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By Bob Lichtenfels

Wrestling is one of those sports in which it is quite possible for a person who is blind to compete at a mainstream level. I began wrestling at the age of 14. I wrestled four years in high school before going to the University of Pittsburgh, where I spent one year on the team. Although my career was nowhere near spectacular, I did manage to learn a great deal from the experience. The participation itself taught me many life lessons that I still find invaluable. As a totally blind wrestler, I gained a great deal of practice at problem-solving both training and performance adaptations.

The Basics

The goal of wrestling in any style is to pin your opponent. What constitutes a pin varies according to the style of wrestling. In folkstyle wrestling, the kind practiced in schools throughout the country, the shoulders need to be held to the mat for a count of one. In international competition, wrestlers use the freestyle and Greco-Roman methods. These styles require only a brief touch of your opponent’s shoulders to the mat in order to achieve a pin. This type of pin is often refer to as a “touch fall.”

If neither wrestler pins his opponent within the allotted time, then the high score determines a winner. Points can be scored from your feet by taking down your opponent, from the bottom by escaping from your opponent, and by reversing the hold your opponent has on you. Wrestlers also win points by exposing their opponent’s back to the mat, which can result from a wide variety of situations.


The only modification necessary to make a wrestling match accessible for a blind wrestler is to ensure constant contact with his opponent throughout the bout. Before the action begins, the wrestlers stand face-to-face and touch fingertips. Each athlete has both hands extended, one palm up and one palm down. This stance allows a visually impaired wrestler to gain a perspective on where his opponent is located, while giving neither wrestler an advantage.

Action on the mat is controlled by the referee's whistle. During the course of the match, contact can either be the two guys tying up, or it can be something as simple as a hand on an arm. Whenever the wrestlers break apart, it is the referee’s job to stop the match and put them back at the center of the mat for a restart.


It is important to stress upon the beginning wrestler to control the action of a match. If he can do this, he can have a little control over where his opponent is supposed to be, thus increasing his chances of scoring on a given move. It is likely that the better the opponent, the more likely that a blind wrestler will have to rely on less contact. Therefore, it is important in the beginning that body orientation is emphasized. He will need to know what sort of move he can get away with based on where his opponent’s hand may be, the amount of pressure being applied, and the direction he is moving.

When a wrestler who is blind is starting out, it is best to get him in one on one instruction, if possible. In practice he can be partnered with one of his more experienced teammates or an assistant coach. When teaching a move, it is important to be as verbal as possible. It is also helpful to go over the move in slow motion, as well as at match speed. Performing moves at match speed allows the wrestler to learn exactly how things are supposed to feel. He will benefit greatly when it comes time for competition, as it is less likely he will feel intimidated.

When teaching moves to the team as a whole, a coach can use the blind wrestler is the "dummy". This will allow him to learn the move as it is being taught to the rest of the team and shorten his learning curve. As far as other aspects of practice are concerned, there should be no issues in terms of participation for the wrestler who is blind. The blind wrestler should be able to participate in all of the drills with out hampering the performance of his teammates or disrupting the rhythm of the practice session. When training through running, try to match the blind wrestler with a teammate who has a similar pace. If this is not possible, then there may be other options, such as a treadmill, exercise bike, or stairmaster.

A person can learn a great deal through participating in wrestling. As for me, the experience afforded me the opportunity to learn how to approach many aspects of life. When I want to accomplish something, I will first determine the exact goal I wish to achieve, in addition to the steps I must take in order to attain it. In order to be successful, a wrestler must utilize his self-discipline. A person who learns how to do this will have obtained one of the most invaluable gifts that we as humans can possess.





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