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The Villains of Wrestling

By Tim Pierson, USWOA Board of Directors, 04/29/16, 9:30AM MDT


Every good movie has a villain. So do the bouts in wrestling!!!


27 April 2016


Every good action movie has a villain.  Villains are described as an evil character in a story and have a negative influence on other characters and constitute an evil activity in the plot.  We all want to watch the good guy or gal defeat the villain’s evil ways and save the day.  A wrestling bout is similar to a good action movie with strong characters.  It is a highly entertaining and dynamic event that pits one wrestler against another in a classic struggle for superiority.  As referees, the last thing we want to appear during a wrestling bout is a villain.  Unfortunately, wrestling has two very evil villains that attempt to cause chaos and disrupt the flow of a bout.  They are passivity and fleeing the hold.   Passivity and fleeing the hold are interrelated like twin siblings.  They look alike, act alike, and share similarities.  They can be very hard to tell apart but if you look closely, you will see differences. 

Passivity and fleeing the hold generate a negative approach to wrestling by one, or both wrestlers.  This approach goes against the total-wresting philosophy of the Olympic styles of wrestling.  We want the wrestlers to score points, wrestle with purpose, and keep us out of the bout.  Our number one priority is to let the wrestlers decide the winner.  But there will be times when the wrestlers have a different agenda, and invite the villains into the bout.  They don’t score points (passivity), and don’t wrestle with purpose (fleeing the hold), which requires referee involvement.   As frustrating as this may be for everyone involved in the bout, referees can and should expect this to happen.  

How do we prevent these villains from wreaking havoc in a bout?  The answer: Bout Management.  The concept of bout management is simple; it’s the application that makes it a bit more complex.  Bout management requires a personal philosophy and a thought process regarding timing of your calls.  A good philosophical approach towards every bout; expect the bout to be 0-0.  This will keep you from getting complacent and losing focus.  The last thing you want to occur is lose situational awareness and fail to make a critically timed passivity or fleeing-the-hold call.  In order to properly manage a bout, a referee must have an understanding of what is taking place during a bout.  Referees should encourage and stimulate activity at the appropriate times throughout the bout.  There is a difference between good defense and blocking, hanging on and creating an attack, and moving forward and attacking.  The indicators and evaluation principles apply for both passivity and fleeing the hold across both styles of wrestling.  Examples are, having a great hold and not improving, not taking proper holds, giving up mat position or backing away, head down, preventing contact, interlocking finger, closed or refusing to open, blocking with the forearm, etc.  

Communication (verbal and visual), eye scan and clock management are three tools to use for the team to work together in order to make timely and accurate passivity calls during a bout.  On 30 March 2016, we discussed communication in an article titled Effective Communication When Talking Is Not Allowed so we won’t restate it in this forum.  Suffice it to say, the effective application of both verbal and visual communication when confronting the villains of wrestling during a bout, will enable us to effectively communicate with the wrestlers and referee team without disrupting the flow of the bout.  Our second tool is referee eye scan pattern.  Eye scanning allows the referee to non-verbally communicate with the referee team.  A lot can be said amongst the referee team with a simple look.  Additionally, it will help you maintain proper position on the mat and enable you to non-verbally communicate with the judge and chairman.  Our third tool is clock management.  Managing the clock in order to spread out passivity warnings throughout the period will allow a wrestler to adjust to the commands and keep from getting boxed into a corner during the period.  You do not want to make your calls too late and run out of time, nor do you want to make your calls so quickly you have too much time remaining.  Also, you should not call passivity, then immediately make another passivity call with no time for the offending wrestler to adjust.   

First and foremost, passivity is not: stalling.  Passivity is: not scoring or attempting to score.  Distinguishing between what is real action versus a feigned attempt to waste time, and embracing the passivity philosophy will ultimately dictate your ability to effectively manage the bout.  In a 0-0 or very low scoring bout, you should plan to make a minimum of five passivity calls; three calls in the first period and two calls in the second period.   A passivity timing example has been presented in the The Art of Refereeing Freestyle and Greco Roman Wrestling”, paragraph “Every bout is different – Expect every bout to be 0-0” on pages 22 and 23. Whether you use the timing guide example in “The Art of Refereeing” or a different timing convention, it is important to incorporate your passivity philosophy and thought process into your personal timing convention.  Implementing a timing convention is not a black and white process.  You must be flexible and adapt to what is occurring in you bout.  Unfortunately, you will not develop this skill overnight.  It will take time, mentoring from senior referees and lots of practice.

