Five Point Move is proud to host USA Greco-Roman National Team head coach Matt Lindland every week for Coach Lindland’s Report. For fans, coaches, and wrestlers seeking insights regarding results, training, and upcoming events, this is the place to find what you’re looking for. ALSO — if you would like to donate directly to the US Greco-Roman program, just click here. Your support is appreciated!
There is no doubt about what the primary topic for this week’s Coach Lindland’s Report is — the U23 World Championships. Heading into action this past week in Bydgoszcz, Poland, the Team USA U23 Greco-Roman World Team carried with it an air of optimism that surpassed other such squads in recent memory, due in large part to the accomplished talent present up and down the lineup. If you watched at home or kept up with the results, you already know that things didn’t work out quite the way they were thought to be mapped out. Following the event, Coach Lindland was not shy regarding where he felt where the problems resided, so we explore that further with him here. In addition, a few individual performances are also highlighted, and we touch on the schedule coming up for the Seniors, as well.
5PM: Digging right into it, Alex Sancho was seen by by many as one of the US’s strongest candidates for a medal in Poland. I wrote as much even without knowing what his draw might be. But his match was a strange one, he didn’t compete the way he normally does. It surprised me because I felt that somehow, someway, he’d wind up fighting for a medal.
Coach Matt Lindland: Me too, me too. He had no sense of urgency. There was no sense of urgency to create offense. I don’t know, it was odd to watch.
5PM: Afterwards, you alluded to his weight cut, it was a apparently a bad one. But his match was just weird. Was it maybe the pressure of competing at this tournament, nerves, the weight cut, and it all just being a perfect storm that kind of led to his result?
ML: I think so. I’ve seen him at these international tournaments, these grand prix events and whatnot, and he seems to go out there like it’s no big deal. But I’ve also seen him go out there when it comes time to make a team and he falters. He tightens up and he doesn’t compete to his ability, and he did that here at the Worlds.
I certainly know how good Alex Sancho is. I’ve watched him train, I’ve watched him compete multiple times, and I’ve seen him beat World and Olympic medalists. I’ve seen him bring home medals in multiple tournaments because he knows how to wrestle, he knows how to compete with the best guys in the world. But when it comes time to make a team, he freezes up and wrestles tight, and I think that is due to the fact he needs to work on some mental skills. He has to treat each match the same as the other matches. As soon as he stops caring so much about the result, I think the result that he is looking for will come to him, because he is such a talented athlete who is willing to be brave and take risks. But when it comes time for something that he places great importance on, like I can imagine his making a team is something of great importance to him, or something like winning a medal at the World Championships, he has a deficiency in confidence and I don’t know where that comes from because I only see that from him at those specific events.
5PM: Your interview following Day 2, the last day of competition for the Greco team, got a lot of attention. How much of what you said was an in-the-moment reaction to what happened, and how much of it was stuff you’ve been waiting for an opportunity to say publicly?
ML: Oh, I think maybe the latter. I think there has been a lack of understanding how serious of a situation our team is in and how serious we have to approach our sport at this level. We are competing against the best guys in the world and we’re trying to put our athletes in the best position to win medals at the Worlds and the Olympic Games. I mean, you see the interviews and read the things where our guys are talking about going out and eating this or eating that. How are we at a point now where we have to start talking about structure and discipline instead of that just being the norm, that we have structure, we have discipline, and that we have great leadership within our ranks? I think we are just taking things for granted, we are not grateful, and we are not humble. Those are areas we talk about a lot when we talk about character and we’re pretty intentional about it, but obviously, I have to do more to develop character in our current athletes because that is where we are lacking. It’s not like we’re lacking in talent. We have very good athletes, we have very talented guys. But we have to take a more holistic approach and say, Okay, we have to start with getting the right type of guys on our team.
There are four things that every one of our athletes needs to develop and that starts with character — good relationships with their teammates, their coaches, and their sponsors. I think they have to have their own identities, they have to know who they are, and that is a bigger issue we’re dealing with culturally. They also need to have a mission, a focused mission, and know what that means, where nothing is going to stop you from reaching your goals, certainly not yourself. And I think a lot of our this stuff we’re struggling with is self-inflicted.
Every person, every individual needs a purpose in life that is going to provide meaning and impact, and I think that’s what that is, that mission, the pursuit of getting those medals, the pursuit of becoming the best in the world, that develops character along the way, as well. And when we’re doing that together and working with one another — and sometimes we’re leading and sometimes we’re following — but we’re all on the same page and on this mission together. I think that is what is going to help us build these relationships that are so needed.
