about a month of physical therapy, and I thought I was healed. Physical therapy was going well back home, so I pushed myself to travel to National Team camps that summer. Unfortunately as soon as I hopped on the plane, I knew that was far from the truth. After a couple hours of sitting on the plane, the sciatic pain returned full force. I arrived at camp knowing I couldn’t wrestle. Instead of wrestling, I focused my time on physical therapy while at the Olympic Training Center.

Life as a National Team member requires travel continuous travel back and forth for camps and training. Between the mandatory travel and visiting my fiance on the east coast, I did not have a consistent physical therapy schedule. The traveling and sitting was putting further strain on my disc and new symptoms were arising: I had tingling and numbness in my right foot and weakness in my right leg. My doctor and I decided to do imaging on my spine. While we waited to hear the results, physical therapy now had a new goal of getting me healed, however slow that needed to be. This allowed the staff to identify any weakness, imbalance, or mobility issues head to toe. They found poor ankle mobility, weak glutes and core, tight hip flexors, and poor T-spine mobility. These imbalances were all possibly contributing to the stress on my low back. While simultaneously giving my low-back the chance to heal, we started to tackle the other issues with stretching, mobility exercises, and light strengthening exercises. Despite fully dedicating myself to recovery, I was still showing symptoms of a disc injury. Eventually, the imaging results came back and I made an appointment with the disc specialist.

Deciding on Surgery

The imaging showed damage worse than I had expected: a herniated disc. And it was a big one. A herniated disc is when the outer portion of the disc is broken and the core is starting to leak out. The specialist said surgery may be needed at this point, since it was not healing like we had hoped. Surgery (called a lumbar discectomy) would entail a surgeon removing the part of the core escaping the disc to help relieve pressure from my nerves, and allow space for the outer portion to heal. These outpatient surgeries have been fairly successful, even for athletes, so I decided to fix my body. While I waited for my surgery date to arrive, I still continued my therapy. Therapy during this time was still tackling my imbalances and weaknesses, and managing pain with stretching and traction (light pulling on my spine to relieve pressure on the disc).

Road to Recovery

It had been 5 months of bad attempts at therapy by the time I finally had the surgery.  The operation was successful, and I was back home the same night sleeping on the couch (I couldn’t go upstairs to my bedroom quite yet). The inflammation in the surgical site caused quite a bit of pain, numbness and weakness in my right leg for a couple days post-op. As the inflammation went down, I noticed I had no pain and the tingling and numbness was going away.

I was much more dedicated to recovery and therapy post-op. Recovery meant allowing the disc to heal, which takes approximately 6-8 weeks. From there, I needed to slowly build back to full training. The first two-weeks were nearly-zero activity, just short afternoon walks. The next 2 months entailed activity as long as it didn’t put pressure on the disc. This meant avoiding carrying too much weight, bending, twisting, or impact. I also continued my therapy to help with ankle and T-spine mobility, hip flexor tightness, weak glutes and core. After being off the mat for more than 7 months, I was able to start wrestling again.

Protecting Against Future Injury

Since my return to the mat, I have seen my greatest wrestling successes. 6 months post-op, I made my first Senior world team and later earned a few medals at international open competitions. I have not had any additional disc injuries, but occasionally feel tingling in my foot. I have taken great care to protect myself from another disc injury and hope you can include some of these precautions in your training to prevent injury.

There are small adjustments in your daily life you can make to help keep your spine happy and healthy. For instance, your posture is important. Sitting slouched or sitting for long periods of time is not healthy for your back or hips. I try to focus on sitting with a neutral lower back and taking time to get up and move after sitting for awhile. I have even bought myself a kneeling chair to help my posture. I am sitting in it now as I type this blog. Furthermore, if I have the option to stand rather than sit, I stand.

Another example is lifting in daily life. Even to lift the smallest item on the floor, I try to pick it up using my knees and keeping a flat back. If I have to carry things, such as a heavy backpack, I try to carry it on the middle of my back using both straps as. Carrying a backpack with one strap on one side of my body means stress is being put on my discs unevenly. I also try to minimize my time carrying a backpack. If I’m standing in one spot for a few minutes, I take the bag off my back and let my spine rest.

On the mat in order to protect my back, I limit my time in my stance without a partner. Being in a stance without a partner puts a lot of strain on my back, so I keep my stance in motion time short. To make up for the time I miss during stance in motion, I do other foot speed and reaction drills outside of my stance. Wrestling with another individual is less strain since some of my weight is supported by them. As a result, normal drilling and sparring usually doesn’t give my back issues.

