So you've finished your first National Team trip and you're gearing up for Fargo. Its time to access your progress and work on the little things that will get you some more wins.
I had the opportunity to help coach the 16U National Dual Team that competed at the National Dual tournament and made sure to make mental notes of how we as a team competed and things I feel, we need to work for, especially for those competing at Fargo next month.
Here is a list of things I felt, kids and coaches need to work on with their kids. This is my opinion and my opinion alone and do not express the opinions of the rest of the coaching staff, as they likely have their own opinions:
1. Position. I can not stress this enough. This goes back to the days of Dale Thomas and the old Quasi-Vertical stuff. Making sure your body is in perfect alignment from our feet and on the mat. Shoulders not too far forward or back, feet in the right spots, hands/arms not too outstretched, bend at the knees not your back, etc. Understanding the difference between good and bad position can make or break a match very quickly. I saw a lot of over-reaching with our arms, elbows out, head down type attacks that cost our kids.
In the same token, I can not stress enough on learning proper gut and leg lace defense. Too many kids with the wrong hip down and simply not being very tough on bottom and rolling too easily. How I explained it to some kids was this, there is difference between being a good wrestler who can win against average kids and being a tough wrestler who can beat an even tougher kid. Technique will get you a long ways, but mix in some athleticism and some grit(a kid who can get punched in the face and shrug it off) and tough kids on paper become average kids you beat. Toughen those ribs up, toughen up your face, leather up your skin and strengthen up those hands. Think Rocky 4 kind of tough. Grab and axe and split some cords of wood, then stack it. No gloves either while you stack. We need your hands to be stones.
2. Picking the right attacks for the situation. If you have a favorite attack and its getting shut down, you need to have the ability to adjust. We don't have the pleasure of having 15min quarters. 16U only gets 2 min rounds and if you want to make it to the 2nd round, you may need to make adjustments very quickly. You should have at least three moves that you have dozens of setups for and at least one solid home run move. Also, keep in mind moves that don't necessarily work for points in folkstyle, can score a lot of points in freestyle/greco because its only about exposure. Things like a firemans, chip whips, three in a row, tightwaste tilts from the front, a single leg to a dump will end matches quickly.
3. Transition wrestling. Best time to score back points is right after a takedown. There is that moment when your opponent relaxes just long enough for you to lock something up and turn 2 into 4 or 4 into a pin. This comes from constant drilling and not sloppy, hurry up and get it over with kind of drilling. Clean technique, in good position and speed up from there. your coaches should be making sure your hands, hips, head and legs/feet are in good position from start to finish. Then build from there. A good lace off a takedown can end a match, even against the best kids.
4. Defense. While we are working on all the right things, so is everyone else. You need to stay one step ahead of them at all points. The saying goes, "even as the champion, always train like you finished in 2nd place." This will keep you humble because even the very best lose. As good as Gable, Sanderson, Burroughs, Gray, Dake, Cox and Taylor are, they have all lost in their careers. While your offense is important, your defense is even more importanter(like that word). So when we are on our feet and defending our legs, remember that instead of trying to lock up a chest lock as they are hitting a double(which you will lose more times than not so its not worth the risk), you should be sprawling and stuffing their head. From there, work on getting your legs back, breaking their lock, crossfacing and turning the corner and just going behind for two. Always look to secure your two. Two points is better than zero points or giving up four points because you think you can do what Kyle Dake does. I saw way too many kids trying to turn their opponents in a frontheadlock or chest lock and it almost always backfired. The ref will give your opponent four before they consider even giving you two. Not worth it, IMO.
On the mat, if you are getting gutted, your far hip or shoulder are glued to the mat and switch sides accordingly. If you're starting to get laced, get your legs apart and move. If they get it locked up, sit on their head or jump forward at least three times like a donkey kick and sit on their heads. It eats up time and loosens up their lock. And again, be tough. Make Drago regret stepping on to the mat with you.
5. Offense. I touched on this already but I just want to re-interate. Quit reaching, keep your head in good position on leg attacks, quit getting snapped down so easily, keep your legs moving on those doubles and singles, and if you're going to throw someone, do it already.