It all works together when you talk about character, relationships, identity, and mission. I think it’s really one package. You can break those things up and work on all of them individually, and that is where I think we are going to have to spend a lot of our time off the mats in developing these things. I mean, you can certainly see the efforts this program has made to do this. We had a mission to go to the top of Pike’s Peak. We had a mission to serve in Mexico, we were literally missionaries going down there to serve to show that we love people, care about people, and we want to serve others. But for some reason, that isn’t translating to what we’re trying to do on our team. We have to serve our teammates, we have to care for one another and create those kinds of relationships with each other if we’re going to get to that pinnacle we’re looking for.
It’s just a lot harder than anybody realizes it is, and they think it should just happen because these athletes are talented. That is the sentiment I’m seeing.
5PM: Does early success for an athlete lend itself to a false sense of security?
ML: I think it’s a false sense of not only how good you are, it’s a false sense of how difficult the task you just completed was. You’ve got to be proud of what you did, there has to be some level of being proud, I accomplished a big task, a tough task, and not very many people do this. But there is definitely a difference between authentic pride and hubristic pride, and you really have to walk that fine line by essentially saying, Yeah, I’m proud of what I did, but I can’t be hubristic about it. The hubris is antisocial, it takes us away from that relationship we’re trying to build. We’re trying to build relationships with one another and they are going to help us move forward. Every one of those relationships we’re trying to build should be a positive relationship helping us move in a forward direction.
But if our pride in what we’ve done is more hubristic and we’re not grateful — not grateful for what we have done, not grateful for having had that opportunity, not grateful for our training partners and resources that the program and the USOC has afforded us, not grateful for traveling overseas to compete in multiple tournaments and train with the best athletes in the world — if we feel we are entitled to that, then it is hubristic pride, not authentic pride. So I think there has to be a real sense of what you’re looking at there and understanding yourself, which goes back to what we talked about in terms of identity. You have to know who you are, you have to understand what your core values are, what you stand for, who you are, and you really have to watch those things and you have to understand that we’re not doing this alone. In the sense that you are proud of what you accomplished, you are also very humbled and very grateful for all of the blessings that you have.
5PM: Does what happened in Poland change the perception after a summer that included two individual World titles and numerous impressive performances at the Junior and Cadet World Championships, not to mention the other positives surrounding the program in the early parts of the fall? I wouldn’t think so, especially considering how this tournament appeared on the calendar. It’s not like there were multiple months between with a training camp ahead of it and more together time, so on and so forth. It just doesn’t seem that the perception should change following how good the summer and early fall had been.
Coach Matt Lindland: Well, I don’t think it should change the way we look at the potential we have. I truly believe we have a lot of great potential in our program. We’ve had a lot of great things that have been happening. We had two World Champions this summer and our performance here should not take away from the bright spots we’ve had along the way to this point.
And yeah, I think the timing of this tournament and that it was announced pretty late, it wasn’t on the calendar…but it was a great opportunity and one we missed out capitalizing on. I was really excited for this opportunity as a coach because I recognize the talent we were sending to this tournament. We had some really, really high-level athletes who are capable. We were capable, in my honest opinion, of coming home with four medals. We have guys who should have been right in that range with the Georgians, with the Russians, due to the level of talent that we have. Unfortunately, I think some of our athletes didn’t take this event seriously enough in the way they approached it. I think that was apparent by the way some of them trained and prepared.
That wasn’t the case with all of the athletes, some may not have had the right draw. Look at the guy who Dalton (Roberts) lost to (Aidos Sultangali). He (Sultangali) ended up losing to that crazy good Japanese kid in the semis (Masuto Kawana), and Dalton was wrestling his ass off. He was competing the best I’ve ever seen him compete against the best guys I’ve ever seen him compete against. So I think there are some bright spots, even from this tournament. Like we were talking earlier about Sancho. We know how good he is, we know how capable he is, and now we’ve identified a place where we have to focus a lot of our time on, which is sports psychology when it comes to competing at the highest levels at the events that matter the most. The important events are where we’re seeing Alex struggle mentally. It’s not lack of training, lack of skills, or a lack of performance, it’s a lack of some good sports psychology and he needs to take advantage of what we have available to him. We do have a lot of resources available for that and we’re going to have to have a conversation about how we can serve him in the best capacity to help him get what he needs.
But also, we need to look at ourselves. Each individual has to look at what he did leading up to this and how they can do better in the future, how they can make some big gains and take advantage of these opportunities that lie in front of them.
5PM: You mentioned Dalton and how there was a bright spot or two. In your mind, what other positives could be gleaned from the two days in Poland?
