There has been a shake up recently in the United States regarding recent rule changes enacted by the National Federation for State High School Associations. Though offensive friendly changes were made to scoring on the edge of the circle for near falls and pins the one change that has everyone talking is the adoption of wrestlers competing in a two-piece uniform in addition to the traditional singlet.
How wrestling evolved to the singlet and its stigmatism
The singlet came into prominence during the 1960s. Up to that point NCAA competitors were required to be shirtless and wear tights or trunks on the bottom with the singlet at that time being prohibited. The NCAA eventually banned shirtless wrestling in the mid 1960s and moved to the three piece uniform consisting of tights, top and trunks then eventually moved to the one piece which singlet became the standard uniform for the next fifty years.
Ken Berger, Production Consultant/Action Commentator – 2016/2012 Olympic Games and USWOA Mat Official stated, “The move to the singlet was an improvement. The move to the two-piece will be ok. I wore the three pieces. Those buttons in the crotch area were a little tough.”
One of the single most over used reasons that is often stated why someone does not want to wrestle when asked is the wearing of the singlet. But these same kids often have no problem going shirtless at the local swimming pool, so what’s the hang up? The second response is generally less politically correct by stating that wresting is “gay”. “You roll around on the mat with another guy in tight little outfits.” Most kids try to shame to turn the focus back on the wrestler for asking them to come out for team instead of giving the real reason why they do not want to wrestle.
Giving that second excuse credence, go to eBay and search the term “spandex wrestling singlet”. Don’t be surprised in the results, You will find items that would be better suited for the Fredrick’s of Hollywood website. It’s these items that give the singlet and wrestling a bad name and are not doing our sport any service in way of appealing to potential participants.
Where does modern day society fit in the puzzle?
It’s no secret that today’s sports are a numbers participation game with each sport trying to covet as many kids to their sport. Recently lacrosse has been pulling large numbers from traditional sports like baseball. Soccer has also done this as well. Today’s world offers kids many opportunities that were not present years ago. Throw in pro sports merchandizing, contracts and marketing has had a huge effect on the sports our children choose to participate in. Gear and equipment has evolved ten-fold is sports like Baseball and Football. From wicking materials to lighter and better protection plastic the market for sporting goods in the United States has a projected value of almost 65 billion U.S. dollars in 2015. This figure takes into account the consumer purchases of many different product types such as athletic footwear, exercise equipment, licensed sports merchandise athletic apparel.
We have also seen the rise of the “everyone needs to feel good”, the “helicopter parent”, the “participation awards” and the “entitlement” society. Let’s face it, things have indeed changed. Societal norms have evolved. Some are good and some bad. But are these changes responsible for driving the change in our sport and are those changes necessarily beneficial? Are changes for the sake of a growing smaller pool of participants what is needed and will it make a difference?
The US view is not the world view
One thing for sure is the United States loves to make changes regarding wrestling that the rest of the world does not jump on board with. The United States is the only country that wrestles Folkstyle collegiately. And now the United States is making the move to the two-piece wrestling outfit composed of compression tops and bottoms. This two-piece uniform will naturally bleed over to the competitors involved in universally accepted Olympic styles of Greco-Roman and Freestyle wearing them. Will UWW accept such a notion?
Jesse Thielke, 2016 United States Greco-Roman Olympian says it won’t. “Internationally I doubt they will ever change from the singlet due to the increased respect for the sport and the foreigners never like conforming to our standards; rather they enjoy making us conform to theirs. This goes for rules, singlets, etc since they dominate the international scene on the whole.” Ken Berger added that, “United World Wrestling would not approve.”
The Good, the Bad and the Fence sitters
The addition of this two-piece is here. Will it actually increase participation numbers? Will it increase financial strain on programs? Will the singlet be relegated to the annuals of history, at least here in the United States? The thoughts are mixed and make valid points.
“The people out in Washington where it’s approved already say it’s a huge hit last year. They say they numbers are up and it went over very well. They wore it all year and including the state tournament.”, stated Mark Steen a coach with Bad Karma Wrestling Club in Pennsylvania. When asked his thoughts if it will replace the singlet he state, “Certainly not right away. It will take three or more years if so to accomplish that. Teams, coaches and boosters will hang on for budget reasons being the worst case scenario.”
Thielke added, “Should increase numbers! Not a problem with me and I think it’s a smart move. The question will be if the tops and bottoms will make it hard to tell which wrestler is which during scoring situations.” He also suggests, “Designs need to be simple on the two pieces and coordinate well or there will be judgment errors on the refs part, no fault of their own of course, unless they use leg bands. Other than that the two piece should counter any negative stigmas the singlet gives our sport.”
Former Auggie and now owner of Ponce Trained Wrestling, Orlando Ponce provided, “Random thoughts are I hope it helps wrestling, maybe more upper weights will join. Would I wear a Kyle Snyder Uniform? Not sure, but I can see a bunch of trends and things like that starting.”
“I believe it will increase numbers of kids in hallway going to give it a try. 5th through 9th specifically.”, said Eric Swensen, head coach of Wayzata Wrestling. When asked if he had any type of documented studies to come to that conclusion he said no.
