The Top 6 Principles & Skills to Teach

Coaches often teach moves independent of each other with no particular sequence or order. Principles will apply across multiple sets of moves and allows wrestlers to learn on their own. If they know WHY they need to be in a position and can master that, they can figure out lots of other scoring positions on the fly when they wrestle live. For example, learning to keep your head, shoulders, knee & toes aligned in your stance allows you to hit all the leg attacks. So you should spend more time perfecting those positions versus showing five ways to set up and finish a single leg. Learning moves and a technique series is important, but you will accelerate learning 10x by proactively allocating time to helping kids get comfortable with basic positions.

If I had to pick 6 things that will enable kids to develop good habits that will enable success at all levels, I would focus your attention on these:

Head/Shoulder/Knee/Toe Alignment

This is by far number one and should be a focal point for all wrestlers at all experience levels. The ability to be in a good stance is critical while moving yourself, moving others, while they are trying to move you, while level changing into a shot, while finishing a shot, and while trying to get out from bottom. At the simplest level, it just means you have good balance. For some this is natural and for most it will need to be taught and repeated continuously throughout not only the season, but their careers.

Head Position (Up)

  • Hand fighting – Neck crunched and turned into the pocket between their ear and neck (never ear to ear). This enables the wrestler to control their opponent, get angles to attacks, block shots and re-attack.
  • On shots – Keeping your head up makes your neck and back strong and enables you to improve position. You can also use it as a way to move your opponent.
  • Bottom – It’s really hard to get up when someone is driving your face into the mat.
  • Sprawling and scrambling – Arching your head up when sprawling enables your hips to drive in and keep better balance. In scrambles, typically the person with the higher head will win.

Elbows in/Hands Out

  • On bottom – Three major benefits here:
    • Keeping your hands away prevents the opponent from gaining hand control.
    • Keeping your elbows “sealed off” prevents them from controlling you with a tight waist, claw and half nelson.
    • Takes weight off the hands making it easier to move.
  • Taking a shot – Bringing your elbows to your hip on a level change has two benefits:
    • You “disappear” underneath them, become more compact and can shoot up, making it harder for them to sprawl.
    • It trains you not to reach on your shots, thus preventing you from getting extended and forcing you to use more power from the hips.
  • In short offense – In a front headlock or “praying mantis” position, this prevents the opponent from grabbing your elbows.
  • Tight Pressure on Top – The bottom wrestler wants space to move. We want to suffocate that space, wear them out and drive on our toes. One key on top is constant re-adjustment of tightness to stay in control. As soon as you feel something loosen up, re-adjust and drive forward.

Knee Sliding

But wait…it’s actually hard to pick your head up and get weight off your hands when they have all their body weight on you.. Why? Because your neck is NOT stronger than their entire body. Sliding your knees back under your chest enables you to get your head up and step up your leg. This skill is at the core of improving multiple positions including finishing shots, getting out from bottom and clearing out of short offense.


While this is not a technical skill, it is crucial to success in wrestling. Grit means dealing with adversity, not stopping on shots, not giving up positions and finding ways to win even if you don’t know how. This is a skill that you can develop as a coach by putting them in situations to be gritty and rewarding them when they are. Some will have it more naturally than others, but it can be taught.

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