Many youth athletes spend several months focusing on their chosen sport during its season, but then spend offseason with different activities, making the transition to the next season difficult.
Several local wrestlers and coaches have found a way to ease this transition with the formation of the Abington Area Wrestling Club. Coaches from both Abington Heights and the Summit Wrestling Club have come together to offer youth wrestlers the chance to hone their skills in the offseason.
Michael Sirianni is an assistant junior high coach in the Abington Heights school system and one of the regular coaches at the new offseason practices. He said coaches from both Abington Heights and the Summit Youth Wrestling Club have been discussing the idea of offseason training for several years.
Sirianni said Clarks Summit resident James Simrell contacted him earlier this year with plans to make off-season training a reality. Simrell is a local Mixed Martial Arts coach and a frequent guest coach at Summit Youth Wrestling, Sirianni said.
The group meets three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays at Birchwood Fitness in Clarks Summit. Monday practices focus on traditional style wrestling.
On Wednesdays, Simrell said he teaches the athletes techniques from Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Russian Sambo. Simrell “customizes his jiu-jitsu such that it applies to wrestling,” Sirianni said.
Simrell said the incorporation of modified moves from other types of martial arts allows the wrestlers to expand their repertoire of skills they can use during matches, especially when trying to escape from a sticky situation.
“By using pure technique, they don’t have to muscle out of the hold,” Simrell said, adding that the wrestlers can simply escape from the hold using a jiu-jitsu technique.
Simrell said the new techniques “open up their game in wrestling and their arsenal.”
Sirianni said many wrestlers spend three months wrestling and then stop in the offseason. The athletes “never get the opportunity to stay sharp,” Sirianni said.
The practices have a rotating group of coaches from the Summit Wrestling Club, the Abington Heights junior high team, as well as the head coach of the Abington Heights High School varsity team.
Among the coaches is wrestling veteran John Diven, a former Abington Heights head coach. Diven is a member of the Pennsylvania High School Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame and an “encyclopedia of wrestling,” Sirianni said.
Besides giving wrestlers a chance for extra practice, the training is also an “effort to build a bridge between three programs,” Sirianni said.
At last Wednesday’s practice, besides Sirianni and Simrell, Nick Senuk and Steve Peters were on hand to help with coaching. Senuk is a senior wrestler at Abington Heights High School and Peters is a junior high coach.
The young wrestlers began with a warmup and stretching exercises. After the warmup, the coaches gathered the wrestlers in the center of the room and demonstrated new skills. The skills were modified from jiu-jitsu to work within a wrestling format. After pairing the wrestlers up and practicing the new skills, the coaches had the young athletes “go live,” to put their newly acquired skills to the test. Finally, after an hour and a half practice, the coaches led the group in cool-down exercises.
But the coaches aren’t just offering tips and techniques. At Wednesday’s practice, the coaches didn’t hesitate to get on the mats and demonstrate moves to the young wrestlers.
The coaches also foster a positive practice, encouraging the wrestlers and offering constructive criticism. The wrestlers are eager to help each other during practice.
Noah Sirianni, Michael Siranni’s son, is a junior high wrestler who assisted his father with coaching on Wednesday’s practice. This collaborative spirit is one of the benefits of off-season training, “creating an environment where there’s role models,” Michael Sirianni said.
“The ultimate goal is to just provide an environment where kids can get better in the off-season,” Sirianni added.
Sheri Brown is a mom who is well- versed in wrestling. Her son James wrestles and she is the secretary of the Summit Wrestling Club board. She said the offseason training helps the wrestlers keep up their conditioning and maintain strength.
Brown added that the “kids love it.”
The coaches hope the off-season training will allow the athletes to set goals and allow them to grow as wrestlers.
“You don’t have to do it perfectly, you have to do it to the best of your ability,” Sirianni said.
Wrestling is a “microcosm of life,” Sirianni said.