High School Wrestling: Dominating in All Three Positions

Most wrestlers have a favorite position whether it is standing, on the bottom in the referee’s position, or on top in the referee’s position. Nonetheless, a wrestler wants to be strong in each of these positions. In fact, a wrestler wants to dominate all three of these positions. How can this be accomplished? Let’s explore.


The first thing to consider in the standing position is one’s stance. Your stance should be fairly low and wide. You want to have a stable base and yet be very mobile. You want your head up and your shoulders square. You obviously don’t want to be looking at your feet. You want your eyes centered on your opponent’s body. You want to be somewhat on the balls of your feet. You don’t want to be on your heels. You should have your hands up in front of you to guard against getting taken down. You should never be standing straight up and leaving yourself open to a takedown from your opponent. You should utilize a comfortable but effective stance. You need a stance that allows you to attack as well as defend. This is basic information.

Lee Roy Smith (brother to John and Pat and an extraordinary wrestler and coach in his own right) notes, “To successfully execute takedowns, you must control contact. Your tie ups or setups will determine whether or not you can successfully execute your takedowns. So, setups should not be overlooked. They are an integral part of gaining control and getting the takedown.”

You can control your opponent’s reaction in a variety of ways. Controlling your opponent’s response gives you an advantage. For instance, if you pull his head down you know he’s going to pull it back up; then you shoot after he reacts.

Ways to Control Contact

  • Pull – He pulls back.
  • Push – He pushes back.
  • Twist his shoulders – He twists back.
  • Pump and fake – He reacts because he thinks you are going to shoot.

Coach Tommy Pavia likes to talk about making an opponent “heavy” on one foot. By grabbing an opponent’s arm and pulling him forward, for instance, you can force your opponent to bring the leg toward you that you want to attack.

Two-time NCAA wrestling champion Cary Kolat emphasizes snapping your opponent’s head down a lot to tire his back muscles and eventually his leg muscles to wear him down. In addition, snapping your opponent’s head down takes his eyesight away and you may be able to capitalize on his reactions as he tries to come back up. Snapping the head down can break his stance and position.

There are many ties a wrestler can use to move his opponent around and set up takedowns.

Common ties include:

  • Collar and elbow tie
  • Double elbow tie
  • Underhook and overhook
  • Double bicep tie
  • Two-on-one or Russian tie

You probably know that you need to use motion and level change to execute successful takedowns. You never want to move backwards or retreat. You may get called for stalling. You want to move from side to side without crossing your feet and move forward in a stalking manner. You need to control your opponent’s movements and determine where the action goes on the mat. In addition, a good time to shoot is after you have blocked an opponent’s shot or immediately after you’ve had a takedown attempt blocked. Re-shots are very important.

Your most common takedowns are going to be doubles and singles. They are basic and they work a significant percentage of the time. You need to drill doubles and singles often. There are several ways to set these takedowns up and finish them. You need to know how to perform a high crotch, ankle pick, and other takedowns as well.

It’s important to learn to finish low and cut the corner because you won’t always be able to lift your opponent’s leg off the mat. You may capture a leg and yet be stuck down on the mat. You need to get on your toes, perhaps snake his leg, and grab the near or far ankle while cutting the corner and coming around to score. Momentarily being stopped doesn’t mean you can’t finish the shot and score. Practicing this position is very important.

You need to have at least a rudimentary knowledge of tosses and throws as well. You need to know how to execute a headlock, hip toss, and arm toss. Sometimes an opportunity for a toss or throw arises when you didn’t even have that scenario in mind.

You, of course, need to defend against takedowns as well. Sprawling is basic but absolutely essential. You need to sprawl and peel your opponent’s hands off. Your legs go back and your hips go in. You may need to crossface and whizzer as well. You execute a crossface by sprawling the legs back, reaching across your opponent’s face, grabbing the far arm, grabbing the near ankle, and circling behind. This is basic material but important to know and perfect.

Top Position

When in the top position, you want to control your opponent and prevent him from getting an escape or a reversal. In addition, you ultimately want to turn him to his back to score points and pin him.

Dan Gable (Dan Gable’s Wrestling Essentials DVD) and Art Keith (author of Successful Wrestling) both emphasize being able to flow with your opponent’s movements. Holding on to your opponent tightly is not necessarily the most appropriate way to control your opponent from the top. Art Keith likes to talk about keeping an opponent “in your lap” to maintain control of his hips. Dan Gable likes to compare flowing with your opponent to riding a bucking bronco. You need to get “in tune” with your opponent and anticipate his movements.

