Darryl Ellrott

Table of Contents

In Wrestling on February 19, 2010 at 9:34 pm

Table of Contents:


Chapter 1:      The Forgotten Secret Principles

Chapter 2:      The Middle School

Chapter 3:      The Middle School Child

Chapter 4:      The Middle School Parent

Chapter 5:      The Middle School Coach

Chapter 6:      The Middle School Off Season

Chapter 7:      The Middle School Preseason

Chapter 8:      The Middle School Season

Chapter 9:      The Dual Match:  Planning and Execution

Chapter 10:    The Tri-Match: Planning and Execution

Chapter 11:    The Traditional MS Tournament: Planning and Execution

Chapter 12:    The Middle School Dual Tournament: Planning and Execution

Chapter 13:    Limited Entry Tournaments:  Planning and Execution

Chapter 14:    The Middle School Wrestling League: Planning and Execution

Chapter 15:    Middle School Wrestling Camp

Chapter 16:    Middle School Strength Training

Chapter 17:    Scouting and Film Study in the Middle School

Chapter 18:    The Middle School Practice:  Planning and Execution

Chapter 19:    Money and Fundraising in Middle School Wrestling

Chapter 20:    Troubles and How to Shoot Them

Chapter 21:    Planning the Offense and Defense: What Works


The Forgotten Secret Principles

In Public Education, Wrestling on October 26, 2009 at 2:53 pm

I coached Middle School wrestling for over twenty three years, and I loved just about every minute.  I loved the enthusiasm and exuberance that all those twelve year olds brought into my wrestling room.  Teaching to such a receptive audience was extremely gratifying, because the kids were learning every technique for the first time, and whatever I showed them was the coolest thing they ever saw.  What I loved most about being a Middle School coach was having my own team.  I could make all the plans and call all the shots – and I lived for it.   I did everything a varsity coach did with only a fraction of the pressure and expectations.  What more could a coach want?

In the beginning I, like most other young coaches, viewed Middle School as a stepping stone to a varsity career.  By the end I had no desire to be promoted to my level of incompetence.  I worked for about five head coaches over the years, all of whom offered me the chance to move up to junior varsity or assistant varsity, and all of whom were quickly turned down.  I was simply having too much fun and too much success to want to screw things up.

Middle School is different, and Middle School will change you.  It’s not where you are, it’s how far you’ve come. It’s more than practice plans and pushups.  A Middle School coach must know, and be willing to do, what is right for his kids.  That knowledge must be guided by the laws of education, not the laws of competition.  A Middle School coach must use his experience, his judgment, and his compassion to create an age-appropriate environment for his wrestlers.

When I wrote the Rockmart Takedown Club Handbook in 1989, banged out on an Apple IIE and printed on tractor-fed paper, I was determined to set down a declaration of principles to serve as the foundation of my feeder program.  The first part showcased what I considered to be five basic ethical principles every responsible youth team should operate under.  To this day those five principles still personify what I believe responsible leadership is all about.  Twenty years later, those five principles exist now only in my memory.

These principles are not secrets to gaining the winning edge in competition.  They are not guidelines for creating the ultimate practice plan, nor are they a technical system for turning your program into a juggernaut.  They are intended to serve as a template for a good Middle School coach’s decision making process.  They are principles to live by, and they are what I believe the Middle School Way should be.

A Middle School team should:

1. Be a child-focused, learning-focused organization.

2. Reinforce the principles of Middle School education which focus on the development and maturation of its members.

3. Provide a safe and age-appropriate introduction to the fundamentals of the sport.

4. Teach fun, fundamentals, character, and sportsmanship through practice and competition.

5. Discourage the cutting of weight, the making of mismatches, and encourage the full participation of all wrestlers in all activities.

This is what I call The Middle School Way.  It’s a way that says Middle School wrestling should run for the benefit of its children, that it should not be an exact mirror of varsity competition, and that it should be limited in its goals and scope.  Frankly, this philosophical stance could apply not just to wrestling, but to any sport or endeavor undertaken by parents and children of this particular age group. 

If you are a Middle School teacher reading this for the first time, then the things I’m saying should resonate and reinforce practices you are already living by.  If you are a parent volunteer or a lay coach looking for ways to set up a proper program for your Middle school age team, then hopefully the material here will challenge some of your preconceptions and open up new understanding about the wonderful, fragile, and fun children you have accepted responsibility for.  Coaching the Middle School Way is never the easy way, but I think it’s the only right way.

