Athletic Management, 17.5, August/September 2005, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1705/wuweighin.htm
After years of dialogue, a nationwide minimum weight requirement for high school wrestlers will soon become a reality. In an effort to make the sport safer, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Wrestling Rules Committee is requiring every state to implement a weight-management program by the start of the 2006-07 season.
The new rules include several components. Most importantly, wrestlers will be assessed before the start of the season, at which time each athlete’s current weight and body fat percentage will be recorded, and a safe minimum weight will be determined. This minimum weight will be based on a body fat percentage of no less than seven percent for males and 12 percent for females. Safe minimum weights will be valid only if the athlete is fully hydrated (having a specific gravity measurement above 1.025 at the time of their assesment). For the remainder of the season, the ath-lete may not lose more than 1.5 percent of his or her weight per week and cannot fall below his or her safe minimum weight.
Another weight-management rule change focuses on consecutive days of competition. During multi-day meets, wrestlers can gain only two pounds total, no matter how many days the competition lasts. Last year, wrestlers were able to gain one pound per day of consecutive competition.
The impetus behind the new rules is to discourage wrestlers from rapid weight loss in order to compete at lower weight classes. The changes will also discourage up-and-down weight fluctuations, which research has shown to be unhealthy.
“It’s all about safety,” says Paul McLaughlin, Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) Athletic Director for Wrestling and a member of the NFHS Wrestling Rules Committee. “Too many wrestlers go into practice thinking, ‘Can I lose three or four pounds today?’ Instead, practice should be about skill development. That’s part of what we’re trying to change to make the sport safer.”
“The most positive reason to use this system is to ensure that athletes are wrestling at their minimum weight hydrated,” says Michele Benz, Head Athletic Trainer at Miami-Palmetto High School in Pinecrest, Fla., who has been involved in implementing Florida’s process. “Most wrestlers drop pounds of fluid in attempts to meet their weight class requirement. With the new rules, there is a reduced chance of wrestlers dehydrating themselves to make weight.”
Although the weight reduction rules won’t go into effect nationally for one more season, more than 20 states already have programs in place. Two years ago, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) began implementing guidelines similar to the new NFHS rules, and last year, the FHSAA joined in with its own rules.
Sam Crosby, NJSIAA Rules Interpreter and former chair of the NFHS Wrestling Rules Committee, and Steven Timko, NJSIAA Assistant Director, began devising their state’s plan by educating their coaches and wrestlers. “There’s great resistance among the wrestling community to doing anything about cutting weight,” says Crosby. “So we’ve tried to work with them and explain the medical reasons why you have to control kids losing weight.”
Timko found that a big part of implementing the program was educating coaches and wrestlers about the importance of hydration before the test. “We had a 20 percent fail rate in the first year,” Timko says. “And last year, everybody passed the hydration test. We wanted them to understand what it took to become hydrated, and that was a major accomplishment.”
McLaughlin is hoping for similar results in the second year of Florida’s implementation after an approximate 30 percent hydration fail rate last season. When the NFHS rules go into effect in the 2006-07 season, wrestlers failing the hydration portion of the test will have to wait 24 hours before being tested again.
In Florida, student-athletes who register below the body fat percentage minimum must have a physician’s note clearing them for safe participation, and they are not permitted to lose weight during the season. New Jersey has an appeals process in place and medical doctors on-site to clear wrestlers below the minimum percentages.
Only those who are trained as assessors will be allowed to conduct the initial measurements. These are typically school athletic trainers and area medical professionals. The FHSAA initially trained 65 medical professionals as “master assessors” who then trained over 130 additional people as assessors throughout the state. New Jersey held seminars to train area athletic trainers and medical doctors, and split the state into eight regional testing sites for assessments held the week before the season begins.
Crosby and Timko warn that states without a weight-management program in place have a lot of work to do and should use this upcoming season as an experimental time to figure out what will work best. “It’s an educational process,” says Timko. “Use this year to iron things out, make recommendations, get coaches and the wrestling community involved, and work together.”
For more on 2005-06 NFHS wrestling rules changes, visit: www.nfhs.org, click on “Sport & Rules Information,” then click on “Wrestling.”