Once in par terre, get to work on top. Don't wait because the ref won't hesitate to blow their whistle. Guts, make sure your elbows are tight, arms pulled towards you and chest puffed out. And drive those feet. A loose gut can cost you. Laces, make sure you're crossing tose feet and driving at a 45 degree angle as you turn. This should be a match ender. And highguts are a great low risk, high reward move. Just remember to clear their elbow on the side you're turning and drive with your feet. You clear it by moving your elbow up to push theirs forward slightly and then you work your turn. I'm not a big fan of frontheadlocks in freestyle. Try an assassin instead. Less risk of you getting caught on your back.
On our feet, the rule is, no more than two steps back and circle back in. On the edge, unless you have a throw secure, don't risk giving up a four over one. Bearhugs, I'm a firm believer that they suck. Against a decent kid, you will get launched in double overs or a headlock every time so why risk it. Just because you saw some russian toss a guy in it once, doesn't mean you should be at this level. The risk is greater than the reward. And finish those takedowns quickly.
And lastly, stop worrying about a highlight reel. Who cares if you don't do something cool that ends up on social media. The only cool thing you should be concerned with is winning. I'd much rather bring home a medal than get social media likes because you did some cool move once. Get the win. Your reward is getting your hand raised.
6. Have fun. Lastly, while I stress being tough and winning, don't forget to have some fun. Stay loose, stay focused and put some kids on their back and pin them. And remember, a cheetah doesn't stretch before it tackles a gazelle. Train your body to be the cheetah.
Road to Nationals Part Two by Richard Rockwell
In my last blog post, I gave some thoughts on training to make it on to an Oregon National Team and this will touch on things once you've made a team.
4. Training cont'd. So you've made your first, second or even 5th team and you're wondering why you should read this. While you likely have things down enough that you feel you no longer need advice, this can be your downfall. No matter how long you have wrestled, how good your coaches are, you can always learn, especially when it comes to training. Find different rooms to train in, this I can't stress enough. I've never been one to only go to one club and say "that's it." Different rooms/places I've taken kids to for training purposes that I felt our kids got the most out of it, were places like Pendleton, Hermiston, Mt View, Newberg, Chiawana(Pasco WA), Sweet Home, Culver, OTC, Spokane WA, Cheyenne WY, Waterloo IA, Rapid City SD, Topeka KS, Kansas City KS as well as Boise St and Northern Iowa U.
Notice the different range of programs and cities. Training should be on a scale. Work out until you beat everyone in the room, then move up from there. If you're the best at your school, go to a bigger school. If you're the best in your region, go to another region. Best in your state, go to another. Best on the West Coast, go to the midwest. You get the point. This goes for camps as well. Monotonous training has been the downfall to many. Don't be afraid to look beyond Oregon and the west coast. You won't be disappointed. P.S. don't forget to lift/run and concentrate on position(understanding good and bad position is important for all styles).
5. Fundraising. Now you're possibly thinking, how do you pay for all this? Good question because its a simple one, work. What I mean by this, one of the best tools we can give kids today is the ability to earn their way to success. I'm very old school in the fact that if my kids want anything, they have to earn it. So, the same mentality goes with fundraising efforts. Now, don't get me wrong, I ask for donations as well, but majority of a national trip funding comes from finding odd jobs, car washes, a job and other creative ideas. One year, kids raised money by hauling around a trailer and offering to cut up scrap metal and recycle it. Other years, we helped a bunch of people move. Even one year, we had a parent win a contest through Burger King, receiving $10,000 worth of airline miles, and donated it to the Jr Team. We managed to get around 15 place tickets for team members that year. A lot of kids simply go get jobs working for a farm and earn their money through good old fashioned hard work. I feel this allows kids to take ownership in their trip as well as get some cross training in. Bailing hay and chopping wood will do wonders for your strength. We have never really been ones to expect or want our parents to pay for our trips.
