Five Point Move is proud to host USA Greco-Roman National Team head coach Matt Lindland each week for Coach Lindland’s Report. Here is where you will find detailed perspectives from Coach Lindland regarding results, training, upcoming events, and other Greco-related news that isn’t available anywhere else. ALSO — if you would like to donate directly to the US Greco-Roman program, just click here. Your support is appreciated!
It’s the week of the 2018 US Senior Greco-Roman World Team Trials, and while the most important domestic event on the calendar is brought up, it is not the featured topic. Instead, a lot of the discussion centers around the age-groups, beginning with Coach Lindland’s thoughts about the recently-selected Junior World Team. The conversation then switches to the ongoing struggle to attract collegians and freestylers, and why Lindland feels the energy used in that endeavor would be better put to use by reinvesting it back into committed Greco athletes. Andy Garcia, the Cadet heavyweight who just won the Croatia Open this past weekend, serves as an example regarding the potential epiphanies which can take place for youth athletes overseas. And then finally, Coach Lindland explains the primary objective for on a yearly basis at the World Team Trials and what he hopes fans will get a chance to see Thursday and Friday.
5PM: What do you like most about the Junior World Team as it stands right now? Most are first-time World Teamers despite having experience, and a few will be new to international competition.
Coach Matt Lindland: I like the guys, I like the way they fight. We’re definitely getting better at the Junior age-group, we are getting a higher level of athlete across the board. We’re seeing that at Junior and Cadet. U23 (Trials), we didn’t have great numbers and participation there this year, though we do have some great guys on the team.
I like that they are all fighters. I also think there is the possibility that we’ll end up with a couple of more guys who are returning medalists on the Team. We haven’t contested those two weight classes (60 and 77 kilograms) with the athletes who earned the right to sit out based on their performance at the World Championships and the US Senior Open. A couple of high-level athletes could potentially be replacing two of the guys we have on the roster.
We have a couple of folkstyle guys, which really kind of surprised me, but they are really tough guys. Barrett (Hughes), he was out here in Colorado for a week and he really picked up a lot of stuff. But I don’t know how much he got, because, is he back training folkstyle at Oklahoma State? Or is he solely focused on Greco-Roman and going to participate in all of the camps and opportunities to prepare? If he does that, I mean, the kid can wrestle. He’s a tough dude. But yeah, I really like this team, I think it’s a great group of guys.
5PM: Were you surprised that the mini tournament brackets weren’t more crowded?
ML: Well, here’s the problem. We’ve had a one-stage process since I’ve come on board because I had felt we didn’t have enough depth in our program yet. But we have really put an emphasis the last few years on trying to attract folkstyle or freestyle athletes and getting them to convert, and that effort has been pretty futile, to tell you the truth. If you look at the Seniors, we have one guy registered who wasn’t in our Greco pool, Dom Bradley. A lot of the coaches had said, Oh, we would wrestle Greco, there just aren’t enough opportunities. So we looked at and said, Alright, well, we are getting a little more depth, so let’s do it this year. And it was very poorly attended.
I just think it is symptomatic of our wrestling culture. These college coaches do not see the value in their athletes wrestling Greco-Roman and I think they are sending the athletes over because it is the athletes who want to do it, but the coaches certainly are not encouraging it. I was just in Akron and on the first day I probably saw two or three college coaches. On the second day, for freestyle, I was actually there because we had one of those transition camps — which again, was poorly attended.
I think what I’ve always thought, which is that Greco-Roman athletes are just different. They are a different breed of athlete and we need to focus on our Greco-Roman guys, and stop putting so much of an emphasis on catering to the folkstyle system and the folkstyle wrestlers. Instead, we need to focus on our guys who are really passionate about Greco-Roman, love the sport, and want to compete in it. But I’m looking at our Cadet results from Europe and I’m like, Man, these guys are great, but at the end of the day, are they going to stay in Greco-Roman or are they going to wrestle in a college system?
