A Change Agent in the Male-Dominated Sport of Wrestling

I never would have accomplished all I did without the support of my family, the wrestling community, coaches and those female wrestlers before me like Jessi Shirley.

When I started on this journey, I never thought I would be an agent of change in a male-dominant sport. It all started because my brother wanted to wrestle, and I was the right size to be a good drill partner for him. At that moment in time, I would never in my wildest dreams believe that it would take me to so many places: starting on the boys high school wrestling team, placing and winning national girls middle school and high school titles (including the coveted Fargo Nationals), and Colorado Springs to be on the women's national team and a member of the Army’s World Class Athlete program.

After several injuries, I had to stop doing what I loved. I had to realize that my career as a wrestler could not continue. So I left wrestling behind and concentrated on my military career.  After a few years, I transferred to be closer to home and family. The same day I came home, I walked back into the wrestling room where things all started and realized I was not finished with this sport; I still had the love and passion for it. And now I have a new path to recommit myself to my other family — the wrestling community.

Starting to coach at my old school allowed me to share my passion of wrestling with the community I grew up in. It also gave me a unique perspective on the sport, specifically in regard to females in the sport. I realized the conditions had not really changed for females since I left high school. Granted, there are more opportunities for female athletes in wrestling, and there are several colleges that offer the sport, and the Olympics had adopted female wrestling, but I realized Ohio had a long way to go.

While coaching at the high school, I realized I had a vision for where Ohio wrestling should go. I started talking with people about these ideas. I realized that what I wanted to accomplish was attainable. I set out to realize the following:

  • A place for females to feel comfortable wrestling and competing
  • A continuing increase in female participation in youth, junior high and high school wrestling.
  • An Ohio High School Athletic Association sanctioned female division — including their own sectional, district and state tournament.
  • A way to support and develop females wrestlers’ technique

Change begins with grassroots efforts. It is never overnight. Our initiative began with the following:

  • Offer female-only open mats for any girls of any age in the area.
  • Start a social media presence promoting female wrestling accomplishments.
  • Start a female wrestling team.
  • Promote or create opportunities for girls to compete against their own.
  • Be a visible presence for female wrestling.
  • Share vision — specifically with people who have influence in the established wrestling community.

In doing this, I hope my presence has influenced and pushed the progress of women’s wrestling here in Ohio forward. With the help of so many others, we have a lot of firsts just this year:

  • Several all-female high school wrestling teams starting
  • First-ever high school wrestling dual meet with Olentangy Orange High School edging out Miami East High School
  • First-time female wrestlers were recognized at an all-star meet
  • And the first-ever all-female Ohio high school state wrestling meet sanctioned by the Ohio Wrestling Coaches Association

Just like Kotter’s change management framework, the people making these changes started by creating a sense of urgency. They did it by sharing female wrestling accomplishments and data about the number of teams, wrestlers and competitions on social media, and connecting to whoever would listen in the wrestling community.

Next, they created a coalition of people with power and influence in the community. They then created a vision for change and communicated it. They generated and celebrated short-term wins, such as some of the first all-girl teams, meets, tournaments and accomplishments.

Now it is time to start finding ways to build on that change by adding more teams, competitions and opportunities for female wrestlers to practice and improve their technique.

Making all these changes will make a female wrestling an anchor in the community, which they are slowly coming to embrace. I look forward to the day that a female wrestler has the same opportunities men have been afforded for decades. This is a sport I love, and I am convinced that day is coming soon.

Looking for more posts on leadership in wrestling? Check out this article from world champion Logan Stieber:

https://fisher.osu.edu/blogs/leadreadtoday/blog/taking-teamwork-to-the-…

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2 Comments

February 19, 2020 at 10:15 pm
Alicia

this is my 2nd year as an Assistant Middle School Wrestling Coach in Michigan. I can’t even begin to express how badly we need more women to be role models that are willing to step-up as coaches in this sport. As a Paid Female Coach on the youth and MIddle school level I can say that Girls Wrestling will not truly grow until there are more School Districts that hire Woman as wrestling coaches and youth clubs that begin inviting women on as coaches. In the last 2 years in our middle school and HS Varsity D1 conference I have yet to meet another paid female wrestling coach. This is not acceptable to be the only one nor is it fair to these other girls in our conference. I shouldn’t be and there is no reason to be. I can’t even begin to express the joy and instant smiles these female wrestlers have when I meet them for the first time. I seek these girls out so I can have the brief time during skin checks To give these girls information on all the different opportunities in MS, HS and afterwards in college. It’s never enough time and it’s so unfair to our girls in this sport that they are not informed of much. For most girls I am, or maybe the only female wrestling coach they come in contact with depending on their circumstances in the future. That is unacceptable and very angering to me that these girls on the most basic level are not able to see or access a female wrestling coach nearby. Until we as a culture start providing our female wrestlers with female coaches in our clubs and in the Middle School level we will continue to stifle our own growth in this sport as well as not providing an environment that models diversity, inclusion and equity to all wrestlers and families. Change happens from the bottom up and it’s great that colleges are adding programs but who will attend these colleges if there is no support from the bottom or wrestlers? How many more girls will we allow as women to be forgotten, ignorant of the future and their opportunities for them swashed because we refuse to really recruits and to offer support when needed much like myself....

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.