clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Wrestling for Dummies: Understanding the basics, scoring, and terminology

I think Tom Brands 100% endorses this guide.

With the wrestling post season just around the bend are you still struggling to dive in and understand the basics of the sport? It’s incredibly hard, frustrating, and time consuming to understand a new sport, let alone have fun while doing it. First and foremost, Iowa is a wrestling state. If you choose to accept this mission, shouldn’t you at least be able to follow along with the program that’s brought 23 NCAA championships to the University of Iowa?

There’s a large portion of Hawkeye fans that are still hesitant to dip their toes into the wrestling waters because it’s such a daunting and niche sport. If this is you, don’t worry! There is a rich history you need to know so, you’re not alone. This is, after all, the oldest sport in the world.

I’m here to help you understand the fundamentals so you can follow along with what many of us are hoping to be an NCAA Championship run starting on March 7 in New Jersey with the Big Ten Conference tournament.

***if anyone reads something that doesn’t make sense, needs clarification, or is downright wrong, please drop a comment below and I will make adjustments.***

WHAT IS WRESTLING? It’s simply the greatest, and at its most basic, it’s all about exerting control over a competitor through a series of moves, maneuvers, locks and throws. There is no greater feeling than physically throttling somebody and doing it on a level playing field. There are many forms and styles of wrestling, but the style we’ll be covering is “Folkstyle” (aka scholastic) wrestling. Folkstyle is the style that has been adopted at the grade school, high school, and collegiate levels.

COLLEGIATE WRESTLING consists of ten weight classes, with one wrestler representing each weight class.

1: 125lbs

2: 133lbs

3: 141lbs

4: 149lbs

5: 157lbs

6: 165lbs

7: 174lbs

8: 184lbs

9: 197lbs

10: 285lbs

There are two formats that teams will compete in throughout the course of the season: duals (team A vs team B and not be confused with the word duel) and tournaments (several wrestlers competing in a tournament bracket with wins contributing to total team points). The team scoring formula is drastically different between duals and tournaments.

Each wrestler that Iowa chooses to represent our school for each match (bout) must first weigh-in, literally on a scale. For example: for our 2x NCAA champ, Spencer Lee, to wrestle at 125lbs he must weigh 125lbs or less.

MATCH FORMAT: The individual matches are broken up into three periods, with no break between periods. The first period has a duration of 3:00 minutes, while the second and third periods are 2:00 minutes each.

Each wrestler wears an ankle band of either red or green color, which the referee has a corresponding wrist band. When that referee indicates points for a wrestler, they will use the corresponding hand to signal which wrestler has scored points.

The beginning of a match starts with both wrestlers in the neutral position, meaning both are standing on their feet and facing each other, towing the double stripped line in the center of the mat.

In a tournament, after the first period ends, the referee will toss a red and green colored disk. The winner of the toss gets to decide which position they would prefer for the second period: neutral, top, bottom aka referee’s position, or they may defer their choice to their opponent.

The third period starts with the choice of the other wrestler.

The winner of a match is decided by who has more points at the end of regulation, if a match is tied, they will go into a 1:00 minute sudden victory, the first to score wins. If a winner isn’t decided after the additional minute they’ll go into :30 second tie-breakers. The disk is tossed again, and a wrestler will choose top, bottom, or defer. The opposing wrestler gets the choice for the final tie-breaker. Whoever has more points at the end will win. If the score remains tied after both tie-breakers, a second sudden victory will occur.


Takedown (2 points): This is the most common form of scoring. This is when wrestler A takes wrestler B down to the mat from neutral position and controls wrestler B on top.

Escape (1 point): If wrestler B is able to get out from the bottom position and face wrestler A.

Reversal (2 points): If wrestler B is able to reverse control over wrestler A and end up in the top position and in control.

Near fall (2 or 4 points): Near fall points are awarded when wrestler A begins to expose wrestler B’s shoulders to the mat at a 45-degree angle or less or has both of wrestler B’s shoulders 4 inches or less above the mat. The referee usually lays on the mat and counts with a big motion of his arm. 2 counts equal 2 points and 4 counts equal 4 points. 1 count alone will not score any near fall points, whereas 3 counts only scores 2 points. It’s either a full 2 counts for 2 or a full 4 counts for 4.

Feet to back (4 or 6 points): While in neutral one wrestler can throw the other straight from their feet to their back. A 2-point takedown is awarded and depending on the near fall count, near fall points may be added to it.

Pin/ Fall: When both shoulder blades of an opponent’s back are on the mat. This will immediately end the match and the pinning wrestler wins with bragging rights.

Riding Time: When wrestler A gets a takedown on wrestler B and begins to “ride” from the top position, a riding time clock begins. Upon reaching 1:00 of riding time, one point is awarded to wrestler A at the end of the match. If wrestler B is able to escape, riding time is stopped. If wrestler B reverses A, then the clock will being to count backwards. After reaching :00, it will go in B’s direction. Riding time has a max of one point and is only awarded at the end of the match. Giving up several minutes of riding time is an embarrassment. The Hawks have perfected embarrassing their opponents.

Danger Zone: While in neutral or in a scramble, anytime a wrestler’s shoulders are exposed to the mat at a 90-degree angle or less, the referee shall verbally issue a danger zone signal and a count begins, upon reaching the count of 3 a takedown is awarded to the other wrestler.

Ex: Wrestler A has a single leg on wrestler B, but B attempts to dive into A’s legs, thus exposing his back, if he doesn’t remove himself by the 3 count, then A receives a 2-point takedown, but if he’s able to move out of the position before the 3 count, then no takedown is awarded, but the count will restart if his back is exposed again. Likewise, it is possible to be pinned while in the danger zone.

