Pinning your Opponent – When and How

grappling skills the pin

Contrary to popular opinion, you can go for a pinning situation anytime during the match.

Some coaches and wrestlers think it is unwise to attempt to pin an opponent who is fresh, and therefore perhaps more dangerous, early in the fight. Our thinking is that most grapplers are keyed up at the start of a fight and may be more likely to make a mistake that can be converted into a pinning situation. Consequently, we instruct our fighters to go for a pin regardless of the time elapsed in the match.

NOTE: In looking back at the results of more than 700 individual contests over the last three years, this philosophy has not cost our fighters a single match, while going for the fall at every opportunity has won many matches that otherwise might have been lost, through the accumulation of enough “near-fall” points to win the decision.

It is also tough to reverse a grappler who is aggressively going for the pin, since the bottom man has his hands full staying off his back.

We feel that aggressive action from the top position is especially important when our wrestler is superior. The double points scored by a pin could be the difference between winning and losing an entire meet.

NOTE: More than once we have won meets against stronger teams who won more individual matches, but did not score falls. We did!


In keeping with our over-all coaching philosophy, we try to stick to simple, proven combinations that the average-ability athlete can master with enough practice. We drill on at least some aspects of pinning at every practice session, devoting some 20-25 percent of our practice time to pinning drills.

The combinations we emphasize are the half nelson, cross-face cradle, and near-side cradle.

Half nelson: This is still one of the most effective means of turning an opponent onto his back, since it affords great leverage. We want our wrestlers to use the half nelson whenever they can.

We feel the half nelson can be used whenever the bottom man is flat on his stomach and either arm is at a 45-degree or greater angle from his side. The half nelson is very effective in combination with the arm bar, hammerlock, or head lever, and we constantly look for that 45-degree angle to secure the combination.

NOTE: If the bottom man turns his head away and braces with

his opposite leg in order to counter the half nelson, he leaves himself open for the cross-face cradle.

We also teach the “force” half nelson, telling our wrestlers to apply all their weight to the forearm across their opponent’s neck and then grasp that arm from under the opponent’s upper arm to pry him over.

NOTE: This move seems to work particularly well in the heavier weight classes.

Perhaps the most important point in using the half nelson is the element of surprise. Shoot it quickly and drive hard, all in one motion, before the opponent has time to counter.

Cross-face cradle: This pinning hold is quite popular in our area and is used with good results at both the high school and college levels. We work hard on this maneuver throughout the year, emphasizing cradles in our practices and telling the wrestlers to look for cradles whenever they are in control.

In teaching the cradle, we want first to break the opponent down to the mat, then look for him to pull up a leg as he tries to gain his base. As soon as a leg moves upward toward the head, the top man should post the leg, with his wrist behind the bent knee and keeping his weight on the opponent’s hips to prevent him from gaining a base. The top man should then quickly “cross-face” his opponent, driving the head around and down.

NOTE: This last manoeuvre cannot be accomplished in a leisurely manner. All possible force should be used.

After locking the opponent’s hands, the top man should walk around the feet of the cradled opponent to “shorten up” the hold.

From this position, the opponent can be brought to his back by either the “rock-back” or “roll-through” technique.

The rock-back is accomplished by lifting the opponent and turning him onto his back. It is by far the safer of the two moves, since the roll-through involves pulling the opponent across the top man’s body by rolling under and lifting the cradled man.

NOTE: Although we teach both methods, only those wrestlers who demonstrate great proficiency are permitted to use the roll-through.

The wrestlers are instructed to look for a close knee-to-head relationship in any situation. Anytime the opponent’s far knee is in close proximity to his head, the cross-face cradle can be applied.

This hold has been a valuable weapon, scoring points on about 90 percent of the occasions that our wrestlers have achieved a lock-up of the hands. It has scored falls on about 30 percent of the occasions it has been used.

Near-side cradle: This has also been an extremely effective hold, scoring falls a great percentage of the times that the opponent can be turned over with it. We emphasize aggressive use of the head to “lock-in” with this combination.

The opponent’s head and near leg are grasped, after which the wrestler in control must drive his forehead into the opponent’s lower ribs. When the bottom man bends to relieve this pressure, the arms are locked around his leg and head.

NOTE: The head should not be removed at this point, but should be used to help drive the man onto his back.

Like the cross-face cradle, the near-side cradle can be applied whenever the head and knee of the down wrestler come close together. An alert wrestler can often pop in a cradle when his opponent tries to stand up.

We try to teach our wrestlers to recognize cradle opportunities by using a five- to ten-minute drill in which the bottom wrestler moves at three-quarter speed and intentionally exposes himself to being cradled, deliberately creating close head-toknee relationships.

The top man rides with his head up and tries to recognize and take advantage of situations as they arise. If he misses an opportunity, the bottom wrestler lets him know and returns to the position to show him. After two to three minutes, the wrestlers switch positions and resume the same drill.

NOTE: We also use arm-bar and head-lever combinations, and a few of our wrestlers have used leg-ride combinations successfully. We do not emphasize the use of leg-rides, however, because fewer pin opportunities occur with this type of wrestling.


The first step in defending against pinning situations is mental preparation. The fighter must be made aware of the fact that being on his back is one of the toughest situations in any sport, and that he will have to make a supreme effort to escape being pinned.

We tell our wrestlers that they can’t be pinned if they concentrate on their shoulders and simply refuse to give in, no matter how tough it gets. We also tell them that there is no acceptable excuse for being pinned, that it only happens to those who quit.

Avoiding pins pays off in points and helps establish a personal pride in never quitting. In a number of cases, we’ve had fighters spend half a fight or more on their backs and not give up.

Believing that this will power can be learned, we drill at least once a week on escaping from pinning situations. The drill lasts one-half to one minute and we use various pinning combinations. Each wrestler takes at least three turns on the bottom.

The best way to avoid pins, of course, is staying off your back. We drill on this quite often throughout the season. Starting face down on the mat, the bottom man must try to return to and maintain his base, while his opponent attempts to break him down and turn him over.

NOTE: No escape or reversal attempts are permitted. The bottom man must concentrate on maintaining his base and countering the pinning attempts.

The top man is also helped by this drill, since he learns to go rapidly from one hold to another in trying to turn over his opponent, closely simulating an actual situation that often occurs if the bottom man is ahead on points late in the match.

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