One of the better articles I have ever seen on training partners from Jim Gruenwald, two time Olympic Team and current head coach at Wheaton College.
Strive to have these three partners!
Creating a complete wrestling environment (Part 1)– Jim Gruenwald
In my 12 years at the USOTC, I tried to be a student of the sport, not only as an athlete, but also in preparation for being a coach. This early attitude helped considerably to prepare me for my 4 years at the USOEC and now as a college coach. I looked at my time at the USOEC as an apprenticeship under Ivan Ivanov which added to my earlier learning. What made the transition easier from being an athlete to being a coach was studying the coaches who mentored me. How much of their influence is in the following ideas, I do not know, but I give them credit for making me a better coach than I could have been without them.
With that said, coaching tip number one to create a complete training environment is to have a wrestling room where you have three different types of training partner. I firmly believe, and would go so far as to say I know, that you need these three distinct types of partner to have the necessary tools for thorough training. Just training with any one partner for extended periods limits your ability to grow as an athlete. This does not mean a person cannot grow, but the growth is limited. The argument could easily be made that some people plateau in training because of an unwillingness to adopt or an ignorance of the three partners.
The first partner, in no particular order of importance, is the training partner that you can beat up. This person acts almost like a living throwing dummy. Obviously the individual must be good enough and well versed in the sport to be able to react correctly to set ups and situations, yet they are practically unable to stop you in a live situation. This partner allows one to hit technique in a live situation which allows for a more thorough training for muscle memory than just pure drilling can accomplish. The set up and timing of the move in a live situation is far more beneficial than mindlessly drilling technique for hours. I am not opposed to drilling technique, but like memorizing facts for a math test, it is the lowest level of learning. As with any higher level thinking, i.e. the application of concepts such as the Pythagorean Theorem to the sides of a right triangle, so there must be higher level muscle training which can be developed by applying the technique in a live situation. The downside of only using this partner is that you are never tested in close-to-competition conditions and can become overconfident because inexperience at higher level intensity or pressure circumstances that can be achieved only by the other two partners.
The second partner must be an individual that you have no idea of the outcome. This individual could be someone you beat one day and lose to the next. This training partner requires you to always be learning and bringing something new to the mat to gain an edge. The constant give and take, flowing seamlessly from offense to defense creates an atmosphere very close to competition. This partner requires near to total perfection for hitting a technique. Working out with this individual takes your wrestling to the next level of muscle memory and training. However, the unfortunate shortcoming of this partner, if overused, is the inability to score. Two people always training together will come to know their partner so well they anticipate each other to the point of stagnancy of action or score.
The last type of partner is found in an individual that can crush you. This training partner teaches you how to survive what seems to be the insurmountable. This may not be an easy person to find if you happen to be the biggest and best in the room. Yet, with creative training, it can be fashioned. For instance, having several partners circle in on one person, or going through a short but intense strength and/or conditioning exercise that puts you in a fatigued state. This teaches you to be sharp in your fatigue and to survive in bad situations. Overusing this technique can frustrate a person, and because you are fighting to survive can leave the door to injury open for too long a period of time. Although if we are honest with ourselves, how many of us are really willing to find someone who can squash us? Or willing to put ourselves at a severe disadvantage?
Each partner has a positive benefit and, if misused, a negative aspect. Granted there may be times where having all partners is not possible or practical for individual needs. Some people need a particular partner to get mentally ready pre-competition and using all three may be detrimental to an ideal competition preparation phase of training. Nevertheless, each partner serves a purpose. Each partner provides an opportunity to improve in specific ways. Moreover, if used correctly the training partners can be likened to a ladder. As you improve, you leave behind the person that was once someone you could crush. The person who could go toe-to-toe with you becomes someone you can crush. The person or created situation that could crush you now becomes the toe-to-toe and you have to find a new person or create a new situation to put you at a severe disadvantage. Another step up the ladder and another step closer to a championship or achieving a goal is made.Some stick with training partner number one and become the big fish in the small pond. Others get caught in a rut of training with partner number two, or become discouraged because of too much time spent with training partner number three. Take responsibility for your career and embrace the challenge to find all three and use them wisely in your training. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, the other choice is to keep doing the same-ole-same-ole and wonder why you never get better - Blaming officials, coaches, or finding some other excuse as to why you lose. In my experience it is the rare person who searches for, finds, and then uses all three training partners. Be that rare person by having the courage to use all three