5 Reasons Why You Should Offer Open Mat Wrestling
With wrestling season nearly a month away for most school systems in the U.S., a lot might be running through your head as a coach. You might be wondering about who is going to show up on the first day. You might be concerned about the experience level (or lack thereof) of any new faces. You might even be worried about the relatively short amount of time you have to go over moves before your first match.
If these thoughts are running through your head as a coach, there might be a simple solution: run open mat practices before the season begins. Having coached at the middle school and high school level, I’ve seen various iterations of open mat practice provided over the years and how effective they are in the long run. With that said, you should run open mat practices because:
- It Eases New Wrestlers into The Sport
Taking part in a new sport can be daunting for any new athlete. This is especially true for wrestling, as the daily grind of practice is started almost immediately. While we want the most determined athletes to step onto the mat, we often see many potential wrestlers walk away from the sport early on due to the intensity of practice or even the complexity of the moveset. Providing a voluntary open mat practice introduces the sport to your new wrestlers without the high stakes of seasonal practice. This “peek under the curtain” allows those athletes to see whether or not they should continue in the sport and prevents the awkward quitting process if it’s the latter.
- It GIves Your Experienced Wrestlers More Time
On the other end of the spectrum, the addition of open mat practice gives your seasoned wrestlers more mat time, especially if they have championship aspirations. They know your routines and procedures for practice and therefore can be helpful with any new recruits you have. There is a caveat to this: some of your experienced athletes may in the middle of a fall sport and therefore are not able to make it. On the other hand, you can modify what you go over with your attendees to avoid those unable to attend being left behind. For those who are able to be there, extra practice time is always a plus.
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- It Allows You To Differentiate Moves
In teaching, differentiation is adjusting assignments for each student based on their current abilities, such as providing different reading passages. In wrestling, the concept can be similar, especially in a low-stakes open mat practice. While you give your inexperienced wrestlers shot drills or stance and movement practice, you can teach your experienced wrestlers a new move or reiterate something that was taught the previous year. This can also be done in regular season practice, but the fact that open mat is supplemental means that you’re not giving up precious practice time.
- It Establishes Routines and Procedures Early On
Not every open mat practice will be the same. During my tenure, I’ve seen open mat being used as a “free roll,” meaning that each person is devoted to their own practice time and the coaches are there as moderators. While this isn’t a bad approach to open mat and mimics what most jiu-jitsu academies do on the weekend, you could argue that structured open mat can be useful. By using open mat as a proxy regular season practice, you can give your crew a preview of what is expected on the first day, such as when to weigh-in, how to warm-up, conditioning expectations, and so on. This curbs the issue of losing potential wrestlers who are blindsided by practice while letting your older athletes know of any procedural changes that you intend to implement.
- It Can Be Fun
Open mat practice can be a valuable use of time in preparation for the season, but it should not have the same atmosphere as a regular practice. While establishing the routines and procedures of practice are important aspects, that can be done without rigor. Instead, you can use the time to demonstrate drills and moves that are informal and loose, such as “sharks and minnows.” Doing so accomplishes each of the previous reasons listed above, as new wrestlers can see how enjoyable the sport can be, older wrestlers still get their mat time, differentiation can be done by handicapping your seasoned members during fun drills, and normal practice routines can be discussed during the day. With that said, you can still ask any participants who are goofing off or causing trouble to be dismissed if it is detrimental to the practice as a whole.
Don’t settle for a normal wrestling season. Add in extra open mat practices before the season to get a broader view of your talent pool, and soon you’ll see how just a few extra few minutes on the mat can bring a few extra results once your first match happens.
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