Stall Warnings and Calls: Stall warnings are penalties that are issued when one wrestler fails to present themselves, compete, avoids contact, or continually goes out of bounds to avoid wrestling. Often times these are judgement calls made by the referee.

1st violation = a warning

2nd violation = 1 point for the opponent

3rd violation = 1 point for the opponent

4th violation = 2 points for the opponent

5th violation = disqualification

There is also a common scenario when a wrestler in the top position is “hanging” on the legs to try and prevent an escape, when this happens the referee will begin a five-count, if the count is reached it is treated as a stall warning/ call violation.

DUAL MEET SCORING: Depending on the outcome of the ten individual matches in a dual meet, the winning wrestler awards their respective team with team points. The team with the most points after ten matches wins.

Decision (3 team points): When a wrestler wins their match by 7 points or less.

Major Decision (4 team points): When wrestler wins by 8 - 14 points.

Technical Fall (5 team points): When a wrestler wins by 15+ points.

Pin/ Fall (6 team points): When a wrestler pins the other wrestler it’s an auto 6 points.

Injury Default/ Medical Forfeit/ Forfeit (6 team points): The opposing team receives 6 points when a wrestler is unable to compete, unless the injury was a result of an illegal more or unsportsmanlike penalty.

TOURNAMENT SCORING: The number of wrestlers per bracket will vary depending on the size of the tournament. For example, the NCAA tournament will have 33 wrestlers per 10 weight classes.

The goal for each wrestler is ultimately to win the tournament, but there are still a number of ways to score team points along the way. The team scoring is vastly different than that of a dual meet between two teams because it’s not uncommon for a wrestler to compete 4+ times in a single tournament.

To become an All-American our Hawkeyes must place in the top eight of the NCAA tournament. There are two primary sources for acquiring team points at the tournament:

  • Placement points- a minimum set of points per the end placement.
  • Advancement points- a varying amount of points per win during the tournament.

1st – 16 placement + 4 advancement = 20 points

2nd – 12 placement + 4 advancement = 16 points

3rd – 10 placement + 3.5 advancement = 13.5 points

4th – 9 placement + 3.5 advancement = 12.5 points

5th – 7 placement + 3 advancement = 10 points

6th – 6 placement +3 advancement = 9 points

7th – 4 placement + 2.5 advancement = 6.5 points

8th – 3 placement + 2.5 advancement = 5.5 points

9th - 12th – 2 advancement = 2 points

13th - 16th – 1.5 advancement = 1.5 points

  • 1 additional team point for a match that is won by a major decision.
  • 1.5 additional team points for a match that is won by a technical fall.
  • 2 additional team points for a match that is won by a pin, medical forfeit, injury default or disqualification.


Bottom/ Referee’s position- One wrestler is on the bottom with hands and knees on the double lines in the center of the mat.

Bonus Points: Winning a match by a major decision or more.

Danger Zone- While in a neutral position, one wrestler’s shoulders are exposed to the mat at a 90-degree angle or less.

Decision- Winning an individual match by 3 points or less

Escape- When a wrestler is able to get out from being controlled on the bottom, stand, and face the opposing wrestler. Often times a wrestler will intentionally release the other (aka cutting) in an attempt to take them down again and extend a lead.

Exposure- Is turning an opponent’s shoulders to the mat exposing them to the possibility of a pin.

Forfeit- This usually occurs when a team doesn’t have a wrestler to represent that respective weight.

Injury Default- When a wrestler is injured during a match and cannot continue.

Mat- the mat, not the Matt, is the big circular area where all the fun happens.

Match- this is considered to be the actual bout. Wrestler 1 vs wrestler 2. Many confuse and incorrectly call the match a game, session, set, etc, but it’s actually called a match

Medical Forfeit- This usually occurs in a tournament when a wrestler is injured in a previous match. If they cannot take the mat in the following match, it’s deemed a medical forfeit.

Neutral position- Begins with both wrestlers on their feet with neither having an advantage over the other.

Out of bounds- when both wrestlers are outside the outer most circle, action is stopped, and the wrestlers return to the center.

Penalty Points- There are a number of instances such as unsportsmanlike calls that can penalize an individual or a team. Slaps, punches, illegal moves, and repetitive hands to the face are common. Often times we see Tom and Terry Brands losing self/ mat control and infringing on the action and losing a team point. Why? Because they like a challenge.

Pin (fall)- When both of the opponent’s shoulders are in contact with the mat flat as a pancake. This is deemed a win and immediately ends the match. We love pins, pins are great.

Potentially Dangerous- The referee can stop the match when a situation become dangerous and one or both wrestlers could become injured. This can happen from legal or illegal moves.

Referee(s)- is the official that presides over the match/ dual/ tournament.

Scramble- is a catch-all term for an exciting series of moves between both wrestlers. This can occur in any position.

Stalemate- A stalemate occurs when neither wrestler is able to improve their positioning. This can happen while in neutral or while both wrestlers are on the mat or in a scramble.

Stalling- When a Hawkeye opponent refuses to compete, present themselves, wrestle or simply runs from the action.

Sudden victory (SV1)- is extra time if a match is tied after regulation. If a 2nd sudden victory occurs, it is often abbreviated SV2.

Takedown: When one wrestler is able to take the other to the mat from the neutral position and exerts control.

Tie-Breakers- this is a tie-breaker set of two :30 second periods that happens if a score remains tied after sudden victory.

Top position- While one wrestler is on bottom, this wrestler is on top covering the other wrestler.

For more loose terms and expressions please head over to