6. What to expect when you get there(safety). So you've made it through your training and fundrasing efforts and are well on your way to your competition. One thing that I know must be talked about is what to expect when traveling with so many people you don't know that well, as well as to another state where you really don't know anyone. Coaches will talk about team rules and behavior while traveling. While no parent thinks their kid can do no wrong, it never fails that at least 1-2 kids will do something dumb and likely get sent home. As a warning, know that your top priority is wrestling, not sneaking out, partying or stealing(top things kids are sent home for with no refund). Just because you paid, doesn't mean you're entitled to do what you want. These trips are still a privlege, not a right.
Keep an eye on your stuff! I know we don't want to think that after all our hard work, that someone will steal our stuff, but it never fails, every year, someone gets their stuff stolen. Either by kids from other teams or from their own team mates. I've been on trips where kids have had their stuff stolen while warming up, leaving their room door open, letting kids watch their things, setting their stuff down to pay for something, etc. Rule of thumb is, have your coaches watch your stuff, when wrestling never take your stuff off and put it behind the coaches chair, and physically hand your stuff to your coach. Never assume your stuff will be safe and you will go home with all your stuff.
7. What to expect(competition). Now that we've covered the safety concerns, lets cover the important stuff, wrestling. You've put in all this training, now you want results. However, lets be realistic for a second. Not everyone can win every match, let alone one match. You've trained and competed all spring and summer and you want some wins, but lets not forget you have to earn those. Even after all you have done, do not expect to be handed those wins. Your first match could be the retuning national champion or first year wrestler. Sometimes you don't really know so understand, you still have to step on the mat, compete and assume every kid can be beat because they can.
And you say "well of course" but in my experience, know there are some kids who are simply along for the ride and did very little training after qualifying and want a trip to Fargo. I'm here to tell you, places like Fargo are not summer destination vacation spots. Its hot, its muggy, the stadium seats aren't comfortable and did I mention that its hot? I can almost guarantee the only times you will ever visit a place like Fargo is for wrestling, attending college or work. So what I'm saying is, if you lose out, make sure its because you lost to someone better than you, not because you didn't take your training serious. Get a good return on your investment.
Part three I'll talk about returning home and what to take from your experience.
Road to Nationals, a three part series by Richard Rockwell
Having been deeply involved with wrestling since 1989, first as a wrestler and eventually a coach, I've had the opportunity to travel considerably and become a better coach because of it. As I look back, I've had the opportunity to coach on twelve Oregon National Teams ranging from middle school to high school, throughtout the years including, six trips back to USAW Cadet/Jr Nationals or what we like to call, Fargo.
Last night, talking with old coaching friends and directors from previous trips, as well as reading posts about gear, results, etc, brought back many memories of the ups and downs that can be the National Team trip and the process towards making and training for a team. And it got me thinking about all the preparation needed in order to have a successful trip and great experience, when heading out against national level competition. So, I decided to put together a list of things, I go over with my athletes and kids, when they have a chance to compete on an Oregon National Team. And maybe it'll help future wrestlers, parents and maybe even young coaches making their way up the coaching ladder.
However, before I get started, know that I am in no way saying my way is the right way or trying to overstep any HS/club or national team coach. Everyone has their own way of doing things, but I'm a firm believer in being prepared, not only as a coach, but as a parent. But keep in mind, I've been fortunate enough to have learned from experienced coaches from all walks of life, as we have traveled or coached together extensively. This includes coaches from all over the country, as well as Olympic Champions and medalists. While I may not have the extensive competition background in the sport as some feel is the most impportant aspect of coaching successful athletes, I did compete until almost age 30 at the high school, college and senior/club levels. Everything combined, and I think I've gathered enough knowledge so far, to offer an inciteful opinion on such matters and have learned that being a good coach, doesn't necessarily mean, you're the best wrestler.
