First off, this is by no means an op-ed about how I know more than anyone, nor is a put down to anyone else. These are merely my observations throughout the offseason, so take it for what its worth from a coach of around a dozen Oregon national teams from jr high to HS.
As the new school year starts, I meant to write this about a month ago. However, life catches up with you after having a very busy wrestling offseason so I'm trying to put this together between work and leaving on vacation tomorrow. To start off, if you managed to put in some work this spring and summer, whether through training or competing, congratulations. You are one step ahead of those who chose to do nothing and it'll show this upcoming season.
As a long time coach and parent of many wrestlers, I can say without a doubt, the offseason is where you make the most gains. However, where you really make gains is how you choose to utilize your time. Some choose to compete damn near every weekend and some choose to only workout. Then there are those like myself who has taken the approach of a little of both. If someone tells me this is the only way things are supposed to be done, my friends know me enough to know, that's not how I work. I'll find a way to take a different approach and find success. First thing was our training.
Offseason training is important. This is where you work out the kinks. The approach we took this season was drilling and less competing. The Russians are known for drilling the same move, over and over again. This is what we did. Our routine consisted of one day of nothing but leg attacks and set ups to those leg attacks, then guts/laces and how to get to them. Second day, consisted of only defensive scoring and defense to guts and laces. Third day, consisted of nothing but throws from every position. The fourth day, we did live situations. We repeated this from the 2nd week after state until freestyle state. Probably the most boring but I found this to be highly effective. The only thing I would've changed was maybe 2-3 live matches against different opponents in a small tournament one week, so we didn't go into state with no matches. It showed in a couple of our matches, as we came out a little sluggish due to no live matches.
One of the most important things we've added to our training though was throwing dummies. We bought 3 of them and let me tell you, these are perfect for hard drilling or if you lack a partner. Don't have to worry about someone really getting hurt so you can just worry about fixing technique and positions.
After Freestyle/Greco State, none of our kids had qualified for the National Duals(champs in Freestyle only got first pick), so we had to decide how we wanted to move forward with training. I only had a few kids still interested in competing or training, so I came up with a different solution. We could've just went to Pocatello and wrestled the same kids we've beaten the last two yrs(mainly for Aristotle) or head east and find someone to beat him. We decided to head to Iowa and put in a few good days of hard training with some great coaches. This allowed us to get completely different matchups, different coaching altogether and hear how things are done in one of the toughest states in the country. Plus, it allows me to sit back and watch and not be one of those dads who insists they need to coach their kid at every workout they attend. As a bonus, it allowed our kids to see the country and recharge their batteries before we step up the tempo in training.
The next week, we headed to training camp in Sweet Home and this is where things get interesting. From my own observations and these are my opinions only, we had 3-4 groups. We had the first group of kids who took their training serious. These kids were willing to mix things up with any kid there, no matter how tough. They were there for morning runs, didn't question coaches or drills and were there to do one things, train to bring how hardware. Winners gravitate to one another and want each other to do the same. Their attitude is contagious and when they are on, they are on.
The second group were the kids who were not quite on the same level and are either just getting their feet wet or starting to make that jump to the next level by learning from group one. This group I like because they have the same mission as group one, but just aren't quite there experience wise(but will be soon).
The third group were the kids who should be working like groups 1 and 2, but their attitudes didn't allow for it. They had excuses for everything, didn't push themselves, wouldn't work with the tougher kids or simply have the attitude that they already know more than everyone else. These kids have the potential but the wrong mindset and usually cause issues that take the focus away from everyones overall goal, which is to win.
The fourth group were the kids, IMO, that maybe would've been best served attending one more camp before attending a major national event. Not because they aren't talented, but because they just aren't ready. Now I may catch heat from this but hear me out. I'm a firm believer that for something like this, if you don't qualify, you don't wrestle. Example: First year I took Hans to state freestyle, he went 1-2 as a first year Cadet, after winning schoolboy state the previous year. I could've petitioned and maybe got him in but I told him no, that he wasn't ready. So he trained. Next season, he won state freestyle and earned his spot on the team. That season, he was a match away from AA at Fargo. I felt if I allowed him to attend something he didn't earn the right to be at, he wouldn't have progressed and likely wouldn't have done as well. Same went for Aristotle. He couldn't attend freestyle state his junior year and wanted me to petition him on to the team and I said no, he didn't earn it. He took his training to another level and came home with hardware from Fargo.
I have more to write about but have to get some work done soon. I will touch on part two of this as soon as possible.
End of the Season Recap Part 2
I touched on a few things in part 1 of my recap, that I will now go into more depth about. I talked about the 4 groups of kids I noticed while at camp. At camp, I tried my best not to interrupt while another coach was showing technique or talking and mostly observed, since I was no longer the new guy on the staff but really the oldest guy on the coaching staff(Juniors). And I broke it down in my head.
