Stalling – Striving for Consistency
Probably the most argued call/non-call in wrestling today is stalling. Whether you feel the opponent is avoiding action, protecting a lead and not allowing you to score, or not advancing a position, stalling continues to be one of the most interpretive situations in the sport.
From an official’s perspective, stalling – except for a very few black and white situations specified by rule – is totally subjective. There are references in the book that specify that participants must ‘make an honest attempt to stay within the 10-foot circle and wrestle aggressively’. But how many times have you seen a stall call made for someone not staying inside the 10-foot circle? (This is the circle in the middle of the mat)
The rules also go on to say from neutral that if a wrestler avoids contact continuously with an opponent, plays the edge of the mat, prevents an opponent from returning to the mat, or does not attempt to secure a takedown – this is stalling. But you can see the interpretation that can be made in these situations.
Techniques that are taught in official’s clinics by our most experienced referees vary somewhat; however there is simply no replacement for honest wrestling experience and background. Having a feel for the wrestling, strategy, thought process, and yes – even the match situation – are imperative to consistently recognize and administrate a stalling call.
With all of that said up front, let’s review some of the things officials look for in certain situations –
NEUTRAL POSITION – From neutral, where neither wrestler has control – keeping position in the center of the mat is critical. If a wrestler stays center mat and avoids the perimeter, it is almost guaranteed stalling will not be called. Once a wrestler get near the edge of the circle, officials begin to look very critically at whether there is effort being exhibited to stay inbounds. This is where even more subjectivity enters the decision process.
At the edge of the mat, the referee will determine if a contestant is making every effort possible to stay inbounds. This is done several ways – familiarizing with the wrestler’s style in this match, looking at blocking techniques being used, watching the feet to determine if they are pushing to get back in or allowing themselves to be pushed out, lack of aggressive shots/offensive moves, etc. Blocking techniques can include sprawling with no attempt to go around for takedown, using the head in the chest of your opponent, tie-ups, forearm across the front of your opponent, and others. If the official sees any of these, or especially a combination of these, expect a stalling call to be made.
CONTROL POSITION, where action is down on the mat with one wrestler on top, different things are looked for:
On the top wrestler – are they riding parallel (not coming off the hips), do they have a leg/legs in and not working for a turn? Are they satisfied with just being on top and not advancing their position, not allowing the bottom wrestler off the mat?
On the bottom wrestler – Is their head buried in the mat, tripod position with no attempt to sitout/switch, are they pinning the arms of the top wrestler in, or blocking the top wrestler from running anything, are they attempting to stand up or escape? Are they just maintaining a base without any signs of improving position?
Officials use several techniques to avoid a stalling call. No good official wants to make stalling calls – or ANY penalty call for that matter. However it is our duty to recognize stalling and enforce as necessary to ensure fairness is kept during the match. A style used by some does in fact consider score of the match, time remaining, and other factors to help determine the tactic being used by the wrestler.
For example, if wrestler A is winning 5-2, and each wrestler is in Neutral, the official will be looking at A to not block and avoid wrestling. If same wrestler is winning 5-2 and in a top control position, they will be looked at to not ride an ankle, hold onto a bar half without running it over, come off the hips and allow the bottom wrestler to come up to base, etc. If wrestler A is winning 5-2 and in bottom control, they will be looked at to attempt to come up to base, not lay prone on the mat, not pull their arms in and block advancements (only) from their opponent, etc. Pretty much any situation where a wrestler is ahead in score, they will be looked at to not just defend their lead, rather continue wrestling aggressively.
Conversely, many officials feel that if a wrestler is losing, and exhibits some of these stalling techniques, that unless a Major Decision/Tech Fall situation exists, stalling may not be called due to the fact that if the wrestler is losing and doesn’t exhibit a will to want to score, then there is no need to penalize if it won’t affect the match outcome.
The last thing an official wants to do is make a stalling call that may be perceived to ‘decide a match’. We teach this year after year to all our officials. However, it is imperative to note that should a situation like this occur, there has been at least 6 minutes of wrestling leading up to this point, and the call is probably being made as a last resort. There are quicker stalling calls that may be made to send a match into overtime and allow the competitors to decide it on their own.
Major takeway from reading this is to always ensure your actions are to improve your position. If you’re improving your situation, there should be no reason for stalling to be called. The official will likely use several verbal commands like “center”, “wrestle in”, “action”, “improve”, and others, which are a critical clue to let you know that a stalling call may be imminent if the situation doesn’t change. Officials must never coach a wrestler; however we are instructed to prevent situations from becoming illegal and penalized – and as long as the same command is given to each contestant, we want to try to ensure action is continued.
Consistency will always be complained about, and is hard to achieve on such a subjective situation like stalling. Officials train constantly on these situations, and the best lesson is mat time, videos, and watching other more senior officials to see what they look for. The best way to avoid becoming a victim of a stalling call is to never put yourself in a situation where the officials believes you are avoiding action.


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Written by TexasWrestling