The holiday season is here and what can be a joyous time of year for many
Americans can also be a tough time for the wrestler in the family. Just when they
may be hitting their stride on the mat they must now deal with the temptation of an
overabundance of food at family gatherings and disruption in their training routine.
It doesn’t mean wrestlers can’t enjoy this time of year, they just need to be smart
about it, says Nick Spatola, a former wrestler at Indiana University who now runs
Spatola Wrestling at a Fort Thomas, KY gym that provides individual and group
training, wrestling camps, and clinics in the Cincinnati metro area.
“I always held a chip on my shoulder and felt special at holiday gatherings,” recalls
Spatola. “While everyone else was indulging, I was still in training mode which
meant eating healthy and still working out. My whole family knew what was going
on and I could feel the respect. This gave me mental confidence and made me feel
like I was a warrior in training.”
This is the time of the year for coaches to discuss with the team the goals set forth
at the start of the year, says Ian Assael, director of the Bison Legend Wrestling Club
and Bison System Wrestling Camps in Lewisburg, PA. It’s also a time of year for
parents to provide support for the wrestler and for wrestling teammates to come
together to keep one another motivated.
One way to do that is to write out a holiday meal plan and to schedule added
workouts outside regularly scheduled practices. “Stay in a training routine,” says
Assael. “Scheduling some sort of activity for first thing in the morning will make you
wake up and get your day going. This could be wrestling, lifting, or running/cardio. If
there are clubs in your area where you can get some extra workouts in, that is also
Mike DeRoehn, head coach at Lakeland College in Sheboygan, WI, and the head
wrestling coach of World Class Wrestling School in Fond du Lac, WI, says the best
athletes he’s coached buy into the concept that wrestling is about more than just
participating in a sport and that mindset can help guide wrestlers through this time
“Is your daily lifestyle — training, nutrition, hydration, sleep habits, friends you hang
out with — more conducive to success than your opponents? Remember, there are
two pains in life. The pain of discipline and the pain of regret,” says DeRoehn.
Sometimes getting out of the wrestling room for a day or two while training over a
holiday break can also be mentally refreshing, he adds: “Coaches, your athletes will
thank you for breaking it up.”
Brandon Paulson, a 1996 Greco-Roman Olympic Silver Medalist and co-director of
PINnacle Wrestling in Shoreview, MN, agrees. If a break from the sport is needed,
try incorporating other activities into your routine. “This is a great time of year to get
a little cross-training in. An hour-long soccer, football, or even dodge ball game will
keep you active and rest your mind as well,” explains Paulson.
Mike Krause, Director of the NXT LVL Wrestling Academy and the Team Shamrock
School of Wrestling in Hartland, MI, says this a great time of year for wrestlers to
continue to challenge themselves. Want to eat a little more? Run three extra miles in
the morning. Want to take the day off? Put in a two-a-day workout the next day.
“Do the extra things and eat sensibly,” says Krause, a former wrestler at Michigan
State University. “If your break is long and you have no practices scheduled, make
one up yourself.”
That’s what Spatola did over holiday breaks when he was competing, going for runs
outside and focusing on the physical and mental aspect of the sport. “I used to
visualize my opponents and see myself getting my hand raised in the big match,”
Spatola’s gym features a quote on the wall that says “it’s the hard days that really
count.” And this time of year, when it seems like everyone around you is taking it
easy, definitely fall into that category.”If you can manage to drag yourself to practice
and make it through it, you just got better,” he says. “Everyone can train when they
feel good, it’s training on those hard days that create results.”
No matter how dedicated one is to the sport, Spatola says this is still a time of year
to remember who and what is important. Train hard, remain focused, but rest the
mind and body when you can and enjoy family time at every opportunity.
“No matter how hard you are training, you can always make time for these special
people during the holiday season,” explains Spatola. “Although you are a warrior in
training, it’s important for your mind and body to relax and just spend time with the
people you care most about.”
Holiday Training Tips:
Coaches and parents, provide knowledge: Don’t assume all kids know how getting
out of their routine can affect them on and off the mat. Don’t be overbearing, but if
you see them slip, gently nudge them in the right direction or try to get them to
Moderation is key: If one does indulge some holiday cookies or a larger than usual
meal, schedule an extra workout, practice a little longer or add an extra running/
cardio or weightlifting session.
Mental edge: This is the time of year one can work on honing the mental aspect of
the sport. By keeping motivated while others may be taking time off, you can gain an
important psychological edge knowing you did the right things and made the right
Get the whole family on board: Inform all family members so they understand
what the wrestler is going through. If no practices are available, schedule a fun
activity that keeps kids active, like sledding, ice skating, or a family walk. It will
create memories and help maintain the wrestler’s fitness level.
Rest: Eating right is important, but so is rest and sleep. This is also a time to heal up
and get focused for the home stretch of the season. Don’t feel bad if you
occasionally miss a workout or overindulge a little.
Holiday Cross-Training Exercises:
Lakeland College wrestling coach Mike DeRoehn recommends incorporating these
winter cross-training opportunities into your holiday routine:
Run outside in deep snow where you need to really get those knees up and high step while lifting your boots. Grab a teammate and push/pull each other in a sled to work on your leg drive Find a hill to sled down and then get a workout in going back up, doing these exercises in intervals of three:
Sled down/bear crawl up Sled down/bear crawl up Sled down/bear crawl backwards up Sled down/carry a partner up