Look at Tyler Dow. He’s an incredible Greco guy, he spent a lot of time training Greco-Roman. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to work with Dow over the past few years every time his high school season ends. But — that is still his number-one style and he has made that clear by choosing to go to Wisconsin instead of a Greco-Roman program. That’s just the problem we continue to deal with.
I really like these athletes, I think they have a lot of potential. But at the end of the day, if they are going to a college program, how much time and resources do we really want to pour into these guys?
5PM: Will you still consider doing the freestyle transition camps again next year?
ML: That’s a great question (laughs). I don’t know. I think we are going to revisit the entire way we are looking at our program and put much more emphasis on international competitions next year. This year, the US Open champ is sitting out to the Trials finals. It’s the Open, a lot of guys want to compete in it. It is a tournament USA Wrestling puts on that we want a lot of our athletes to participate in. It’s a great event, but ultimately, they are wrestling other Americans.
So, we are going to change up our procedures and use international tournaments to determine who sits out, and I think that will be someone like the Pan American champion. The Pan American champion would get a bye to the finals and everyone else would compete in the challenge tournament. Because, UWW and USA Wrestling are not going to change their dates. The Pan American Championships are a week later (after the Open) and that is too much of a turnaround for such a critical event. I’ve talked about this before. In the past, I think we looked at the Pan Ams like, Oh, these guys are just scrubs. They’re not. They are getting a lot better. They are getting better coaching and there are higher caliber athletes. Not only that, they are showing up to that tournament like it’s their World Championships and they are peaking for that event. Not that I’m saying we want to peak, but we don’t want to come in right after our US championship, either.
Our guys (in 2018) performed incredibly well (at the Pan Ams), but they were coming off of a high and it is hard to get that same level of intensity back up a week later, especially after a long travel down to South America and another weight cut. It’s just, the enthusiasm and energy weren’t there. I think the guys wrestled as well as they could given the situation they were put in. They were asked to wrestle a week after winning the US title and that’s just not fair to my guys. I have to re-evaluate and give my guys the best opportunity to perform to the best of their abilities, and that’s not by having them go two weeks in a row. We are going to make some serious adjustments pertaining to this and do what’s right for our athletes aside from just putting on a great show at the US Open. We can get our best athletes on the World Team regardless of what happens at the US Open. We can still put our best guys on the Team.
5PM: Lucas Steldt will be returning soon from the Serbia/Croatia trip. One athlete, Andy Garcia, defeated two opponents on Saturday who he lost to the week before. Steldt commented “What a difference a week of (international) training can do.” On an overseas trip like that, is a week of training between events really that potent of an ingredient at the youth level, and if so, why?
ML: Oh, I think it is a hugely important component at Cadet and even the Junior level. What happened was Garcia went over there, he probably had big eyes, like, Oh my gosh, I’m wrestling Europeans. And he didn’t even wrestle up to his capabilities. But when he got into the training sessions, he realized, These guys are just like me. They’re just men. It’s like Aghasi (Manukyan) used to say, “It’s just muscle on muscle.” It’s the same thing.
We can’t look at these guys like they’re better than us. The only reason we continue to say ‘Europeans are so technical‘ is because we do not focus on Greco-Roman in our country, we focus on multiple styles. We wear that like it’s a badge of honor. There is an award called the “Triple Crown”, which means you won freestyle, folkstyle, and Greco-Roman. As great as that is, you’re really just a jack of all trades but you’re not great at any one of those styles. You might have been the best in the country, but you are a long ways from being the best in the world. In order to be the best in the world, I believe our athletes need to focus on one style, and I am starting to think that is by the time they are Cadets. That’s the time.
All of these athletes are starting much younger now. The age of entry into our sport is much younger and that is why the burnout rate is so high. They aren’t following a long-term development model, they’re just competing in everything way too frequently. They are constantly in this competition mode and they are not getting enough time training and developing as individuals and as athletes. These kids are spending way too much time competing and it’s really hard on their bodies. There are only so many years you can compete, to tell you the truth. I don’t know what that number is and I think it is different for different people who have more durability. But there is certainly a number of competitions you can have and if you are going to get them all in by the time you are nine-years-old, we’re not seeing a lot of attrition in this sport. It’s like a bucket with a hole.