Group 1: Always paying attention and when it came time to drill, drilled the technique and asked questions when needed.
Group 2: Paying attention, drilled and either asked questions or tried to fiure it out. Needed more help than group 1.
Group 3: Rarely paid attention, always talking or snickering when coaches were showing technique. When it came time to drill, either didn't really drill or screwed around and just went through the motions. If coach got after them, they usually gave attitude or complained.
Group 4: Paid attention but didn't really understand the technique being shown and it affected their drilling. Coaches spend too much time breaking things down.
This was pretty much every session and pretty much the same kids stuck with each group. Groups 1, 2 and 4 showed the most improvement while group 3, showed the least. Now I could literally go through and name off each kid in group 3, but what would that help. They know who they are and if they don't, thats a problem. Fact of the matter is, kids in Group 3 are talented but lack the discipline to really reach their potential. As a coach of 23yrs now, I don't spend a lot of time helping group 3 type kids. Their attitude doesn't allow for them to improve and fact of the matter is, its a learned trait that is rarely changed. I always ask those kids "what are you even doing here if you're not going to bother even working hard or listen."
This leaves us with our other 3 groups. Group 1 and 2, I'd work with all day but so would any coach. They listen, work hard and always show improvement. We as coaches, should maybe hand pick these guys and make sure they are always working together. These guys are the ones placing are real close to placing at Nationals.
Group 4 kids, IMO, need to be addressed and taken elsewhere. Its my opinion these kids are too new to be heading to Fargo. I would rather see these kids taken as a team to Pocatello or some other dual tournament to gain experience. Furthermore, I'd spend way more time with them on technique(FR/GR). As national coaches, we spent too much time showing kids how to lock up a gut, how to finish a takedown, how to toss a proper throw, basically how to wrestle. IMO, this is their HS coaches job. It shouldn't be the job of a national team coach to be showing basic technique at a training camp, a week before nationals. Fact of the matter is, there are kids heading to the tournament that have never wrestled a freestyle or greco match. Kids heading to nationals, should be maximizing the trip. This isn't vacation. I tell the kids every time I've went to Nationals, "Fargo is not a vacation spot, so don't treat it as such."
Now, if you lack experience and still want to attend Nationals, we need to change are training methods. I know for a fact, our National Team directors open up weekends for training that very few kids attend. These are prime times, especially if you have little experience, to get one on one coaching from people far more experienced. Utilize your time wisely. Don't be a part-timer. These are coaches who are not paid to coach you, but are doing it for the love of the sport and wanting to see Team Oregon compete at its best. This is where being a solid coach or parent comes into play. If you don't know how to show a gut, find someone who does and get your kids there. I learned more in three years of rooming with Neil Russo, about freestyle/greco wrestling, than from any other coach. That guy has a wealth of knowledge and knows the rules in and out. I know for a fact, if you called him up and asked to do a session with him just on technique, if he isn't fishing, he'd be more than happy to help. Fact is, guys like him, Steve Lander and Thorpe, Kyle Temple, Mike Simons, Rudy Soliz and a slew of others, would welcome you with open arms. Heck, if people were willing to drive a few hrs, my room would be open every weekend. Point is, we have people willing to help that aren't utilized enough, IMO. Set your egos aside and get the kids the training they need.
Another thing that needs addressed is, how we train. Years ago, we were at a tournament and Hans and Aristotle beat some kids they had no business beating at the time. The parents had no idea who my kids were and asked me, "what tournaments have you guys went too and won." I said "None. This was our first tournament of the year and outside of freestyle state, they only wrestle about 8-10 matches a season." The parent was shocked. Fact is, we spent more time training and learning before they learned how to compete. There was no point. I've said it many of times, I have never cared for grade school "world" champs. Step up the training in jr high and HS, if their goal is to make it to college. The year Aristotle won jr high state, he hadn't wrestled one match until January and only wrestled about 20 that season in total. This year before Fargo, he only wrestled 4 freestyle matches and 4 greco matches. That's it. Of course that doesn't work for every kid but I always told my kids to keep the end goal in mind and its not just a weekend tournament.
Now this doesn't mean I don't like competing. I love the direction the Cadet and Juniors are heading with going to National Duals. So many tough matches, for a fraction of the cost. Great way to get serious mat time in to prepare for Nationals or just get better. I think we should raise funds to send at least two teams next season and take another group to a tough individual tournament or take a week to drive them to several locations to train with different partners.
Like I said before, this in no way means I know everything, nor does it mean I don't think our coaches did a poor job. These are merely my observations from another year at Nationals. I hope it helps and see you on the mats soon.