ML: I think some of our guys went out there and really gave it their all. I look at Blake Smith’s matches, and that kid is brand new. He hasn’t even been wrestling Greco-Roman for a full year. He made a team, first of all, he was the best under-23 98 kilo guy in the country, that’s impressive in and of itself for a guy who has been doing this less than a year. He approaches the sport with an attitude of, How can I get better every day?, and he embraces that. He looks for opportunities to improve himself and he makes sacrifices.
Look, he (Smith) doesn’t even have a club that helps him get to these tournaments. He didn’t have one before the Trials and he didn’t have a club to help him get to the World Championships. He’s working, going to school in Marquette, and that’s what it takes. He wants it bad enough to where he is willing to make those sacrifices in his life and I think there other guys who takes these things for granted. They say, I’m entitled to this club money, I’m entitled to getting sponsored and getting these resources, and then you look at a guy that has none of those resources, and he put himself in position to have an opportunity to compete at the World Championships by winning the Trials. And he absolutely performed up to his potential in that match and I think that says a lot for him and how high his ceiling is. If that is how high he can compete right now, and he did, well that’s great. He just has to continue to raise his skills and abilities while keeping that same attitude along the way.
That is what some of our athletes have lost. They have forgotten where they came from. They have forgotten where they started and have too much hubris in regards to their abilities. They do not respect the process, they don’t respect what it takes to get to where they have gotten to already, and they don’t respect how much work it’s going to take to get to that next level. This was a U23 tournament, this wasn’t a Senior World Championships, you know? There were bright spots, but on the same token, there are a lot of areas we need to fix. And they are not areas we weren’t aware of, haven’t addressed, or were not working on. We’re just not getting the buy-in entirely yet, and maybe this will be a wakeup call for our guys who do have that potential and capability to step up and do everything it takes to get to that next level. If they are willing to do that, if they are willing to make those sacrifices, those efforts, and be that dedicated, I still have the confidence in them that they can do this. But it is really going to have to come down to them wanting to do this and being willing to do it.
5PM: Okay, what is the schedule coming up for the Seniors? Russia and then Iran, right?
ML: We have athletes who are over in St. Petersburg (Russia) right now. We have Marines, club members from New York, Sunkist, and some from Northern Michigan, and we’ll get that list out shortly to you. We have guys going there to train for a week before they compete at a tournament in St. Petersburg and then several are going up to Finland. Then some athletes will return home because of finances, school schedules, work schedules, or whatever the limiting factors are that are keeping them from traveling onto the next tournament, but we do have other athletes who will continuing on into Finland. When those guys all get home, we’re taking off on the 11th of December to participate in the Clubs Cup in Tehran. So yeah, there is still a lot of wrestling to be done here in the last quarter of the year.
5PM: What are the plans as of now regarding the winter camp and what it is going to entail?
Coach Matt Lindland: Well this year, especially with how late the World Championships will be, which is in October next year, we’re not going to do things just like we’ve always done them. We have always had a January camp because it has been a good time to get our athletes together and our program together. But I just don’t see the value in spending that money to send guys out here. I’d rather use those resources to get our athletes more time overseas, more tournaments, more competition, and more time working with foreigners. That is what we’re doing now, like we talked about, in December. We did that in November pre-Poland, and we’re going to have the opportunity to do that again following what is called our “base camp”, which is just like when you are summiting a mountain, you have a base camp where you acclimate and then start your ascent. Well, I’m really looking forward to this year and this training cycle in the sense that we’re going to have a real base camp, and this isn’t necessarily bringing the athletes out to Colorado, but we’re going to have all of our clubs on the same program. We’re going to release what we would like to see done, which is four days of strength training per week, two days of running, and two days of swimming. We’re building that cardio base up as well as our strength.
As soon as we get done with that, we’re going to go into some competition phases, but I really want to build up that strength up because I want to see how good we can get this year at lifting opponents off the mat. If we just jump in and say, Okay, let’s do a bunch of high reps and technical lifts on the mat, we’re going to injure ourselves and we’re not going to be prepared. So I want to use this month of December to really prepare and strengthen our athletes to where they have that functional strength, explosiveness, and functional movements. And then we can get back on the mats with that base underneath us. Once our team is selected, just like we did last year in Oregon, we’ll revisit that base camp again, but I think when we do, we’re going to have a lot stronger of a base to revisit than we would if we didn’t do this camp in January. The entire month of January is going to be focused on getting stronger, more fit, and physically prepared for the season to come. If we don’t have that underneath us, I can see a lot of our guys crumbling under the weight of the training and competition schedule that awaits in the year ahead.