These national events are not something you just wake up one morning and you're "ready." It takes time, effort, hardwork, dedication, a great support network of family, friends, community and coaches. But of course, most of you that have made a team before or had older siblings/parents that have made a team, probably have already told you. I think my list of things will be helpful and sometimes blunt, so in an era of where offense is taken for anything now, don't. That is not my intention, as every year, like any other coach or director I've came to know, all want the same thing, Team Oregon to be the very best they can be. Also know, I can be long winded, but bear with me. I was a writer first, before a became a coach. And I fully expect some parents and coaches to scoff, as that is what some are very good at. I've been around enough of them to know who they are, but this isn't about them. Its about the wrestlers.
1. Qualifying. Personally from day one, as a kid from our club or my household, I tell them they need to place at their respective qualifiers before I'll back them for a National Team. What I mean is this, placing top two at state gets you auto qualified and placing at regionals, does as well. If you don't at least place, I won't consider petitioning you for a team. IMO, a kid still needs to earn their spot on the team. I don't care if they have something else going on, find a way to qualify. There are plenty of ways, just make the effort to do so.
Example, one year, my oldest could not make it to the state tournament due to varsity baseball. So, we headed to regionals in Battleground instead and he qualified there. Two years prior, he went 1-2 at cadet state and didn't qualify. He wanted me to petition and I said "no, you have to earn it. Earn it like everyone else did before you." This built a fire within him and he instead attended Western Jr Duals and went undefeated, beating three all-americans along the way, as Team Oregon won both styles of the tournament. By me not petitioning him, he worked twice as hard to make another team and showed that it was more about his goals and less about me as a parent wanting him to make a team.
2. Training. As a coach/parent, you must be willing to accept that no matter how long you have coached or how good of a wrestler you were once, that you still don't know everything. In the day and age of super clubs and private coaching, there isn't one coach that knows it all. The best kids I've known, have a little knowledge from every source they've came into contact with. The best decision I've ever made as a coach/parent was, making contact with other coaches throughtout the state/country and found different ways to train. Open mats, clinics, camps are a great way to save yourself some money, enjoy some time with your kids and take the pressure away from competing. I'm a firm believer that it should be around 80% training and 20% competition. This is also a great opportunity to relay this very message to your child or athletes, "listen." Nothing I hate more than coaching someone elses kid that majority of the time their actions are to not listen to instructions, say things like "my coach says this" or simply not take another coach serious. My last Jr National Team I was on, there was a lot of this and it showed once we got to Fargo. The kids who listened, had the most success. The ones who didn't, were done early.
Example, the year one of my sons won middle school state, he hadn't wrestled a match until January, but trained majority of the time. The year he AA'd at Fargo, he had wrestled at the state tournament and then Fargo, actually taking a break in between to run track.
It is also a way to connect with other parents, looking to get their kids better partners, learn new technique or new coaching philosphies. It is also a great time to just sit and watch, and enjoy the fact that your kids are able to compete in such a great sport. You kids are going to learn far more the less you bark at them at these fun times. I always told my kids, "you hear me yell all MS/HS season, you don't need to hear me in the offseason too."
Another thing, don't be afraid to grab the best kid and challenge yourself. You've qualified for this trip and continue to work hard so that you get the most out of it. The saying in wrestling goes "Iron sharpens Iron." This is the most truthful statement that at most times is not taken very serious, especially when it comes to training/training camp. Be okay with getting whooped. And before you say "that's what my kid does." I'm sure they do, as long as you're there watching. But are they doing it when you're not around? I can honestly say without a doubt, this is not always the case and you'd be surprised at some of the worst offenders. You are only as good as your weakest link. Don't be the weak link.
3. Competition. I spoke about my own 80/20 rule. No idea if there is any science behind it but its my personal preference that I've developed over time and mostly concerns off season training. The reason for it, the regular season is a grind. I believe in giving time off, competiting in other sports and allowing kids to be just that, kids. The idea of constantly competing every single week or every couple weeks, makes my brain hurt. Over-training through excessive competiton, long term, just isn't that great. Every sport has some importance towards developing a solid wrestler. Doing the same monotinous drills, while good for repetition, are not so good for the body and can lead to serious injury. Let your kid be a two or even three sport athlete. It will help their training long term and also looks good on applications.
