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Rules of wrestling competitions explained

This is an excerpt from Coaching Youth Wrestling - 3rd Edition by American Sport Education Program.

Weight Classes

Local youth clubs may use several methods for grouping wrestlers for competition. Grouping wrestlers into weight classes is the most common method and was established in an attempt to create an equal opportunity for wrestlers to compete at their best level. Pairing weight classes with age groups helps keep wrestlers of similar maturity levels grouped together, and maturity may be as important a consideration as weight. You will encounter other methods as well.

Tournament organizers may sometimes group wrestlers less formally in an attempt to even out the number of wrestlers per competitive group. For example, if 24 wrestlers weighing 100 to 105 pounds, five wrestlers weighing 98 to 99 pounds, and 3 weighing 106 pounds weigh in, the pairing officials may split these 32 wrestlers into three groups instead of having such unbalanced numbers. This helps everyone get in a similar number of matches and keeps the tournament from dragging on at the end while one or two weight classes have many more matches than the others. In any case, the pairing officials will work to avoid mismatches because of excessive weight difference. Be vigilant and ask for change if there is too much disparity among athletes. The main concern of all officials and coaches should be the safety of the wrestlers and an enjoyable competition.

USA Wrestling has established youth age groups and assigned match time limits and weight classes for each group. Some state associations have expanded these to provide a framework for younger children. See table 3.1 for a list of the age groups and weights for youth wrestling as recommended by USA Wrestling.


Wrestling matches are opportunities for wrestlers to translate the skills they have learned in practice into a competition with other wrestlers. Youth wrestling has two principal forms of competition: tournaments and dual meets.

In tournaments, wrestlers from many clubs or teams compete in each weight class. Often there is more than one wrestler from the same club. Team scores are not usually kept in tournaments at the youth level, but there are awards for the wrestlers who win or place in the competition. USA Wrestling tournaments do not include team scoring except at the national championship level for older age groups. As competition moves to high school teams, tournament scoring becomes important.

Dual meets are competitions between two teams. Each team enters one wrestler per weight class, and he or she wrestles an opponent in that weight class from the other team. Team scoring is the idea behind dual meets, and the winning wrestler is awarded three to six points depending on the nature of the win. Individual points are totaled, and the team with the most points wins the dual competition.

Entering Competition

Although weight classes are different for different ages, the system for entering athletes into competitions is the same for all levels. In a dual meet, each team may enter one wrestler in each weight class. The same is true for invitational tournaments, where teams are invited and each enters one wrestler per weight class. However, in open tournaments, a school or club may enter as many wrestlers as it wishes, and wrestlers can sometimes enter as individuals, without club or team membership.

Clubs that host tournaments can make fliers available at other competitions, send fliers to the coaches of other clubs, and advertise in wrestling publications or on Web sites. Ads should specify location, rules to be observed, age groups competing, time and place of weigh-ins, and time and place of the competition. Generally, only statewide championships and USA Wrestling regional and national competitions require preregistration. Events sanctioned by USA Wrestling require that competitors hold an athlete membership card, and this must be presented when making an entry. This may be true of other governing bodies as well. Athletes register upon arriving at the site, and then go to the weigh-in room.


A weigh-in is held before a competition to ensure that each athlete's body weight is within the limits of his or her weight class. This usually occurs at least an hour before the event's scheduled start time to allow tournament administrators time to organize the wrestlers into their weight classes and set up brackets. In some cases, weigh-ins are highly structured with all the wrestlers from a specific weight class standing in line to be weighed.

