One-on-One with Jeff Buxton
Jeff Buxton is one of wrestling’s all-time great coaches. He served as Blair Academy’s head wrestling coach from 1982 to 2012, winning the Prep National championships in each of his 30 seasons. His Blair Academy teams were ranked No. 1 in the nation 10 times, beginning in 1995 and running through 2012. He has coached numerous NCAA All-Americans and NCAA champions.
Since 2012, Buxton has served as the Lehigh Valley Wrestling Club’s director and head freestyle coach. He also owns and operates the Buxton Athletic Training Center.
MatBoss caught up with Buxton to get his thoughts on various topics in wrestling.
How different is it coaching a senior level wrestler compared to coaching a high school wrestler?
Buxton: Just about every aspect is different. Right now I’m working with 5, 6 and 7-years-olds all the way up to guys who are 28-year-olds out of my club. It’s very different for the older athletes. The recovery for a senior level athlete is a little different than an athlete that is 19, 20 or 21 years old. Sometimes they need a little bit more recovery time. Or they need a period of rest days between workouts. I would say a younger athlete listens to just about every word that you tell them. They’re really intrigued by the technique. An older athlete at times needs to be swayed into learning new techniques. In that way it’s a little bit different in how you approach practice and the things you do practice.
It seems like more and more student-athletes are specializing in sports at a younger age. What are your thoughts on sport specialization?
Buxton: I’m not against it. I was a three-sport athlete up to college, and then in college I played two. I kind of liked the different seasons, but I wrestled year-round and I played lacrosse almost year-round. So I would always dabble with those other sports in the offseason. I went through this when I was at Blair — and I coached there for 30 years — they wanted kids involved in two sports. I thought that was OK for the freshmen and sophomores. But as they got to be juniors and seniors, I thought it was a good idea that they specialize if they want to, especially if they were looking for scholarships and trying to pick up a little bit more on the international scene. Some of the best athletes I coached were two-sport athletes all the way through, some were even three-sport athletes, but those kids who specialized usually ended up doing really well and getting a scholarship to college. There are some advantages to it. I think a lot depends upon the student-athlete and how they handle being able to do something for 9, 10, 11 months out of the year.
This was something that I struggled with when it came to my own son. As a ninth-grader he wanted to not play lacrosse. He had to show me that he was going to be just as fresh going into Fargo in the middle of the summertime as he thought he would be. That’s something that he really wanted to do, was to put in the months in the summertime, training four or five times a week and getting ready for Fargo. I would say that especially if it’s a kid who is that motivated and really wants to do it, you’re going to get some positive workouts with it. You’re going to get some improvement. A lot of kids make really good jumps in the offseason because there’s not the pressure of the season. Spring and summertime were when I would try to make the biggest adjustment in kids’ techniques. I found it to be valuable for kids in high school. I know a lot of people are against it.
What is your philosophy on weight cutting?
Buxton: In the early years I don’t think kids should be cutting weight. I think the sport should be a lot more fun for them. I’ve been able to travel a lot over the last four years overseas and watch what the Russians are doing, what the Iranians are doing, what people in Azerbaijan are doing, what’s happening in Japan … They tend to not be as competitive as we are as 6,7,8, 9, 10, 11-year-old kids. Their competitions are less. I think they try to bring them along as athletes a little bit more in teaching them tumbling and trying to work on tactics, strategies and techniques, instead of the number of competitions. Some of these kids are making weight every weekend. They’re growing through the season. I’m not a big believer in it. When they get to high school there is going to be a certain amount of weight cutting for a kid to make a team, and I understand that part. And there are times when as a coach I’m talking kids out of one weight class and trying to move them up to another weight class because I think they can be a little bit healthier and be a lot more productive and certainly make practices a lot more fun because they’re not sitting there cutting weight through practice. There is a place for it. Obviously, if you’re on a real competitive team and you’re trying to make the team, sometimes you have to lose a little weight that you don’t want to lose. But if kids are eating healthy and maintaining good diets they can really help themselves out being better athletes instead of concentrating on the weight cut.
How important is film study in wrestling?
Buxton: I watch at least an hour of film a day. Part of it is to keep me on my toes. It keeps me interested in the sport. It keeps developing my technique. At age 60 I’m still learning things. That’s what keeps me evolving as a coach, being able to learn what’s happening on the world level and the world is really good. It’s always evolving, always changing. I think kids can learn quite a bit by watching wrestling. Sports like basketball and football are on TV so much that kids develop in those sports. Even watching your own film is so important. It’s something that I use in practice. I’ll take out my tablet or phone all the time and video tape somebody so they can understand where their body is in space. They don’t see where their head position is. Or what their hand position is doing. Or just even watching them wrestle. They’ll sometimes say, ‘I didn’t even realize I was doing this.’ So I think the ability to watch film, watch yourself, watch other people, use it as a scout is really important and to continue learning in wrestling is really important.