Wrestling at R-MA: A Conversation With Frank Sullivan

Frank Sullivan is Randolph-Macon Academy’s (R-MA’s) Athletics director for students in grades six through 12. He is also the head coach of R-MA’s Wrestling team. Students from different levels of experience and skill participate in wrestling and learn how to steadily adapt to the physical and mental grind of the sport. Most recently, our wrestling team has won four National Prep Tournament qualifiers and produced 12 state medallists.

Here’s what Sullivan had to say about how R-MA teaches wrestling to students, how he’s adapted the program to the COVID-19 pandemic, and what students learn from it.

R-MA Wrestling and Sullivan’s Experience Teaching The Sport

While he had already completed an internship as a strength coach for wrestling during his undergraduate degree, Frank Sullivan later found himself as R-MA’s head coach after his predecessor left just three days before the 2013 season. “We had a solid group of wrestlers returning, and they decided it would be best if I helped them,” he says. “It’s been a great learning experience. I’ve been very grateful to have had some fantastic assistant coaches.”

Sullivan also mentions how his students learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, especially those who have never wrestled before. Since wrestlers do not depend on teammates as they would in team sports like football (Sullivan is also the head coach of R-MA’s football team), it’s important to practice and prepare to the point where they’re uncomfortable. “When they are in a competitive setting one-on-one, they’re more prepared for the uncomfortable situations that come up,” he adds. “It could be a loss to a very good wrestler. They have to get used to taking a loss.”

Check out the video below to see one of our R-MA wrestling alumni in action:

How COVID-19 Has Changed Wrestling at Our Prep School

Aside from his roles in R-MA’s Athletics department, Sullivan is also the head of our COVID-19 task force. The ongoing pandemic has led to our private academy resuming in-person classes while enacting various safety precautions, such as mandatory social distancing, practicing proper hygiene, wearing face coverings, and daily health screenings. With the wrestling program, other protocols, such as weekly COVID testing, practicing in pods, and reviewing each potential opponent daily—as well as reviewing their schools’ protocols—have been put into place. 

Sullivan’s experience coaching wrestling during the pandemic has been challenging, but students have started to more easily understand the sport’s process. “The biggest thing was [training in] pods, because we had to be pretty accurate guessers,” he says, as students are placed in pods based on weight class or experience. “When we’d have a team meeting where we can switch pods, we make sure [students] are with the right people.”

R-MA returned to on-campus learning with various COVID-19 safety precautions in place

The Impact Wrestling Has on Our Students

For Sullivan, students in wrestling at our prep school need many hours of mastering the fundamentals before growing into it and consistently being successful. It may also take an entire season for the wrestler to identify their style. “We’ll get a new student who’s wrestled since he was in sixth grade, and he has a certain way of wrestling. We’re not going to change that,” he says. “We’re going to adapt to the student. What we don’t want to do is have a first-year wrestler trying to do what [a different] student is doing.”

Despite this, Sullivan has gotten very positive feedback from R-MA alumni on their experiences with wrestling. In fact, he has a binder full of notes and letters from those who have found real-world success in wrestling, which he encourages his current students to read if they are hitting a wall. Above all, wrestling students at R-MA learn a lot about themselves, on and off the mat. “When a kid wins a match or gets a medal in a tournament for the first time, sometimes you don’t think it’s that big of a deal as a coach,” he says. “Then, it gets toward the end of the tournament, and that kid who got fourth place… is so excited to get his medal. It puts you in a place where everyone can achieve something if they work hard enough.”

Want to know more about wrestling at our coeducational private school?

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