We keep recruiting these wrestlers and explaining to them why this is a great sport and the benefits of wrestling. I think we can all agree the benefits are substantial for young men — and women. It builds a lot of confidence in young ladies, as well, and I don’t want to leave the ladies out at all, because it’s a great sport for both genders. But specifically, for young men, a young man needs to know how to fight. Know how to fight, how to compete, and know how to train for delayed gratification. That is something our culture is missing a lot now, delayed gratification. The number-one thing that teenagers say they feel — and this comes from the book The Boy Crisis — is overwhelmed. Can you imagine at 14-years-old, that is the number-one thing you’re going to say you feel? Up to 70% of the respondents said they felt “overwhelmed”. It was an overwhelming response to the question, How do you feel most of the time?, and the answer was “overwhelmed”. They are dealing with different levels of stress but they don’t understand delayed gratification, that you have to work for something and put the time and energy into it. And then if it doesn’t come easily, we’re just moving onto something new, which is also part of the problem. Wrestling is a very difficult sport and it takes a lot of time and a lot of persistence to stay in there to put that effort and training in. But there is also too much competition.
I think it’s just a matter of, and I’ve said this before, getting our guys overseas and letting them see how good they are at a younger age. But they can’t keep going away from the sport if we’re going to have highly successful athletes in Greco-Roman. They need to stick with it and that is going to take a lot of courage because it’s not the normal path. It’s a completely different path and I don’t know if the young men today have that kind of courage. Hopefully, there are some young men who have the courage and understand that this is their sport and that they need to stick with it. We need to adhere to a long-term development model and quit pushing our young children. I mean, if you’re crying when you get off the mat, you’re not ready to compete yet. You need to go train more. I’ve been to these events. The kids are crying, parents are yelling. It’s a highly-stressful environment when it is supposed to be a fun event to do. It’s supposed to be enjoyable, and it doesn’t look like a lot of these young athletes are enjoying this sport. When you get a guy like Andy overseas and he’s having fun, he enjoys training with the Europeans, and realizes that he’s competitive with them, it builds his confidence and allows him to go out there a week later and beat two guys who beat him the week before.
5PM: You have presided over four Senior Trials tournaments leading up to this week. Do you look at different items year-to-year at the Trials? Like say, maybe several weight classes offer something interesting, or you notice a handful of athletes who have improved over the past season and have closed the gap, etc. In other words, do you look for anything different depending on the year?
Coach Matt Lindland: No, I think I just want to see the best guy get on the Team, period. Now, I don’t know what people think, but I can honestly tell you that I just want the best international competitor on that Team. The guy who can go overseas, compete at the World Championships, and get on that podium. And we have them. We have a number of athletes in our Trials. We’re going to see who will come out on top, and hopefully, the best guys are capable of doing that and perform well.
I’ll tell you what I’m seeing, I’m seeing the confidence level of our Seniors really starting to rise. We’ve talked about guys like Ryan Mango, who is incredibly talented. Whenever he loses, I’m shocked, like, How did he lose? He is really, really good. But I think he is starting to see how good he is. I don’t know if he believed it before. But you know, he finally got himself into a full-time Greco-Roman program. When he was at Stanford, he was bouncing around. He was doing freestyle, he was doing folkstyle, he was doing Greco. He got started in Greco-Roman a little later than I would like to see our guys, but he’s coming around. You could tell by his performance at the Open that he was ready and he had a great tournament in Peru, too. Hopefully, he can continue that going forward, but he’s got a pretty formidable competitor in Jesse Thielke, who is another talented, confident guy.
I’m looking for guys who want to compete and put points up on the board. I want to see an exciting match. I want the fans to get what they came for, which is seeing guys compete hard with a lot of points being scored. I think with the rule-set and the way our guys are starting to wrestle now, that’s what we’re going to see this weekend.