Off the mat, I have placed certain limits on my strength and conditioning to help protect my back. I still lift lower body including squats and deadlifts, but I have taken a lot of time and effort to ensure I have good form and lift safely. Using heavy weights on a lift is not worth jeopardizing my health, so I have learned to check my ego at the door. I often video myself or ask a coach to check my form. if I see or feel bad form, I lower the weight and address the issues. To further protect my spine in the weight room, I keep bending and twisting core movements to a minimum. No crunches or Russian twists for this gal anymore. Instead, I try to stick to isometric core exercises, such as planks or single-arm dumbbell holds.

For conditioning, I have nearly eliminated running. I think some wrestlers would jump for joy at the thought of not having to run anymore, but I actually enjoyed long-distance running. I even trained for a half-marathon during college. Unfortunately, the impact of running was the biggest trigger for pain during my first disc injury. I also avoid row machines because the repetitive forward bending strains my back. So instead, I stick with the elliptical and bike. I use airdyne or spin bikes for interval training and the elliptical for long, steady-state conditioning workouts.

Mental Battles

All athletes experience injuries and the mental battles which accompany them. So many athletes feel alone during these experiences because many of us don’t make the injuries and the heartaches public. I was afraid to share my experience because it made me feel weak and vulnerable. Now that I am on the other side of this injury, I want to share this experience so other athletes don’t think they are alone.

This injury was no easy feat, both physically and mentally. For months, I endured pain from the daily tasks, like sitting for dinner or trying to carry my backpack. But the hardest part of this injury was the mental warfare within myself. This injury forced me to seriously question my dedication and passion for wrestling. When you can only manage 10 minutes of rehab a day, it gives you plenty of downtime to reflect.

Once I sorted it out in my head that I was willing to make a return, waiting for my body to be ready for that return was another mental challenge. All athletes hear the gong of upcoming competition and the gong was teasing me. I was spending all day lying in bed trying to heal and I could see on social media everyone else still wrestling. Team USA went to battle at the Olympics and I was only able to do a measly amount of physical therapy every day. I felt like I wasn’t doing my part. I had to remind myself that my daily training was small but important, and everyone else had their own. Without a healthy back, I was never going to be able to do my part. Learning to go my pace and take care of my needs was a daily battle, and one I still face today. After this injury, I now feel equipped with the discipline to focus on my training and my needs rather than looking at what everyone else is doing.

After 7 months off the mat, I went through so much pain, physically and emotionally. My wrestling career had to take a pause while my spine healed, but upon my return, I was a mentally stronger athlete and person.  Like myself, many athletes experience disc bulges and herniations, but there are measures that can be taken to prevent these injuries. Posture, weightlifting form, core and glute strength, and overall mobility are all areas athletes can work to improve on their own or with the help of their coaches. Taking time to address these areas can not only protect you from injury during your wrestling career, but are good practices to use throughout your life to safeguard your back as you age.

photo by Mindy Pastrovich 

photo by Mindy Pastrovich 

Victoria Francis-Weiss is a 2x national team member. She was a 2017 World Team Member at 75kg, and was runner up at the 2016 Olympic Trials. She is Junior World Bronze medalist, has 2 WCWA National titles, and 2 University National titles. She attended Lindenwood University and graduated with her degree in mathematics and computer science. She currently resides in Maryland with her husband and their dog. 

Dear Fargo Wrestlers...

katherine's fargo throwback- 2003

katherine's fargo throwback- 2003

Fargo! The crown jewel of our nation’s national high school tournaments. A huge undertaking for all involved. I've watched girls prepping, planning, excitement stirring...it's the biggest (figuratively and by actual size) tournament of the year for high school athletes who continue on to freestyle and greco. For a small percentage, it's triumph and success, and for others, it's heartbreak and disappointment. The first year I coached Fargo, I had just competed three and a half months prior at the 2016 Olympic Trials. Switching gears on my perspective was a challenge. I had just spent a career completely focusing on myself and my own training. You don't always remember the similar struggles of your youth, especially when you spend years conditioning yourself to a mindset always focused on moving forward and improving. However it was exciting to support young athletes through this huge event, as I had just done the same.

