Wednesday, July 06, 2011

When Priorities Dominate Effort

This video on why Russians are better wrestlers than Americans I found quite profound. In general Russians are known as being tough--think Siberia, the battle of Stalingrad--but in wrestling it's the Americans who are tougher, they work harder and are better conditioned. Yet Russians generally dominate American wrestlers.

Ken Primola argues that the Russians are better because they are more cerebral, they are more into technique. As I'm a coach for little kids, I see a lot of the high school and college kids, and know that in America they are taught that the primary attribute of a great wrestler is hard work. Your average great high school wrestler after a big loss will say 'I have to work harder', not realizing it's a cliche. Clearly, to be really good you have to work hard, and to be great, you need some natural athletic ability (see Jon Jones or Anderson Silva in MMA). But after a certain point, everyone has put in 10,000 hours, and so simply working harder has very little marginal benefit.

I agree that any excellence involves a good amount of disciplined effort, yet that only gets one so far. To really improve once at that level you need a better strategy, and that takes better higher-order priorities. Avoid the temptation to work so hard that there is no time left for serious thinking, in wrestling or anything else.


r2d2 said...

I've heard similar arguments made by long distance runners and cyclists, which I found even more surprising than wrestling :) But I believe they know what they are talking. For me the natural example is chess. In analyzing a position, after a certain point it is a waste of resources to force yourself to think further through combinations. They run into the millions quickly and you won't get very far. It's a better use of your time to look at longer term strategy, which is a more subtle mental exercise. Strategy is something that took centuries to refine and develop, and takes long time to learn. Moves that to a beginner have no visible impact on the game can make all the difference 10 or 20 moves later. A game between a human player and a an average chess computer is usually a game of strategy against raw power. The human can still win even if he/she only analyzes a small fraction of the number of combinations that the computer goes through. A bit like winning the wrestling match with a fraction of the effort put in by the opponent.
If you happen to be a grandmaster, apologies for wasting your time with the above :D

Anonymous said...

Every sporting contest has the three variables, strength, endurance/conditioning, and technique (including teamwork and strategy), but in different weightings for different sports.

Think powerlifting, olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, high jump, wrestling. You can see the different weightings.

To some degree, the three variables are fungible, depending upon the sport. This is why they have weight classes in wrestling, in order to limit the amount of strength mismatch involved, because 60+ lbs of additional muscle would make up for a LOT of technique. This is also why women compete against women and not against men. This is also why performance-enhancing drugs are so prevalent in sports, an edge in strength or in hemocrit levels can overcome strategic deficits.

It's easy to imagine that since the top wrestlers are close enough in endurance (relative to the needs of the sport), and are being matched by weight class (therefore limiting the amount of strength mismatch), that technique and strategy become the primary differentiators.

Anonymous said...

Seems to have some parallels:

Eric Falkenstein said...

I've heard second hand that the Bulgarians have historically been among the worst steroid abusers, which is helpful if 'overtraining'.

Eccdogg said...

Do you not think Russians also have the advantage because they wrestle freestyle from the get go and Americans wrestle scholastic/folkstyle.

Maybe I am wrong in this, but it seems that American wrestlers spend about half their lifetime training in a style that is not used in the Olympics.

That has to put Americans at a disadvantage.

Anonymous said...

Very insightful article as are the comments. Since technique is so crucial, what advice would you have for a 12 year-old wrestler training in the typical American system that emphasizes hard work and toughness. I know the general answer is technique, but do you have suggestions on how to develop technique and become a more cerebral wrestler? Watch lots of video? Do the Russians have a larger number of techniques or have they just perfected a few high percentage moves. The latter is what I hear counts from Mr. Zeke Jones.

Please advise! A wrestling dad.

Eric Falkenstein said...

1) freestyle does hurt, but I don't think that' the main reason for the USAs relative disadvantage.
2) things to do:
a) make sure your kid really wants to do it; you can't force it on him, but if he really likes it he will practice and (potentially) get better
b) he should work hard, just not worry if he's not doing it more than anyone else.
c) find a small set of key moves for takedowns, turns, and escapes that he likes, and become awesome at them. That is, if he's great at the fireman's carry, ankle pick, or single, do that one thing 50 times every day, as opposed to doing 10 different takedowns 5 times a day. Almost anything works well for the expert (Saitev the fireman, Sanderson the ankle pic, Smith the single). Work on cardio so he can run 3 miles relatively quickly, outside of practice.
d) learn how to lose and not get discouraged (great life skill!).

PRCalDude said...

The Bulgarians don't use more drugs than anyone else. The motto at that level is, "If you're not cheating, you're not trying hard enough."

The sad truth is that for many people, "harder work" produces no benefit - they simply lack natural talent.

Anonymous said...

Pussy. No wonder you never won anything. John Smith was a goer, Monday a goer, Saitiev wrestled harder than anyone. I'm sure they all trained soft.