Pick your events wisely and get your moneys worth. Events like the Western Jr Duals was always a fun event because you could get 10-12 matches in against some really good kids from the West Coast, at a reasonable expense. And it was always pretty fun because Team Oregon would take a ton of hammers as we won the event many times. Sometimes in very dramatic fashion. Remember the HWT match between Arizona and Utah, Oregon coaches, that won us the tournament? Another good one was the America's Cup in California. We managed to finish 4th overall with a rag tag bunch of kids competing against some very high caliber kids from around the country. We watched NCAA Champion, Gabe Dean, lose to Brandon Griffin of Oregon. Match can still be found on Youtube.
For my own kids, I also allowed them to help pick where they wanted to compete, in order to still make it about them and less about my ego or desire to have bragging rights. Don't get me wrong, winning is cool and my expectations are always high for any athlete I coach, including my own, but in the end, the memories they will have will be more about the matches and less about the awards. Allowing them to have an active role in where they choose to compete, again allows them to take charge of their competitive career. It helps to develop that edge they need. Maybe they aren't ready for a big event. Take them somewhere they can be competitive still and work their way up from there. My first years as a parent/coach consisted of just a couple of local tournaments and adding a few more each year, then finally asking my kids what their goals were. Their responses dictated how far they wanted to take things.
And, I know I've said this before but for you newer parents, in my own household we don't even hang up our kids' awards. You could walk into our home and not even realize our kids have even competed in anything and we are pretty damn competitive. Many championship medals, plaques, trophies, all-league/state awards are treated all the same. Take a pic, say "that's cool" and in the box in the garage it goes. Well, except those belt buckles from LaGrande and Hermiston(one of a kind and very cool), and AA awards, they get a little more air time on our mantle. Let the competition and the wins or losses be the awards.
Part Two will touch on what to expect on a National Team trip, what to expect once you get there, fundraising and more thoughts on training.
A Bi-Weekly Wrestling Blog featuring former Riverside and college wrestler, Hans Rockwell, where I discuss everything from coaching wrestling, preparing for competitions, exercise/nutrition and to how to become an Olympic Champion in grade school.
Like father, like son
Growing up I never really understood what wrestling was to me other than a place to go and have some fun with my friends. I never took it serious and loved every minute of my younger years wrestling. At the time, my dad was helping out at Hermiston and he would take me to some of their club practices while he worked out with kids. Eventually, he would take me to tournaments and camps, but wouldn’t push me or make it a serious thing. At the time it was all about learning to love the sport.
As each year passed by, I attended more tournaments and more camps around the state. What I didn't realize is that not only was I getting better, but making lifelong friendships. I felt this was an important part about what wrestling teaches. That even in competition, you take time to enjoy the company around you. The long road trips allowed me to see a whole other world outside of our small town and enjoy the stories along the way. My dad would tell me stories of his days competing, the ups and downs. The matches he had seen. This would help me better understand the sport that he loved so much and help to train me for future success.
I didn’t really start to take it serious until I got into junior high, when I started to have more success than losses and was wanting to wrestle more often. I had won and lost, but it was on the jr high team that I really started to make leaps and bounds. I started to learn what hard work was really about and what it would take to get to the next level. Dad would work with me on staying in good position. Always talking about position, something that I feel not enough coaches focus on. Position, position, position. I can still hear it.
As I moved on to high school, it was nice havning my dad as an assistant coach because he would help push me and make sure I had good workout partners who would help get me better. I will never forget those extra workouts because I got whooped pretty often, as we had many tough kids on our team around my weight. Every live go was a battle. One of my partners was one of our schools state champions and was quite good, but even though I got my butt kicked, I was always wanting to wrestle him because I knew thats the only way I would achieve my long term goals, becoming our schools first four time state champion. We spent a lot of time on the roads as well, in the offseason, since this is when I could find tough workouts in various other rooms. I even remember that one spring, I scored on my dad in a weird scramble, running around the school screaming how I finally scored. Then coming back into the room and the next hour in which he reminded me why I would never score again. Lesson learned but I still scored two. :)
It took a lot of hard work getting to where I am on the mat. A lot of long, lonely days and nights with dad constantly pushing me to get better. We had our ups and downs, as its difficult having a father as a coach, but now that I'm older and raising my own son, I can appreciate having him there along the way. No regrets. Being able to train with AJ all those years, are moments I hope to share with my two younger brothers, as they look to set their own path on the mats. I know I set the bar high, but at the end of the day, they will be able to make their own marks on the wrestling world, whatever that will be.
