Happy 4th of July. I’m writing this entry on a plane headed from Cleveland to San Fransisco where I’ll connect to Seattle. Early morning 7 am flight. Ugh. The past five days I was at the combined Woman’s Cadet/Jr World Team Training Camp along with teams from Canada, China and Japan. I will have 14 hours at home to wash my clothes, hang with Beth and get some sleep before heading to San Diego with my high school team. We will be training with Poway High School the next five days. When I return I have exactly two weeks before leaving for the Jr World Championships in Tampere, Finland. Once in Finland we will be attending a week long acclimation camp before the World Championships on August 3&4.
I am very fortunate to be afforded the opportunity to be a volunteer coach for USA Wrestling. There are so many ancillary benefits being a part of this (thanks Terry Steiner). Being able to attend world class events, work with highly skilled coaches and athletes, travel to incredible places and compete at the highest level is a special opportunity. Beyond all those great things I cherish most the rich friendships I’ve developed over the years and having to really stretch myself as a coach.
Working with the woman’s program and specifically the World Team is a much different beast than my life’s work of building teams at Lake Stevens High School. I’ve had to look long and hard at how I approach coaching athletes and what my role is with each program. My high school team has my handprints on each and every athlete and we spend years together. For the woman’s program I’m working with athletes I’ve possibly never met before. There are inherent differences between a significantly more individual endeavor in the woman to the building of a high school team within the confines and expectations of an interscholastic program. We have to remember that high school sports are an extension of the learning environment and the end goals are directly tied to the schools mission. In high school we have a broad range of athletes where we hope to provide a healthy experience. In the woman’s program our goals are to develop Olympic level athletes and human beings and the athletes we get to work with are the best in our country and possibly the world at what they do. Most of my high school athletes will finish there career as seniors in high school where as most of the woman have aspirations of competing for years well beyond the Cadet and Jr level. Their journey as a cadet is just starting.
Earning the girls trust is a big deal. They all come to these camps and teams with an engrained set of skills taught to them by some very dedicated coach back in their home program. They have a comfort zone and belief system that takes time to learn. They all have different personalities that require me as a coach to get a feel for as quickly as possible. The USA staff and college coaches at these camps are a valuable source in speeding this process up but unlike my high school kids where I have been that beacon of technique and development there is a steep learning curve with the woman. That said, there are few areas I try to focus on to bring support to each athlete. First, I can be of most help cleaning up small correctable technical issues. There is not enough time to make wholesale changes at these camps nor the time to buck trends and habits they have built over a career but working on small adjustments and cleaning up position is critical to their success. Remember, position travels well. With this new athlete-coach relationship it’s better to ease into it rather than try and hammer on them. I try to be very succinct and always explain why changing a small area would benefit them. They need and want a justification. At the start I mentioned being stretched and this what I’m referring to – being a great teacher and using all my tools to help this athlete. It’s not easy to have an impact unless your really on it as a coach.
Another area is tactics and strategy. On this years team half of the girls have never been to a World Championships. Giving them insight into the subtle differences in the international style and officiating is where my experience can benefit them. Any information you give during training has to go through a filter and the closer we get to competition the tighter that filter becomes. They need to have a clear and confident mind when they step on the mat and each individual will process the information you give them differently.
Last is simple support from working to make there trip as worry free as possible. We cater to the needs of these athletes so they can have a singular focus and feel ready to roll come competition day. They are special and on the days leading up to competition they need to feel special. This is not pampering because what they are doing is very difficult. We don’t do this during training camps or regular practice all year long. This is facilitating the highest level of performance and feeling great is important. There are things I will do for the World Team members that I would make my high school kids do on their own.
It’s a privilege to be a part of this and also an opportunity to hone my craft. I hope you enjoy the sharing of my journey. Go USA!