When you arrive at the national tournament, the seasoned Fargo coaches stand out. They know the stats of the wrestlers, who’s beaten who, and why so-and-so shouldn't lose to so-and-so. It was hard to bring myself to the same state of mind. I knew the stats were important to these athletes, but as a coach with my long athletic career perspective, I saw it as an advantage to be unfamiliar with everyone's record. I was able to stay grounded in the moment along with my athlete, and I believe they appreciated the redirection of focus. The more the coach is focused on what should have happened, the less they are focused on the process for the athlete. It is immensely important for the coach to stay in the moment. It’s a false notion that you need to tell your athlete everything about their next opponent. Give them key points on offense and defense, then allow them to put their focus back to their warm up, back to their process.

My advice for coaches: help your athletes understand the importance of properly preparing for a big tournament, and how those skills will transfer into every aspect of life. Teach them how to move forward quickly, win or lose. It's important to not ride the high highs, or the low lows. It is easy to get caught up in all encompassing magnitude of the Junior and Cadet Nationals. It’s important to bring yourself back to the ground, so you're athletes can also see that it's not the end-all-be-all.

Some of these young athletes will continue on and have college careers, some will decide to go even further and test out an international career, and some will be done after their senior year. When I competed at Fargo, I thought this tournament would decide my future. I thought it would give me the perspective of what level I was on, and how I could move forward with my career as a wrestler. Fighting through mostly disappointing performances at Fargo became the true test of how my career would be shaped. I was the one who continued even when I wasn't on the top of the podium.

The lesson for the athlete: use the experience, excitement, victories, and heartbreaks to fuel your next move. Never allow one tournament to shape the choices you make, or the path you take. Wrestling is a sport about not only inches, but centimeters. Success at Fargo can create opportunities, but only you can take full advantage of what is presented.

Iran’s New Feminism: Combat Sports

Iranian Wrestling Federation Photographer- Akbari

Iranian Wrestling Federation Photographer- Akbari

By Elizabeth Dosado

Seeing her for the first time, I was a bit taken back. She wore a hijab, long sleeves, and pants underneath her gi. The cultural differences between us were obvious — I was only wearing a t-shirt under my gi and my hair was left uncovered. Even though I had trained at this dojo a hundred times, this was the first time I had ever worked out with an athlete who covered themselves. I was soon put at ease when we shared laughs as we worked on our judo. She was a fierce competitor, and didn’t back down from me at all. I could tell she really loved practicing judo. I left the dojo that day thinking about issues bigger than myself. We may be different, but the love we feel in sport unifies us. I was impassioned at how sports can truly bring people together. I asked myself, “could it bring the world together?” For so long, we have viewed the Muslim culture as drastically different from our own world. But as opportunities for women in combat sports are on the rise, we can see a new beginning and a new feminism for Muslim women.

Shift now to another setting — a mat room and my other love, wrestling. In all of the time I have spent in a mat room, I have never seen a Muslim girl in the mix. This has always made me feel discouraged, wishing that everyone would feel open and welcome to combat sports and wrestling. With all of this burning in my mind, I set about to do some research.

Women’s wrestling in Iran

Iran has been a leading example for women’s combat sports in the Middle East. Just like the girl I met in judo, there are many women from the Middle East hoping to invest their interests in combat sports. These women are passionate and determined to have a chance to represent their country in the classical styles of wrestling.

Women’s wrestling in Iran officially began in March of 2015 with the formation of the country’s first women’s belt wrestling: a style of wrestling where the athletes wear a gi, similar to judo, and use the belt around the waist to knock each other over and score points. A team trial was held in June of 2015, and the winners of each weight class went on to represent her country at the 2015 Asian Belt Wrestling Championships. The Iranian women had much success and were overjoyed by the opportunity to wrestle. They felt honored to partake in such a noble sport. In 2017, women’s belt wrestling was formally recognized as an associated style of United World Wrestling. This development paved the way towards classical wrestling for the women of Iran.

However in the classical form of wrestling, it has been more difficult to have a uniform approved by United World Wrestling. Due to the more revealing nature of a wrestling singlet versus the already conservative form of a robe-like gi, it has been complicated to find a good alternative. Even still, a uniform was approved despite those complications. It was presented at the Las Vegas Worlds in 2015, and was debated for the following year before approval. This was an important milestone for the Middle Eastern women’s wrestling community. The uniform is now official, and Muslim women are now able to train for and compete in classical wrestling.

Limitations and pushback

In Iran, wrestling is not just a sport— it’s a way of life. Men are celebrated for their acts of kindness as well as their triumphs on the mat. A wrestler is more than a man of technique and strength, a wrestler is one of honor.

