NEW WESTMINSTER — At the home of the Hyack nation, tackling has joined hands with grappling.
From a Final Four appearance at the Subway Bowl B.C. high school football championships in early December to a gold medal finish in the boys division at last week’s B.C. high school wrestling championships in Salmon Arm, the dividends of multi-sport diversity has multiplied the sense of purpose within the athletic environment at New Westminster Secondary School.
“We kind of got the wrestling program started about seven years ago because I thought our football players were not athletic enough,” says Chad Oatway, a NWSS teacher who these days, serves as both a coach and administrator between the two programs which basically meld into each other through the fall and winter sports seasons.
“I wanted them to be more multi-sport, to enjoy playing youth sports and to get away from that hyper-specialized model so many sports fall in to.”
That’s code for helping his student-athletes have more fun, while at the same time, broadening their overall base of human kinetic development.
Over this past weekend, under the watchful eye of head coach Gord Sturrock, the Hyacks boys wrestling team repeated as overall provincial champions, and helping that cause were over a dozen of the team’s football players.
Connor Pattison (90-kg) and Sammy Sidhu (84-kg) each won gold medals; Yanni Angelopoulos (110-kg) won silver, Isaiah James (130-kg) won bronze and Daniel Dordevic (130-kg) placed fifth.
Another multi-sport standout, Hossein Shidfar (78-kg), recovering from an illness, did not place but was seeded third in his weight class.
Between that bunch alone, getting on the mat is not some recreational diversion from their reps on the gridiron.
National competitions at the cadet, juvenile and junior age groups await, and Angelopoulos, James and Sidhu all won cadet national titles in 2016.
“What I am finding is that when student-athletes have a chance to step away from their primary sport, they are more excited to come back to that original sport,” continues Oatway. “Otherwise it becomes a job. So letting them switch between sports and not putting on the pressure gives them more enjoyment. It’s not so much about the training but how you frame the training to make it more individual and play-focused at the start, and then you can begin to challenge them. It’s like you need to get the kids on the boat first.”
And it’s actually a no-brainer when you start to look at not just how wrestling helps football, but how football helps wrestling.
Hyacks head football coach Farhan Lalji first stresses that the accomplishments of the school’s wrestlers stand on their own, especially when placed against schools around the province where the sport has been ingrained over generations.
With that said, he can’t help but appreciate what the sport does for the New West athletes who strap on helmets and shoulder pads each year in his program.
“The mental toughness developed in wrestling is far better than any other team sport can offer,” he says. “In team sports you can occasionally hide behind the team. In wrestling, that is not an option.
“You sink or swim, stay in the battle, figure it out, or lose. Every coach in every team sport wants their players to have more of that, and you often need that in life, too.”
The way Oatway sees it, there is an absolute state of simpatico between the two athletic disciplines.
“If I tell a kid to get into an athletic position, there are differences, but angles and the explosiveness out of them is the same,” he explains, “and that translates into sports where you jump, throw and hit, and football is a tackling and blocking sport. These angles are universal and that goes back to fundamental skills. Football and wrestling each do such a good job of teaching them.”
Ask the athletes at NWSS who do both, and in addition to gleaning those benefits, they love what their dual athletic pursuits have done for the mental side of things.
“That is where it’s helped me the most, on the mental side of things,” says Sidhu, who this past season averaged almost 9.35 yards-per-carry and rushed for eight touchdowns with the Hyacks. “You don’t know how tough it is until you wrestle, when you are down in a match. The mental toughness you get wrestling, you can’t compare it to any other sport.”
Adds Pattison, the team’s tackling leader this past season: “In a football game, you can give it your all, and you still might not be successful. When you wrestle you can’t say it was the refs or anything else. It’s all on you. And so when you come from that to football, you don’t feel any pressure. You’ve just grown used to doing your job and realizing that it’s always up to you.”
And then there is this from Lalji, a comment that in-and-of-itself, simplifies just why the multi-sport model is beginning to sees its grassroots movement usurp what Oatway labels that “hyper-specialised” model.
“If you gave me the choice between having someone move 200 pounds on a bench press or having them move around another 200 pound body that is not static and can actually push back, isn’t the answer obvious?” he says.
“We are constantly looking at models of functional development and wrestling provides that. It desensitizes the kids to contact, keeps them in a strong, athletic position constantly, and gets the kids far more comfortable with how their own bodies move.”
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