Medical personnel should check each athlete thoroughly for skin infections before he or she is allowed to weigh in. When cleared, the athlete reports for the weigh-in. USA Wrestling requires, as do some other organizations, that athletes weigh in wearing uniforms or shorts because officials may be women, and girls and women may enter some competitions. When the wrestler comes to the scale, the official confirms that the medical clearance is complete and then directs the wrestler to step on the scale. Digital scales are used most often now. When using a digital scale, the readout should not be visible to the athlete. This is done to keep the athlete from moving around on the scale in an attempt to affect the result. If a balance scale is used, the official should direct the athlete to stand in the middle of the platform and stand still. Most associations and leagues give an athlete just one chance on the scale. If athletes are over the allowed weight, they are not allowed to compete. It is the responsibility of the athlete and the coach to be sure that the stated weight is correct before presenting for weigh-in.

Match Structure

A match is made up of three timed periods. The time can vary depending on local rules. For example, USA Wrestling specifies three 2-minute periods with 30 seconds of rest between each period for all age categories (see table 3.1); however, some tournament organizers use 1-minute periods for the younger age groups. Before the start of a competition, check the rules to make sure you know what the time periods are for each age group.

The first period starts with both wrestlers standing. At the end of the first period, the official determines which wrestler gets to choose how to start the second period. If it is a dual meet, this protocol is decided before the first match, and the teams alternate who gets the choice. In a tournament, the athletes wear colored ankle bands to help the official and scorers identify athletes. The official flips a colored disc, and the wrestler with the winning color gets the choice.

The wrestler with the choice at the start of the second period has four options. Athletes can choose to defer the choice to their opponent so they can make the choice they want in the third period. They can choose to start in the neutral position, both wrestlers standing. They can choose to start down so that they can escape or get a reversal while they are still fresh. Finally, they can choose to start in the top position so they can work to get the fall, again, while fresh.

A match is over if one wrestler achieves a pin, or fall (see chapter 9 for more information on pins). Matches are also stopped if one wrestler gets ahead of the other by 15 or more points, a technical fall. Disqualification for misconduct, stalling, or other severe violations of the rules also stop a match. Although wrestling is one of the martial arts, or combat sports, any hold or maneuver applied with the intent to injure the opponent is prohibited.

Starting a Match

All youth wrestling matches begin with the two wrestlers on their feet, facing each other in a neutral position, with no advantage to either one. The duration of a match is specified according to the wrestling style and the age group involved.

Substitutions are not allowed during a match; however, for a dual meet, it is possible for two athletes to weigh in at the same weight so that you can choose which athlete to use when it is that weight group's turn to compete. Wrestling does not have a time-out in the way we understand them in basketball or football. There are no stops to be used strategically, to compose the team, or simply to catch a rest. It is possible for an athlete to ask for a time-out for injury. Injury time-outs have time limits, and once the time is reached, the athlete must compete or withdraw. The time limit is most often one and a half minutes. Different organizations allow a different number of injury time-outs. Coaches and wrestlers must know the rule for the specific competition before it begins. In college wrestling, for instance, only one time-out is allowed, and if the athlete asks for a second, the match is terminated.

The official will stop a match when blood is present so that the bleeding can be stopped and the wrestlers and the mat cleaned and disinfected. There is no time limit for blood issues, and the match will continue until it becomes clear that the bleeding is interfering with the match too much. The official can choose to stop the match at that point, and the wrestler who is not able to continue will take a loss.


Depending on the starting position for each period, the wrestlers try to score takedowns, escapes, reversals, and near falls to control their opponents on the mat, to turn them over, and then to pin their shoulders for a fall. The successful execution of these maneuvers is rewarded with match points. To understand how the various maneuvers are scored, see table 3.2.

In folkstyle team competitions, wrestlers earn team points that contribute to the team's score. For team scoring, a win by a decision (victory by 1 to 7 points more than the opponent) is worth 3 points; a major decision (victory by 8 to 14 points), 4; a technical fall (victory by at least 15 points), 5; and a fall, 6. The loser receives no points. Winning by injury default, forfeit, or disqualification counts the same as a fall.

This is an excerpt from Coaching Youth Wrestling, 3rd Edition.

More Excerpts From Coaching Youth Wrestling 3rd Edition