With the positive focus the consensus seems to be that the two-piece will increase numbers while others have other concerns.
Former three-time NCAA All-American for the Minnesota Gophers Billy Pierce thinks otherwise. “I’m a traditionalist. I don’t like it at all. But, to each their own, I guess. As a coach, I would never buy them. The theory that gets thrown around is that singlets scare kids away from trying our sport. More than likely, those same kids are afraid of contact.” Pierce also added when it comes to the bigger guys, “We are going to see more than we want to see! Very sore for the eyes!”
Doug Svihel, high school head coach with Totino-Grace offers, “I don’t really like it. There is no way that there will be uniformity. I watched one team that showed up with them…..they were so baggy (compression shirt and fight shorts) that not only did it look bad but I felt it was it ran the risk of injury to the opponents. As far as safety; fingers and thumbs get caught with loose clothing. It’s one of the reasons we frown upon it in the wrestling room. In a way it’s an unfair advantage toward the wrestler with the baggy gear. If they were compression shorts it would be different.”
When asking a NCAA Division One assistant coach his thoughts on the two-piece helping participation numbers, he explained that “He doesn’t get a vote.” but quickly added, “Not really. I don’t think it will change anything in the sport.”
And while you find those for and against there are many that are in the middle, Most of these responses sound exactly the same.
“I guess I don’t really have much of an opinion…I see the thought process on thinking it will get more kids out but not sure if it will. Personally I prefer singlet as well but really have no argument for it.”, said Head Wrestling Coach at Concordia College, Philip Moenkedick.
Orlando Ponce also added, “I like things the way they are but that doesn’t mean they’re better for us or the wrestling community. Are they more expensive? Cheaper? Easier to make? Stuff I’m unsure of.”
Former Olympian and current Wheaton College Head Coach Jim Gruenwald, echoed more of the same, “The traditionalist in me likes singlets better, the practical me says it doesn’t make a difference especially considering most people train in something similar.”
Winners and Losers
The big winners could be the wrestling community as a whole if numbers actually do increase substantially. Some studies should be conducted to track numbers and survey the community to determine if the two-piece adoption truly was responsible. Compare roster numbers of teams that uses the two-piece versus teams that don’t could also be used to determine the outcome. If not they could become the biggest losers with the added investment of the new uniforms or worse yet, participation numbers actually decreasing.
Either way, it’s a win-win for manufacturers and distributors of wrestling uniforms.
Mark Steen is also a merchandiser for CMP Clothing thinks, “For merchandisers it is what it is. We are always selling something to outfit the body whether be competition uniform, warm up gear or practice gear.”
Jeffery Marquez Estrada, aka “SO ILL”, agrees with many others when it comes to being a benefit to merchandisers. He should know, he is one. “It helps merchandiser for the most part and maybe 1-2 kids will join. It’s just an old wives tail that kids don’t wrestle because of uniform.”
The question is does this create a windfall for merchandisers as Jeffery Marquez Estrada says? Will the cost of a two-piece be the equivalent of a singlet? Is it cheaper to produce a single piece item versus two-piece? If so will additional cost result in higher prices? Does purchasing a two-piece come as a single size or can they be ordered by size piece independent? These are questions I do not see anyone asking.
My Final Thoughts
I am proudly out as “Pro” Singlet. I do not feel the two-piece is a magic pill that will help increase participation numbers in a significant way. I am a firm believer that those who pass on wrestling stating it’s a singlet issue, are not being honest. Let’s come to the conclusion that wrestling is a tough sport. Maybe the toughest collegiate sport. It is straight up combat. Wrestlers should consider themselves modern day gladiators. It’s not for everyone. The push is to make wrestling more inclusive but given what the sport is how do you do that? A two-piece uniform?
For me you either want to do it or make an excuse why you won’t and the singlet as the excuse is often the reason. Kids have no problem stripping down to go swimming or wearing “saggin pants” showing off their brand of underwear they wear. If anything there are far more reasons to not want to wrestle than a singlet.
• Practices are long and hard. Conditioning can be brutal.
• Who wants to manage their weight for months or have to cut weight?
• It takes a special kind of person to go out on a mat in front of a crowd for one-on-one combat. You can’t hide on a field full of teammates.
• It is as much mental as it is physical and maybe more so.
• There are no substitutes or line changes. Pressure to win is enormous and you are on your own.
• Protection gear is minimal.
• It hurts. If it felt good it would be called tickling.
• It takes hard work and time to be good.
• There is no professional future like MLB, NHL, NBA or NFL.
• Kids today are just soft and coddled by their parents.
The singlet is a symbol of wrestling. Too many want to make it an albatross or a scapegoat. I say embrace the singlet which makes our sport unique. I do not want wrestling to be confused with mix martial arts or grappling. Those are two different sports that borrow from wrestling.
Finally life after collegiate wrestling is Freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling unless you enter the world of mix martial arts. United World Wrestling, the governing body of international wrestling is not going to move away from the singlet anytime soon if ever. So why continue to pull away from the international community to pick up a few kids that don’t want to wear a singlet? Is the placating, cost and confusion really worth it?
By: Eric Cresse | USWOA Mat Official