There are specific cultural and religious customs in which Iranian women must adhere. Living in a predominantly patriarchal society, progressions for women are hard fought. There are very few women in government or in leadership positions as a whole. A big push has been to allow women in stadiums, and to cheer in person rather than at home on the television. Women are currently banned from athletic stadiums as it’s believed it is too vulgar for them to watch, and the attire worn by the athletes deemed inappropriate. This ties specifically to wrestling, since it is a sport that has a special place in all Iranians’ hearts. After all, it is Iran’s national sport. The ban makes Iranian women unable to participate in giving their encouragement for their country in sports. The pain of not being present in such crucial moments to cheer on Iran can be crushing for women, especially for a sport as prevalent as wrestling.

In addition, the severity of strictness and adhesion to conservative Iranian values will vary from family to family. Depending on how conservative a family is, they may not allow their daughters to wrestle. This gives the women no true choice, relying on their family’s decision. With wrestling being such an empowering sport, women will be able to develop the confidence to push for further progression, and to become more invested in a deeply rooted and respected sport for their country. If refused on such an opportunity, women will miss out on something truly special.   

Iranian Wrestling Federation Photographer- Akbari

Iranian Wrestling Federation Photographer- Akbari

Uniforms and coaching support

With women’s belt wrestling, it was fairly simple to modify the uniform in order to adhere to the cultural and religious beliefs of Islam. The uniform already consists of a gi, which covers the curves of the body. Long compression pants, a hijab (hair cover), and fitted long-sleeve shirts were added so the women could compete comfortably and not compromise their personal values.

However in the classical form of wrestling, it has been more difficult to have a uniform approved by United World Wrestling. Due to the more revealing nature of a wrestling singlet versus the already conservative form of a robe-like gi, it has been complicated to find a good alternative. Even still, a uniform was approved despite those complications. It was presented at the Las Vegas Worlds in 2015, and was debated for the following year before approval. This was an important milestone for the Middle Eastern women’s wrestling community. The uniform is now official, and Muslim women are now able to train for and compete in classical wrestling.

Despite the triumph with uniforms, another troubling complication is the question of coaches: there is a short supply of female coaches. The male coaches have not been able to compensate for this problem. The men are not able to do more than demonstrate on an adolescent boy, and then leave as the women practice the move. The men are not able to correct their female athletes, since they cannot touch them. It is essential that an all-female staff is sent over from other countries to help the female wrestlers in Iran.  According to a United World Wrestling article written in 2017, 2,000 Iranian women are practicing wrestling, with 100 actively competing. The Iranian wrestling community hopes that more female support will be sent over to accommodate the growing numbers.

How the world is affected

Due to the efforts in Iran, it is projected that the world will see more women with in United World Wrestling. The sport will gain more female competitors, referees, and coaches. This will help women’s wrestling as a whole, and establish more female presence where there is generally very little. As with all beginnings, there is always many hurdles to overcome. The benefits to overcoming these challenges will be exponential.

Bringing the world together through wrestling is effective because in wrestling, everyone is of equal value. It doesn’t matter what your class, sex, race, nationality, or sexual orientation is; all matches start 0-0. Wrestling does not care if you are a woman or a man. It is about what lies within you, and if you are willing to push to your limits. It is an experience that is never forgotten, and changes the athlete for the better. Wrestling has changed my whole world for the better, and I hope everyone has the opportunity to understand the same feeling.

The progressions made in Iran will be essential for women worldwide. It is imperative that support is given to further grow the sport for Muslim women. It is with great hope women’s wrestling will continue to be a success. With everyone in the world chipping in to bring wrestling to all women, we can grow the sport as a whole. Support can be given through spreading the news on social media, finding a way to donate to the cause, or simply just by watching women compete. May this be a true embodiment of the wonders that everyone can accomplish when we all come together in sport.

Elizabeth Dosado is from Ruther Glen, Virginia. She is 16, and going into her junior year in high school. She has been practicing judo for three years, and is currently a blue belt. She just completed her third wrestling season. Elizabeth teaches beginner wrestlers in local high schools in an effort to grow the sport for girls in her area.