Parents: The Ultimate Role Players

In Uncategorized, Wrestling on February 24, 2010 at 8:38 pm

The question isn’t whether parents will be involved in your program, but how they will be involved and who will define their involvement.  Behind every wrestler is a set of parents, and they are almost always reflections of each other.  Some kids are mirror images of their parents, others the inverse. A good Middle School coach must coach the parents alongside their children, providing leadership, teaching perspective, and defining limits.  A good set of parents, properly led, can be the difference between a bad program and a model one.

            Make no mistake about it:  the parent’s proper place on a Middle School team is as a role player and a member of the supporting cast.  Seek out and surround yourself with like-minded adults who will allow you to do the leading and be content to support their child and his coach from a distance.  Avoid those who seek you out and shun those who seek to befriend you.  These parents don’t want to be role players, they want control.  Don’t allow yourself to become dependent on them.

            Before I make myself sound like a paranoid who sees all other adults as rivals, let me explain something about Middle School parents.  They tend to be just like their kids.  The Middle School years are a frustrating, puzzling, often frightening period of change in their lives, too.  Parents often don’t know what the rules are, they don’t know the right things to do, and they don’t know how to handle some of the situations they encounter.  The frustration sometimes boils over.  The good news is that most parents are desperate for guidance, and many of them will listen to good leadership.  Once again, your task is to glean the wheat from the chaff and find those who are willing to let you lead the pack.

            My intimate knowledge of parent behavior comes from twenty years as a classroom teacher.  Most of it has little to do with the sport of wrestling.  I don’t know how many times I’ve sat across the conference table with a parent who has thrown up her hands in frustration and cried out to me:  “I just don’t know what to do with him!” They don’t understand why their child’s personality has changed so radically from one year to the next.  Why does a child who was once so affectionate suddenly treat a loving parent with almost violent antipathy?  Why is a child who was so docile and soft spoken the year before become loud, mouthy, obnoxious, and downright rebellious?  Most importantly, why is a child who was on the Honor Roll the year before suddenly abandoning all the hard won habits of scholarship his parents worked so hard to instill? 

First and foremost, a Middle School coach must lead.  He begins by setting limits.  It’s just harder to do with parents than with kids.  He must use charm, he must persuade, and ultimately he must be willing to show the iron fist inside the velvet glove.  A coach who won’t do that is not a coach; he’s a facilitator who’s running his team by committee, and ultimately he will be eaten alive.  Many parents come into the Middle School with a recreation league mindset.  Recreation leagues are parent-run, and the parents are used to being the ones in charge.  A Middle School is a coach-run, school backed organization.  The school owns everything and the teachers are in charge.  Sometimes the adjustment for the parent can be just as jarring as the transition from Elementary School was for the child.  A smart coach needs to project strength and radiate confidence.  He needs to set the agenda right away and not be afraid to let everyone, parents included, know what their commitment involves and what his expectations of them are. 

            A good Middle School coach must teach his parents what the proper perspective is.  The parents who tend to stay in the background already have a clearer sense of perspective, and they are the ones he should seek out.  Just like in politics, those who come to power reluctantly make the best leaders. Beware those who seek it out;  they have the poorest perspective, and must be taught the most.  What perspective should you be teaching?

That these are just kids.  That this is just a game.  That the results matter less than what is learned along the way.

            Finally, the good Middle School coach defines the roles his parents will be allowed to play.  The first role the parent, or any adult for that matter, plays with a child is that of modeler.  It means that the kids are watching everything we do and say, and they will adopt any behavior we model.  We teach the young primarily through our actions, not our words.  That’s why parents and their children are so much alike.  If a parent is pushy, impatient, and aggressive, their kids will see the world as something they can attack and conquer, and they will follow suit.  If a parent models patience, courtesy, respect, and thoughtfulness, their children will be a joy to deal with.  Remember, kids desperately want to be just like their parents!  Said parent must be very, very, careful what he (or she) shows.  It’s truly an awesome responsibility.

            So, if you want a good set of parents, you have to select and train them just like the kids.  Seek out the ones who are willing to accept your leadership.  Find ones who are willing to be molded by your teachings, and who know their role is to support their child from behind the scenes while you drive the train.  Behind every great and admirable program (I do not say championship – championships are won by scumbags every day of the week) is a great set of parents.  Your job is to enable your parents to do the right thing.