Now that i have a nearly three year old son, I am slowly starting to think more and more about what I will do in order to get him to be successful. I started bringing him to practices with me and roll around with him at home, much like my dad did with all six of his children. I remind my son to fight the hands as I cradle him and to keep his head up as he grabs a single and to stay in good position, all while he laughs at me since he has no idea what I'm talking about. He'll get there though. And maybe I'll let him score a takedown. We'll see.
A Bi-Weekly Wrestling Blog featuring former Riverside and college wrestler, Hans Rockwell, where I discuss everything from coaching wrestling, preparing for competitions, exercise/nutrition and to how to become an Olympic Champion in grade school.
My coaching career begins-1/29/2019
When I was born, it was always expected that I would become a wrestler. From an early age, I can remember watching my dad still compete at open tournaments, sitting matside cheering him on. It was inevitable that I would one day put on the only shoes that ever really felt comfortable to me.
I have had a long journey with wrestling that seems to only just be beginning. I started my wrestling career at an early age which eventually lead to many state titles in high school and years of experience in college wrestling. While I had dreams about wrestling in the Olympics, my true passion for wrestling has led me to the path of coaching. I have always wanted to come back to Boardman, Oregon and venture into working with young wrestlers to help shape their perspective of wrestling, with the experience I have gained through my years at Oregon State University and Eastern Oregon University.
My first season as a high school level wrestling coach has been quite the eye opener for me. It has been full of upsetting moments and reminders of myself during my time in high school. I am only 22 years old and now an assistant coach alongside the head coach, who is my father Richard Rockwell, I can already feel the gray starting to grow on my head. My father always told me he has a gray hair for every kid hes ever coached. Now I'm beginning to understand.
Our season has had a lot of ups and downs, as any team would most likely have, but these ups and downs are affecting me more emotionally than I could imagine. There are many times, I feel more stressed than I was during my own career as a wrestler. My first big finals match ever was center mat at the OSAA State Championships, I've wrestled center mat at Fargo, I've wrestled finals matches with a broken nose, broken fingers, a shoulder out of place and here I am sitting matside thinking I'd much rather do that all over again, as its lets stressful. Very quickly I have grown a relationship with these kids and am now invested in their success, which is what causes me a great deal of stress. It's hard for me to understand why I find coaching so much more stressful compared to competing.
Going through high school I had many different teammates of all shapes and sizes. Some great people and some real pieces of work, but those who stuck it out with me through those four years, I created great relationships with that will last forever. The reason I bring this up is because I never noticed who the “part timers” were among those group of people and now after coaching not even for a full season yet, I have figured out who the “part timers” are and how many “part timers” I had as teammates. Nothing upsets me more than having a bunch of “part timers” who should be fully committed and have the talent to be successful. A great quote that I read the other day said, “I have no empathy for part-time wrestlers who want full-time results. My heart bleeds for full-time wrestlers who get part-time results.” Right now, we have some guys who are full-time wrestlers, but lack the mat time that a high-level wrestler needs, so seeing them get the part-time results hurts.
Maybe this is why I'm so stressed. Seeing kids put in the same kind of work I put in only to get beat by better, more experienced wrestlers. Is this how it'll be for me while I coach my son, who is now almost 3yrs old? Now I know why even after a long day of coaching and traveling, my father was always so amped up when he got home. The days of just going right to sleep, after competing all day in high school, are long over for me now. I can already feel it. Or maybe that's my first gray hair.