Wrestling: More than Meets The Eye

Wrestlers at Clackamas Community College practicing for their next meet (Picture By Jeremy McDonald)

By Jeremy McDonald


I was finding myself asking “Why is the perception of wrestling so negative?” over the past few days.

Just why is it so negative?  I’ve gone out to several Clackamas Community College wrestling practices, watched off-season sessions between McKay and North Salem wrestling teams; and yes I’ve had to admit I had my bias’ against wrestling to a point in high school and college.

But until I learned more about the sport itself, I found it to be quite an positive sport.

For this piece, I’ve interviewed several coaches, all former wrestlers, and some current wrestlers about their opinions on the sport they love and performed in.

These are there answers:

Why is there a negative perception to wrestling?

Stayton Coach Stuart Peterson going through a drill with his Eagle squad (Picture By Jeremy McDonald)

Some things with the sport of wrestling that has people turning their cheek can be pointed to how combative wrestling is.

“It’s a combat sport first of all, that one right off the bat,” said Clackamas Community College Head Coach Josh Rhoden.  “I don’t think anyone in wrestling makes by qualms about it being a hard sport, a physical sport and we want to beat up on one another.

“(It’s) basically a fight with rules.” 

Rhoden also mentioned about another negative perception, having to wear singlets chases people away from the sport.

“Singlets have a big thing to do with it,” he said.  “Whether we wear singlets or not, a lot of people or a lot of kids say that they avoid the sport of wrestling because of the idea of having to wear a singlet.

“The big discussion of it then is ‘do we go to rashguard and shorts?’ like what you see in the UFC and some organization have tried to go to that model.”

Rhoden mentioned that FloWrestling had gone with the rashguard and shorts in their ‘Who’s Number One’ event in determining the best wrestler in the country.  The point behind it, said Rhoden, is trying to break down that barrier.

“It’s kind of combating the idea of “hey wrestling is suppose to be for all shapes, sizes, weights, heights, it doesn’t matter and we’re carving out a group of our folks by saying “you have to  wear a singlet”,” said Rhoden.  “It only looks good on guys that maturing earlier then that something to do with it.”

Another negative we see is the idea that wrestler’s are “meat heads”.  But for coaches like Rhoden, they try to combat that on a regular basis.

“We try to combat that here by being good students,” he said.  “I know a lot of coaches combat that by saying that ‘hey we’re going to be smart and tough’ and I don’t think they’re anything wrong with that.

Clackamas CC Head Coach Josh Rhoden observing his Cougars during practice (Picture By Jeremy McDonald)

Stayton High School Wrestling Head Coach Stuart Peterson points to a negative being with college wrestling and the number of schools that are without a college program.

“A lot of college programs have lost their funding.  They’re not big money makers for schools.  As far as high school I think it’s one of the top five sports for participation, so it’s not as bad as it seems when you see a small group of wrestlers.”

The University of Oregon was a big one a few years ago as they cut the wrestlers and left athletes scrambling around for programs to join on short noticed.

Peterson also mentions the idea of being an individual out there, though as he will later explain in this piece, it’s scary to some to think if you screw up on the mat, you can’t put the blame on someone else.

“It’s just you out there, (there’s) no one to blame.  ‘We didn’t catch the pass, that was a perfect pass’, we don’t have that excuse in wrestling so I think that keeps kids from showing up,” he said.

What is the reality of the sport?  What is the positive of wrestling?

But through the negatives and concerns that people have about the sport of wrestling; there are enough things about the sport that’ll make you reconsider it.

Rhoden said three go-to’s are dedication, hard work and sacrifice.  Not to mention loyalty said the 26-year veteran of the sport finds themselves involved with his Cougar squad during practice.

“You have to be dedicated because it’s a really, really hard (Sport),” he started.  “Sacrifice, I’m going to sacrifice me  some days and replace that with workouts and that’s a easy one.