You do, of course, want to control some of your opponent’s movements and eventually break him down. Just as in the standing position, you want to keep your opponent off balance. You can attack both arms and legs in a number of ways to keep your opponent from bracing himself and executing moves. Make your opponent carry your weight and drive him forward trying to get as much weight forward as you can to break him down. Drive your opponent’s body (i.e. weight) forward. This is key.

Coach Gable prefers a technique he calls “jam and control.” On the whistle, you want to jam your opponent forward while making sure to keep your arms behind your opponent’s arms when performing the jamming action. Repeated hip thrusts may be needed to break your opponent’s position. Riding on your toes can give you more mobility and allow you to apply greater pressure on your opponent. You can execute a spiral ride, chop an arm, grab an ankle, or put in a cross body ride just to name a few options.

Pinning combinations include the half nelson, arm bar, double arm bar, hammerlock, cradles, leg turks, and pins from leg riding (turk, force half, guillotine).

Coach Guy Burdett related a story from his high school days concerning technique. He mentioned that a wrestler who knows more techniques than his opponents has a superior advantage and is likely to win the majority of his matches. He related a story in which he obtained a video one summer that covered the half nelson. Yes, everybody knows how to do a half nelson. It’s one of the first moves a wrestler learns. But, this video taught the young Coach Burdett how to use leverage and angles to apply the half nelson in ways he’d never used before. Evidently, his opponents had never learned about these particular half nelson techniques either because he pinned several of his opponent’s after the season started using something as fundamental as the half nelson. The lesson here is to learn the correct technique for every move and hold and to learn several ways of doing those holds and moves.

Bottom Position

When you’re down in the bottom position your opponent wants very much to break you down, turn you, and pin you. Don’t let that happen. Keep a fairly wide base with arms slightly bent. Keep your weight fairly light on your hands. Explode on the whistle and create space between you and your opponent. Drive your weight back into your opponent and fight for hand control. Hand fighting skills and hand control are essential. Keep your elbows in and make your opponent reach over or around your arms not inside. If he does grab a wrist then peel his hand off. If you get broken down to your stomach and he has a wrist, you may have to “swim” your arm out to get it free. If your opponent grabs an ankle don’t try to move forward. Put weight back on your ankle and peel his hand off. You never want to rest your head on the mat. You’ll get called for stalling. You absolutely need to get back to your base. Your base consists of four props or braces. These supports I refer to are, of course, your two arms and two legs. If you get broken down, you need to get back to your base and get your hips back under you so you have a good center of gravity.

The hip heist is a very important technique to utilize when in the bottom position. The hip heist creates a lot of space. You should practice hip heist drills every practice. The hip heist motion is, of course, commonly seen when a wrestler executes a switch from the bottom. One of my favorite moves in high school was a standing switch. I liked to hit a switch when my opponent tried to bring me back to the mat.

The most common move from the bottom is a simple stand-up. The stand-up is popular because it works. Keep your elbows in as you come up and control his hands. Hip heist while clearing his hands and you’re out of there, scoring a one point escape. The switch and sit out are important to learn as well. If you can perform a granby roll (and you should be able to), you can score points and perhaps even get a pin. But, scoring a one point escape from a stand-up is much more common and usually much safer.

You never want to end up on your back but it happens even to the best of wrestler s occasionally. For this reason, you need to learn to bridge. Effective bridging can be the difference between getting pinned and not getting pinned. Even if you don’t win the match, if you don’t get pinned you can at least save your team some points.

Remember that the bottom position is not simply a defensive position. You need to be thinking in an offensive way. There are ample opportunities for escapes and reversals from the bottom position. Even though all positions require defense at times, you should always be concentrating on being offensive and scoring even in the bottom position.

A wrestler needs to practice and drill frequently every position and several moves to become successful. Therefore, make sure you have a good knowledge base and that you know proper technique.

Some Resources to Consider:

  • Dan Gable’s Wrestling Essentials DVD
  • Tom Brands’ Domination Pinning – Cross Wrist Series DVD
  • Situational Wrestling from the Bottom Position DVD by John Smith
  • Successful Wrestling by Art Keith
  • Winning Wrestling Moves by Mark Mysnyk
  • The Wrestling Drill Book by William Welker

A wrestler needs to be proficient in every position (standing, top, and bottom) if he is going to be successful in wrestling.