Monday, December 30, 2019

The New Way To Run A High School Wrestling Tournament

What is the purpose of the Saturday individual high school wrestling tournament?

Fun is one purpose that cannot be ignored regardless of sport. The sport itself should be fun and therefore a tournament should maximize fun and avoid things that make it less fun (when possible).
High School athletics are supposed to enhance the education process, so the event should not detract from that purpose either.

Last but not least high school tournaments are about development and getting better. 

Most schools don't run them in a way that supports these purposes. Seeding meetings become dog fights, award ceremonies are dragged out like it's a National event, and the day drags on and on sometimes past 12 hours.

So when it came time to running my own tournament, I set a few goals in order to do things differently.
  • Start on time-This shouldn't be a big problem, but every tournament every weekend starts late. The coaches meeting goes on forever because of debating over seeding. Pre-Seeding helps, but also talking to the coaches that seeding isn't a huge deal. The matches will be wrestled on the mat and in a year no one will remember who won what, let alone where kids were seeded. Also, have an early seeding meeting on the day of the event. This takes care of scratches from no shows versus a night before seeding meeting.
  • Be done in 8 hours.-If it takes longer than that, use more mats or less teams. I am referring to the wrestling. Start on time, be done in 8 hours or less. If you start at 9:00, finals & awards need to be done before 5:00. Coaches Meeting falls outside this, it has too. So does setup and clean up. So if wrestling drags on 10-12 hours, this wears on coaches and your volunteers.
  • Have the officials love being there.-Pay them top dollar and have an amazing hospitality room that serves breakfast and lunch. Also hire enough officials so they get a break and can rotate. I always do one per mat plus one.
  • Already mentioned, but I challenged the parents to put together the best hospitality room in the state. They rose to the occasion. Coaches, table workers, and officials loved it.
  • No medal presentations.-Award ceremony includes just the champions getting charts and team trophies. Medals handed out matside at the conclusion of each finals bout. Anything else is a waste of time. This should take 15 minutes maximum. The kids don't want to stand on the podium at Smallville's mid-January Jamboree. It's not a championship event. Get them their medals, they can take pictures as a team and get home at a decent time.
  • Fill 16 man brackets with less than 16 teams, allowing coaches to bring extra guys. Some teams have 16-17 "Varsity" level guys. Other teams simply don't have the staff or resources to get many JV events in their schedule. I allow double entry and give all teams 18 spots. No rattails are allowed. If we end up with more than 16 we bump a guy up or he sits out. Some teams are large enough to weigh in extra wrestlers and enter them in if room is open. This can be done very easily on Trackwrestling during the coaches meeting.
  • Format to include extra mat time for 0-2 wrestlers. Around the time that kids start getting eliminated, the rounds start moving two quick and breaks end up being needed. We countered this by shutting down one mat and letting 0-2 kids wrestle off in exhibition matches (Periods 1-1-1).  The goal is to get every kid one more match, but this time it's usually closer to their skill level. This DOES NOT water down the tournament or create a false sense of success. These kids still had to wrestle a match and score more points in order to win. But this helped blend the advantages of a team tournament (more mat time) with the advantages of an individual tournament (higher quality matches the further you progress, quality meaning closer to one's own skill level) into one event.
  • Hire someone to run Trackwrestling. A professional who knows how to troubleshoot any issues that arise. My first year, I was the only one who knew how to operate Trackwrestling and so I was constantly back and forth putting out fires and trying to coach. The next year I brought in Dawn Haase and it was smooth sailing. There are other professionals out there, but Dawn receives my highest recommendation.
  • As I mentioned already, Pre-Seeding the tournament speeds things way up. Using last year's post season results as criteria cuts through a lot of bs. Then record. The only thing that overrides this is head to head or common opponent situation where Wrestler A beat Wrestler C, but Wrestler B lost to Wrestler C.Common sense and coaches votes can be used when necessary.  Example: Common Sense-State Champ from two seasons ago was undefeated last season but injured and missed post season. His record is 20-1 another kid is 23-1 and regional qualifier, we put the state champ at #1.
  • Do not allow endless arguing over seeding. If a coach wants to challenge the pre-seed they have to have information ready to do so. The goal is not to decide who the best is at 8:00 AM over a cup of coffee, but to separate the best so they can wrestle for medals at 2:30 PM. If after a short discuss there's not a clear decision, take it to a vote and move on.

For me, hosting a tournament wasn't about finding out who was the best. It was about creating an environment where kids can have fun competing and coaches could develop their team. I'm not talking about removing challenges from the tournament or watering down the event to create a false sense of success. Wrestlers still had to win to get medals. The tournament was tough with several state qualifiers in each weight class and quality teams competing for the top spots. The challenge is what makes the sport fun.

Please provide feedback. I'm sure I left out details, and this idea will constantly evolve. People who fight these kind of changes like to call out innovators as soft. Truth is, they're the soft ones. They're afraid of change. The concepts of continuous improvement and adapt & overcome are lost on them. That is sad as both are foundational in the sport of wrestling.

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