When I was a Jr. in college at Oklahoma State my coach, Paul Martin came to me and said in his “Okie” twang, “Barnesy your a grinder not a slickster. You need to bang people and not worry so much about being slick.” Being dumb and young and full of silly pride I took that as – you are not a very good athlete and therefore you are not going to be like some of these other guys. I wanted to be like Kenny Monday but what I didn’t realize is I didn’t have to be like Kenny to have success. The other thing I didn’t know at the time there was really no one quite like Kenny. It was incredibly short sighted of me and what Paul was telling me in so many words was, this is your box learn to wrestle with-in it and become very good at a few things. All I had to do was look at the success Iowa was having with a whole slew of these so-called grinders. This past weekend at the World Team Trials we watched a bunch of guys make the world team that could be considered grinders.
My team being really young and inexperienced the past two years we have spent more time in instruction mode than in the past. We have made a concerted effort to expose them to a plethora of techniques at the cost of wrestling a lot of live. It is a balance that must be reached and for the past month I have been feeling like we have been a little out of balance. I have even voiced this to my team numerous times how we need to get more mat time. I have an itch for live wrestling right now. One positive attribute of wrestling live is it builds mental toughness. Live wrestling is the fight we always talk about and you only learn how to fight by stepping into the fire. So, even at the cost of getting technically sloppy and forming a few bad habits it’s time to grind. I also know I can clean them up later. There is give and take with everything and coaching is about finding the right balance. It’s time to develop some slicksters that can grind and some grinders that have a touch of slick.
As a team I also feel we’ve reached the saturation point on wholesale group technique and controlled live situations and we need to start fitting guys into boxes and start developing a style, strategy and set of techniques that they will own. My team right now can drill a lot of stuff but we are not masters of any particular specialty. The good thing is they are all about at the same level so forming these goals is relatively easy as it covers the bulk of our athletes. That said the combination of letting these kids wrestle and helping them figure out who they need to be to get the most out of their potential is a tough go with thirty athletes and three coaches. There are going to be some conversations like Coach Martin had with me and it is going to be followed up by an explanation of what and why.
Each of us as coaches and athletes have to decide what is essential to our success. We need to have a clear picture of what this should look like in action. After watching David Taylor this past weekend in the trials and comparing him as a collegiate wrestler it is even more stark the specific style changes wrestlers must make to have success at the highest level. As a student of the sport it’s fun to watch this transition.
I said on Saturday, like many others, this year’s trials rivaled ’96 in Spokane with Cross and Brands. That match-up was a very distinct example of having two contrasting styles and guys knowing the box they fit in. Cross couldn’t be more different than Brands and it’s probably what made the match-up so fun. Dake/Burroughs and Cox/Taylor are other great style match-ups.
Owning your style, being able to attack a single leg and finish it and owning the center of the mat were three things that I felt jumped out at me from this past weekend. On Sunday I watched some Iranians and their style and ability to not only own the center but push their opponents into the zone is another glaring example of having a technical/strategic box. They’re entire team seem to be masters at these basic skills. I’m definitely looking forward to Paris.
Coaching at it’s highest level is such a thoughtful and present endeavor. Not only taking the time to self reflect but having a “system” to fit the needed changes into it is essential for success. When we start to talk about all the aspects that go into forming a singular practice we have to consider our audience, philosophy, individual style, time of year, weaknesses, strengths, time management, what is essential and a huge number of other factors not to mention the silly pride of that one athlete who can’t see beyond his own nose.