Now, if a wrestler has scored technical points, has a substantial lead, and is slowing down; so what.  They have “earned the right” to be technically passive (up to a point).  You should not allow the wrestler with the lead take advantage of you nor should you immediately penalize them for inactivity.  As a referee, you have a responsibility not to punish the wrestler that has earned the lead by penalizing him or her with overly strict calls or not rewarding risk.  Before you penalize the winning wrestler, ask yourself, what has the losing wrestler done to warrant the winning wrestler getting penalized?  For example; the score is Blue-7 and Red-1. You will hear people yelling “Make them wrestle,” “Blue’s not doing anything,” or my favorite, “Blue’s stalling.” Take a look at the score board.  Blue has earned seven technical points and Red has one point.  Why would you penalize blue?  Blue is not being passive; if anything, blue’s tired from scoring.   What has red done during the bout?  If the winning wrestler begins taking advantage of you, give them a few commands, “Blue Action,” or “Blue Contact,” etc.  This helps with clock management and also lets the winning wrestler know they are being identified as passive and need to pick up the pace.  Let’s look at another example; you have a bout with a combined score of 19 points.  Do you really think the wrestlers are passive after scoring 19 technical points?  Seriously?  Think about it!!!  What is the basic philosophy of passivity? 

Once you have points on the board, you have a winner. You can ease off passivity; HOWEVER, passivity does not go away entirely.  If a wrestler has scored substantial points (five or more), passivity is not the appropriate call.  Fleeing the hold would be a more appropriate call.     

Fleeing the hold (standing or par terre) occurs when the defending wrestler openly refuses contact in order to prevent his opponent from executing or initiating a hold and typically occurs in the last 20-30 seconds remaining in the period.  However, it can occur at any time during the bout.  You must use verbal warnings and attentions effectively in order to set up the call and ensure there is no doubt to anyone why you made the call.  If you are at the point in the bout where the winning wrestler has received numerous verbal warnings and passivity is not the most appropriate call, you may consider fleeing the hold.  If you decide to go with a fleeing the hold call, you must first give an attention and use proper UWW vocabulary.  For example: “red action,” no improvement, “red action,” no improvement, stop the bout, “red attention action.”  After the Attention, give the offending wrestler an opportunity to adjust.  It is very important when giving an attention; everyone knows why as the next call will be a penalty.  If there is still no improvement, stop the bout, and ask for fleeing the hold penalty. By stopping the bout, this will keep time on the clock, giving the losing wrestler time to try and win the bout, and will prevent further issues from occurring.  Tell the offending wrestler they are fleeing the hold, so they know why they are being penalized.

Now if the wrestlers are in par terre and the bottom-wrestler is closed and won’t open, don’t give a couple of open commands and stand them up.  You will be rewarding the bottom-wrestler for staying closed.  Slap the mat and give an “open” command to the bottom-wrestler.  If the bottom-wrestler still won’t open, ask for a fleeing the hold penalty.  Do not stop the bout.  Leave the bottom-wrestler down until they open up or penalized.  The bottom-wrestler is trying to dictate the bout to you.  The key is giving the top-wrestler a fair chance to score.  If you do penalize the defensive wrestler with fleeing the hold while in par terre and stop the bout, you must restart the wrestler in the par terre position.  Do not restart the action in the standing position.  This is an error that is not restricted to new referees.  Every one of us has made this error at one time or another.  Think, where did the foul occur?

The difference between passivity and fleeing the hold is the timing of the call and how the call is set up.  If a referee is proceeding with passivity, their calls will follow a logical timing flow as discussed above.  On the other hand, if a referee has decided to proceed with fleeing the hold, an attention will be given to the offending wrestler prior to the official penalty being offered.  The fleeing the hold call does not follow the logical timing flow but rather is based on the inaction of the wrestlers.  It’s the application of the calls that truly separate passivity from fleeing the hold. The procedures for enforcement, and timing of passivity or fleeing the hold calls are specifically addressed in Article 48-Enforcement of Passivity and Article 50-Fleeing a Hold in the rule book. 

So where does the judge fit into this process?  The judge is the center-point this process revolves around. It is these times during a bout when you absolutely, positively want a judge with superior skills.  A superior judge can quickly process and understand what’s occurring in the bout and assess how passivity and fleeing will affect the bout.   On the USWOA website an article has been written about the importance of the judge.  The article is titled, “I was only the Judge.”  This article will provide additional thoughts and philosophies regarding the judge for you.

So now, when you have a bout where the villains of wrestling have been invited to join your bout, you have the ability to deal with them while keeping the bout flowing smoothly and in an orderly manner.  The villains of wrestling only bring chaos and frustration to the bout and it’s your responsibility to eliminate these irritants.  These are the times when your skills and philosophies will be open for public scrutiny.  As a referee, you must have the courage to make a bout defining call, but don’t over-officiate and penalize with overly strict calls.  You must understand what’s going on in the bout and how cautions/passivity can affect the outcome of the bout, especially late in the bout.  Have you exhausted all other options?  Have you set up the call extremely well? Does EVERYONE (the referee team, coaches AND wrestlers) know the call is coming?  Is there enough time remaining on the clock for the offending wrestler to attempt to win the bout?  These are the most important times in a bout where you must think, think, and then think some more!  These calls are never black and white, or easy.  They will define you, and the bout.  There is a razor-thin line between a great call and a very bad call.  Should you, or shouldn’t you, make that bout defining call?  I can’t answer that question for you.  Only you will be able to answer that question.  Unfortunately, you will be asked during the most intense time of the bout.