The 2017 US Greco-Roman World Team concluded its first camp over the weekend in preparation for the World Championships, set for August in Paris, France. Heading into January and Winter Camp at the Olympic Training Center, US National Team head coach Matt Lindland made team-building a priority for the incoming quad. The theme is metaphorical — “guys in the boat” — everyone paddling in the same direction to achieve a goal. In a sport that is synonymous with individual accolades along with the fact that many Greco-Roman athletes in this country do not train together 12 months a year, the concept of unification has become a rallying cry of late. The Americans require cohesion to be successful, making the need for finding mechanisms to attain such so imperative, at least in Lindland’s eyes.
That’s why the two-week “base training camp” in Lindland’s hometown of Eagle Creek, Oregon was heavy on both work and play. The athletes underwent hard strength and conditioning sessions multiple times a day, but also, enjoyed plenty of activities outside of training that certainly differ from most training camps. “I could have had them do all of their conditioning here in Colorado Springs, but they would have hated me,” Lindland said with a chuckle. “This way, they got to do a lot of things outside of training with each other and hang out, and see a different side to each other they normally wouldn’t.”
Fishing, shooting guns, flying, and rafting were all on the itinerary throughout the stay in Eagle Creek. The World Team members also participated in a couple of cross-training sessions in boxing and mixed martial arts at Lindland’s Team Quest in Portland. All in all, it was a camp that was out of the ordinary, but that’s the point. Given the , we caught up with several members of the World Team prior to their departure to Tbilisi, Georgia next week to ask them three questions regarding how camp went and the impact they feel it made.
2017 US Greco-Roman World Team Post-Training Camp
1. When it came to the team-building directive of the camp, how did you enjoy it?
Ellis Coleman (66 kg, Army/WCAP) “I had a lot of fun, actually. Coach Lindland introduced us to, at least for me, a lot of things I had never done before, like white water rafting. He took us to shoot sniper rifles and one of our practices was an MMA practice. He made everything fun and tough at the same time. There were some things where guys said, Oh, I’m not doing that, or I’m not sure I want to do do that, like white water rafting. But he wanted to make sure everyone did things they never did before and at the same time, bond with your teammates and enjoy the whole process.
“He also changed the practices up and the schedule up, and made it pretty flexible to where we weren’t only thinking about wrestling and the World Team camp, but we were still working hard at the same time. Kind of tricking you in a sense, you know? You’re working hard but having fun. The whole aspect of everything he was doing, it was sweet.”
Patrick Smith (71 kg, Minnesota Storm) “It was the coolest part of camp. Coach Lindland had a hookup for everything out there. We got to go up in a plane, go salmon fishing, whitewater rafting. We walked over a log like 20 ft over the river. We did some hiking. That was pretty awesome. I felt like we all came together and had a lot of fun, too.”
Mason Manville (75 kg, Army/WCAP) “I enjoyed it. Coach made sure we had a bunch of stuff to try. I think everyone got to enjoy it. I think it was a good, positive thing.”
Cheney Haight (80 kg, NYAC) “I enjoyed it a lot. It was some of the best days of my life, to tell you the truth. It worked. I got to know the guys a lot better just because me being a married guy, I don’t get to hang out as much, so it was good. I think it was a success as far as that goes.”
Robby Smith (130 kg, NYAC, world no. 20) “I thought the team building was awesome. We had some great times in Oregon. I missed the first week because I was out at Beat the Streets. But the second week with me, Cheney, and Pat, we had just an amazing time. Those two guys are awesome, I’m so happy they’re on the team. And just the bonding that we had, we grew closer, and that was really cool. I was just happy to be part of the whole thing. I even told Matt (Lindland) this, that I was kind of doubting it in the beginning like, Why are we doing this? I didn’t get it and now I am very happy about it because the team did become closer. I’m just happy.”
2. Was this what you thought it was going to be like beforehand, or were you surprised?
Coleman: “I was surprised, definitely surprised. Because we go over to the OTC, and train with those guys and I’m an Army guy whenever we go over there. We always wrestle live, we always do similar stuff. Similar workouts, the same stuff you do all year. Everything that you do kind of dulls. I figured that it was going to be the same thing, that we were going to go over there, wrestle a lot of live, and they are going to bust our balls, and then we were going to come back home.
“I was completely caught off-guard. There was no live, actually. Band work, some lifting, running in the morning, trail runs, hill sprints…it was everything that I didn’t think was really good training outside of wrestling but it really hit the spot. And the MMA training and all that, too, it hit the nail on the head. MMA is a big spotlight for a lot of wrestlers because they transition over to that and do well, so a lot of wrestlers like to see where they stand in that type of stuff. A lot of guys think, Oh, I can fight, I want to fight, and Coach Lindland put us through some workouts and it was just cool. Everyone was able to have fun and enjoy the whole camp.”
Patrick Smith: “I really had no idea what we were doing. Lindland told us a little bit. We heard some mentions of some things and I was like, Okay, that sounds cool. I had no idea we were going to be in the middle of the woods in a house looking over the river. It was picturesque. I’ve only seen things like that in a painting, so that was cool.”
Manville: “I expected it. This is kind of something I knew because I know Lindland. I knew what he was up to.”
Haight: “I mean, yeah, as far as what I was I told, this was what I imagined. It was actually busier than I thought because Matt’s got so many friends over there that as time went by, we were getting invited to more and things. There were three or four events that weren’t even on the schedule.”
Robby Smith: “I was very surprised. Morgan (Flaherty), who is one of our wrestlers here at the Olympic Training Center, is now taking on the role of the lifting coach and he came to run the program, essentially, while collaborating with Matt and Momir (Petkovic). The training was very intense, very fast-paced, but it was awesome. I wasn’t expecting that, you know? I was expecting hard training, but between training we had a lot of fun. We trained hard but played even harder. It was fun, it was great, the stuff we got to do.