Elizabeth was fourth in the region during the school season, and made it to Virginia State as the only girl in the 4A division. She is a three time VAWA Girls Folkstyle champion, a two time VAWA Girls Freestyle champion, and has competed nationally representing the Virginia National Team. If she isn't working out or doing combat sports, Elizabeth can be found fiddling with a guitar, singing to herself, or trying her hand at writing. She has done multiple mission trips through her church, and participates in the Army JROTC through her school. 


Jenna Burkert: What's Your Why?

photo: richard immel

photo: richard immel

What is your why? Can you even remember anymore? When you do something for so long, its almost inevitable for your 'why' to come into question. Your why is the reason behind your effort. It is what keeps you driven, if you don’t have a why you may be weak when things get hard. 

Take me for example, I have been wrestling for nineteen years. Now 25-years-old, that’s almost my whole life. I say that with a laugh, can you believe I have laced up my wrestling shoes almost every day for nineteen years? Well I have, but not without the reminder of my 'why.' I emphasize the number of years because it's a long time to keep motivated. I’d be a liar if I told you I never wanted to quit. There have been days that I was so sore, so beat up from practices and workouts, that heck yea I wanted to quit. After those hard days I had to work hard to remind myself why I still compete in wrestling. 

My why is my pure love for the sport. 

My why is the countless hours I have dedicated to become the best.

My why is because at almost 5 years old I saw the Winter Olympics on tv, and knew I had to be there. It didn't matter to me that wrestling wasn't in those Winter Olympics, because the Olympic movement is what set the fire in my eyes and ignited the passion in my heart. I knew I wanted to be the best, and the very best competed at the Olympics. 

photo: tony rotundo

photo: tony rotundo

On the hard days, weeks, and months, I have to remind myself of why I began wrestling in the first place. Your own personal why can be anything. When you fall down seven times, it's the why that gets you up on the eighth time. Some of my greatest victories came right after huge challenges which had made me question if I should leave the sport. Digging through those thoughts helped me realize I didn't want to give up on my goals. At some point, I won’t be able to keep competing and I will have to retire. This reality helps ensure I make the most of every time I am able to step on the mat. I don’t know a single athlete who have never had thoughts about quitting. Take comfort knowing it is okay to question if you want to continue on. Maybe that’s a sign you need a break, or time to do cross-training. Whether you are wrestling or competing in any sport, your why is your biggest weapon. 

Life is hard. Those three words are the honest truth. There are going to be many hard times in your life. It may be sports, school, relationships, or maybe even filing your taxes. Something out there will make you question if you can do it. Your why is your back bone, and it’s the strength that will help you continue on. With social media dominating our every move, it's easy to think everyone else lives perfect, happy lives. This is deceiving and is never the full truth. We don’t see the struggles or the bad days, we only see an image or a ten second video.

I’ll give you guys an example of life throwing curveballs. Three and a half weeks before this year’s U.S. Open, I fractured my ankle along with a high ankle sprain. Let me tell you, my heart ached and I was absolutely devastated. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. As I sat in the hospital listening to the orthopedic surgeon tell me the news, I couldn't stop shaking my head. The doctor told me I would be in a boot, and I most likely should not compete at nationals. With the qualification system requiring us to compete at the U.S. Open, I knew I had to compete because missing nationals would end my season. My eyes fill up with tears, but I knew I had to find a way to be at nationals. I walked out of that room with my mind set on competing. My physical therapist and athletic trainers came up with a plan heading into the open. I would have to be extremely cautious and the most disciplined I had ever been. I had rehab exercises before and after every workout, and I taped up for wrestling practice. If I wasn’t on the mat, I religiously wore my boot. Fast forward, I ended up placing third at nationals, going on to win the world team trials, and then ultimately fell short at Final X. Despite not representing the U.S. at worlds this year, I overcame so much and I stand with my head held high. It’s tough doing what I did, I had to compete with little to no strength in my ankle to push off, but I found a way. I may not have made the world team this year, but I proved to myself just how strong I am. I will rise again, and just like they say, the sun still comes up the next day. So, keep pushing, chase those dreams, and always believe in yourself. 

Life is tough, but so are you.

Jenna Burkert is a 4x National Team Member, 3x Junior World Team Member, and a 2014 & 2018 Senior World Team Member. She wrestles for the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program and was 4th at the Military Worlds in 2017. She was 5th at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games as the only female representing the U.S. 

Jenna wants you to reach out to her through social media! She loves working with and answer young athlete's questions, so send them her way!

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thejokerjb_/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/thejokerjb

Facebook Fan Page: https://www.facebook.com/JennaBurkertfanPage/ 


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!