“Loyalty because you’re bleeding and sweating and crying with guys and working hard trying to get better with a bunch of guys that have a common goal. “

Stayton working on footwork around the circle (Picture By Jeremy McDonald)

Peterson added mental toughness, confidence and an commitment to a goal.

“It’s more of an individual sport, you’ll get that mental toughness, confidence, commitment to a goal,” said Peterson.  “(You) know how to make a goal and see it through, those are some of the benefits of it and why people should wrestle.

“It’s a microcosm of life; you can’t blame anyone but yourself.  You’re the only one out there on the mat.”

Rhoden mentioned that over the summertime, when he and his coaching staff helps his team get jobs; their athlete’s employers mentioned how much hard work these guys put into the job.

“You have them come back and say, ‘God, those are the hardest working guys we’ve had’,” Rhoden said.  And part of it is the mentality of wrestlers, ‘I’m going to have to work hard for everything I get.  I got to make sacrifices even when it’s hard, I’m still going to do my job.’”

The Forbes article, written by Steve Cooper ‘Why Wrestlers Make the Best Employees’ from July 31, 2012 said that there’s a reason behind the negative light.

It’s because what wrestlers exhibit on the mat can translate to a higher level of fortitude said Cooper in his piece since they are always hungry to prove themselves for a common goal and the task at hand.

How can the sport get rid of its “negative perception”?

There’s going to be difficulty to change the perception of the sport.

Rhoden mentioned how there’s some argument between the younger generation of wrestlers with the older generation with the evolution with the UFC as a segway from college wrestling to a more of a “professional” sport in a way.

“To be honest, it’s a legitimate transition for these guys in a sport where there is no NFL or NBA,” Rhoden said about the UFC.  “The UFC is definitely a legitimate way for some of these guys to continue the same training methods and the same tatics and strategies they employed in their matches in a business to go make money.

As for the discrepancy between the younger crew and the older crowd.

“There’s going to be that fight of ‘do we associate ourselves with that UFC because the older coaches and supports and things are not really into it,” said Rhoden.

Rhoden adds that different programs are trying to associate more with the UFC-crowd while others fight against the idea.  For his Clackamas program, UFC-Fighter Chael Sonnen is a familiar face for their mat room.

“Chael Sonnen is a friend of the program,” said Rhoden.  “Chael comes out and introduces himself, hangs out, rolls around and the kids think it’s the greatest thing in the world.

“For us, we want to have something like that associated with the program.  He’s a great guy, he’s obviously super famous and popular for wrestling and UFC.  .”

For Peterson, he mentions about talking the sport up to your friends because having a friend there with you will make it harder to quit.

“If their friend is doing it, there’s a better chance of them doing it.  It kind of teaches kids how to recruit, be confident about the sport but also talk the sport up to your friends. When you’re in the hallways, tell them what we did in practice yesterday:

The Stayton Eagle head coach has been wrestling since his freshman year of high school and knows personally how once he got success, you couldn’t stop him.

And he shares that with his wrestlers regularly.

“Once you see the benefits, you’re not going to quit.  I was the same way,” said Peterson.  “I didn’t start wrestling until my freshman year of high school and I started to have some success and you couldn’t get me to quit.

“I like to tell my wrestlers that they’re frogs in boiling water,” Peterson continued.  “They don’t even know that the water is being turned up. As fire as intensity goes, they’ll get there without know it.  Once they’re in, it’s hard to quit the sport.”

 Special Thanks to Clackamas CC Head Coach Josh Rhoden and Stayton Head Coach Stuart Peterson for taking part in this article.  For Cooper’s article link  visit it here:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevecooper/2012/07/31/why-wrestlers-make-the-best-employees/

Jeremy McDonald is a professional sports journalist in the Salem/Portland area and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalist in Oregon with B.S. degrees from Southern Oregon University in Journalism (2011) and Health/PE (2013).  Got a story idea? Email him at jeremymcdonald73@gmail.com or on Twitter at @J_McDonald81!

Like us on Facebook at Jmcdonaldmedia!


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