“I got to shoot a shotgun for the first time in my life (laughs). I went salmon fishing for the first time in my life. We went aviating, we went to the hot springs, we did a lot of other stuff, but we trained hard. We grinded it out, but we grinded it out together. It wasn’t just sacrificing with one guy doing all of the work. Everyone was. Everyone was going through it together and that’s what brings you closer. And then when you get to do all of those awesome activities that we did, the bond grows even tighter. Morgan did a great job, all of the coaches did a great job, and I was really happy with it.”
3. You knew these guys prior to the camp in some fashion or another but going into Georgia, do you feel like the team is a more tightly-knit unit?
Coleman: “Definitely, 100%. We do see these guys throughout the year at tournaments, but not like this. We train with them sometimes, but it is during the year and it is to better yourself and to see where this guy stands or that guy stands. It’s not like we’re training together for one common goal. In the end, it is all pretty similar. Like Pat Smith, I don’t get to train with him at all, he’s a weight above me. When I see him at a training camp, I’ll train with him, but the whole team-bonding aspect added a whole ‘nother thing to it. He was able to be himself, playing guitar and things like that. Him on guitar and Morgan on harmonica and I heard them playing some Jack Johnson, who Robby introduced me to, so I went over there to sing some Jack Johnson while they were playing (laughs). We started jamming and he said, “Okay, Ellis, hit some raps.” So I started rapping and everything was cool (laughs).
We also went white water rafting and he (Pat) was in my boat, so we were able to bond then, too. We were both doing something we had never done before and it was tough, it was scary. Stuff like that adds character and shows you who each person really is. I ran with him, too, and we ran in the front of everybody so we were able to chat a little bit. Everyone else had different scenarios with their buddies. We ate every single meal together as a team, laughed, talked, talked crap, and things like that. The team bonding definitely helped everyone and brought us all together before Tbilisi.
“Take Ildar (Hafizov, 59 kg), who I train with. I mean, I’ve talked to Ildar, he’s on my team and I’ve talked to him. He’s from Uzbekistan, so he has a different demeanor, a different character. It’s kind of difficult for him to initially open up because he’s shy. It took him awhile to even open up to us Army guys. But I’ve never, ever, ever, ever seen him open up on trip and he was doing that here and having fun with everyone. When I saw that, I was like, It’s working. All the stuff we’re doing out here is definitely helping.”
Patrick Smith: “For sure. I think we got put in situations we weren’t in before. We travel a lot together through the circuit. Greco is kind of a small word to start with, but you don’t know somebody until you’re stuck in the woods with them for two weeks. Anytime you get to put yourself out of your comfort zone, you learn a lot about people and build that trust, which is good leading up to big tournaments like the World Championships and Georgia, too.”
Manville: “I think we are more cohesive now. Definitely more of a team. I think we are excited to go to Georgia and win some medals. That’s the goal, anyway.”
Haight: “Yes I do. This team is pretty new, a lot of the guys are first-timers and we have a young squad on top of that. I think everyone getting together and getting to know each other was a big deal.”
Robby Smith: “Yeah. Now we are not just going to a place where it’s all about wrestling. We go on trips with people throughout the year who you know strictly on a wrestling basis. You know them from how tired they are because they were grinding it out on a mat, how they cut weight, and you don’t get away from it. For this one, we got away from wrestling. We were on a mat, but we weren’t wrestling, we were doing wrestling-specific conditioning. We didn’t wrestle with each other. We did dummy throws, band work, the Suples Bulgarian Bags, lifting, running…it was a different journey we were on. It wasn’t just the routine of getting on a plane, getting to a place, cutting weight, wrestling, and leaving. No, you were actually living with these guys, bonding with these guys, and seeing them outside of the wrestling tournament vibe or the wrestling camp vibe. You’re just working out, having fun together, and bonding.
“I definitely think it was great and worked out because we are closer. You could see the person who is there, not just the wrestler. I was just happy to be able to do that with a lot of my teammates. We have Ildar, Ellis, and Manville from WCAP who we don’t really get to hang out with as much. Then you bring Pat Smith in and some of these guys don’t know Pat very well. Cheney, Tracy (G’Angelo Hancock), and myself got to really get to know these guys and understand them. We became teammates there and got to go through it together.
“Now we’re going to go through it in Tbilisi, Georgia, the two-week camp in Hungary, and then the camp back here. Having been on the team so many times, you don’t really know how much you have to depend on your teammates until you actually go through it. When I made my first World Team back in 2013, I had to depend on Andy (Bisek), Harry (Lester), and Spenser (Mango). Those guys had to help me through it because it was my first time and I didn’t know. Now I am going to be there for these guys and help them through it because when you’re having a bad day, you have to understand that there are seven other guys also having a bad day and getting their asses kicked just like you are. Sometimes you don’t see it when you are just a partner on the side of the mat and only there to get beat on by the World Team guys. The World Team guys are going through some shit and the only people who know that are your World Team teammates.
“So to just have a camp where there is no wrestling and you can bond as a unit without actually wrestling, that was awesome. Especially right before a big three-week trip headed overseas, grinding it out, cutting weight and wrestling two to three times a day, because that Hungarian camp is going to be straight hell. Now, we can see both sides and take the information from the camp we’re about to go to and carry it over to the World Team camp in July and August, and then onto Paris so we get some medals and get on the podium. Because honestly, when push comes to shove, that’s what we need to do to make this program better. I’m not saying we’re going to get the medals. I am saying that I believe we can and we’re going to work our asses off to make it happen.”