SportsLeader is a virtue-based mentoring and motivation program for coaches. This blog shares stories from coaches all over the country transforming lives. For more information contact Lou Judd -

Friday, August 5, 2011

Creating an Identity by Forging a Bond Through Wrestling

Here is a great article written by Paul Najjar of Catholic Sports Journal. He interviewed one of the Coaches in our SportsLeader association, Chris Willertz.

Willertz Developing Young Men at WWHS
August 4, 2011 
By Paul Najjar, CSJ writer

With some sports programs, improvement is seen beyond wins and losses. At Winton Woods High School in Cincinnati, the wrestling team is one such example.
Chris Willertz is a football guy and a football coach. He has been most of his life. While an assistant coach at Cincinnati Moeller, he found a lot of success with that program that translated into a lot of wins. He was introduced to the SportsLeader program there, a virtues education program for young men and women of all faiths taught by coaches throughout the country.

When Willertz took a teaching position at Winton Woods, he also accepted the position of head coach of the wrestling team. It was not much of a program when he took over, but in three short years he’s built a team of good wrestlers and even better young men.

“Wrestling was never a big deal (at Winton Woods) and when I took over the program it wasn’t very good, nor did it have a whole lot of support or participants,” Willertz said. “But our kids have relished the attention and have enjoyed being a part of something that they think is different and special. Any time you have an adult male wanting to give you individualized attention, you feel special. And that’s a core part of the SportsLeader program: making these kids feel special and teaching them how to be men. Our kids have embraced that training.”

Beyond the mat and the hours of training devoted to developing skills, Willertz mentors his student-athletes in some unconventional ways. Whether it’s a weekend trip to the mountains with his seniors, or shoveling snow for free in the neighborhood around the school, his program is getting results. With more than 30 kids on the roster, the Winton Woods wrestling program is beginning to take root.

“Our numbers are getting better and better every year,” reports Willertz. “The kids like it, but it’s a tough sport and it’s tough to attract kids to a tough sport when our culture is so comfortable and focused on that type of personal comfort.”

What sets his program apart is the work he does with each of his wrestlers; the day-to-day mentoring that goes beyond the average coach’s workload or job description. Willertz, a devout Catholic, instills values and virtues into his student-athletes that will take them farther in life than any wrestling move.

“I think every man, young or old, wants to know how to fight,” he said. “Whether it’s a physical, spiritual, intellectual or financial battle, we’re teaching these kids how to fight. If you want to be a good fighter you’re going to have to be patient, wise and resilient. So I think virtues training is very applicable to wrestling. In this sport, you’ve got to take your opponent down and that makes this competition a little more real and much more personal for each competitor.”

“Kids like unique guys and coaches who will do things a bit differently, and that’s what we try to bring to the team members every day. There’s no magic fix, but ultimately, we’ve got to get them wrestling day-in and day-out. It can’t be just a three month season; it’s got to become a part of their identity that they are a wrestler. Not that they have to train 12 months a year, but we want them to identify with being a wrestler for Winton Woods high school.”

Creating an identity by forging a bond with these young men through wrestling is just one way that Willertz is making his mark with sports. He’s taken some of his seniors on an overnight hiking trip; two days and nights in the woods, just roughing it. In those situations and conditions, a young man can discover a lot about himself and his life.

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