Minnesota Storm

‘Hold Yourself Personally Accountable’: Patrick Smith Croatia Tour Journal

patrick smith, croatia tour journal
Patrick Smith -- Photo: Sam Janicki

He has been there, done that. Seen enough, experienced enough. And even when you’ve done it as many times as three-time World Team member/2019 Pan-American Games gold Patrick Smith (72 kg, Minnesota Storm, 5PM #1), it never gets old.

Smith — who along with having competed in three Senior Worlds was also a University World silver back in ’14 — is a wrestler who has always tried to maximize the benefit of overseas training. A lot of athletes use the term “looks” when referring to different workout partners, particularly those from across the ocean. Smith does, as well, but opportunities to trade sweat with foreigners is more than that to him. It isn’t just about the “looks” and “feels” and various mechanical refinements on which most Americans assign value. It is equally about gaining a deeper sense of understanding.

In Smith’s view, training with other elites is not limited to picking up new techniques or positional adjustments. Those are fine, though they don’t offer a complete picture. Smith wants more, and more in this case means figuring out how to actually apply whatever gleaned to his skill-set and approach in as efficient of a manner as possible.

That is why over the course of what has been an absolutely fantastic career, Smith has hopped on virtually every single opportunity to travel tossed in his direction. Sweden, where he has an allotment of friends, is reliable. Hungary, too. Italy, France, Finland, Russia, Bulgaria… Name the European country and somewhere on Smith’s passport is the corresponding stamp..

For the second winter in a row, however, Croatia has delivered to Smith the most pronounced trip. In ’21, he had first hit up Niche for the Henri Deglane tournament prior to joining Joe Rau in the Balkans. Later, just prior to last spring and the Olympic Trials, he wound up in Rome for the Matteo Pellicone Memorial. But Deglane and Pellicone were competitively-focused excursions. Smith’s main winter training camp was in Croatia, as it was again this year.

But unlike ’21, and most years before it, Croatia (Porec, to be exact) centered entirely around training. Smith did not compete in Zagreb, only shuffling into the country to meet up with the US contingent for the mega-camp that included dozens of fellow World-caliber athletes. The decision was a departure for Smith, who tends to raise his hand for nearly every competitive opportunity. Narrowing his scope to simply training allowed him, it seems, a slight breath of fresh air.

Which is good, because once April rolls around, Smith will find himself in a very familiar place: hunting for a potential shot at another continental title, and gearing up for yet another World Team selection process. Not that any of this is ever “old hat” for Smith, or something he takes for granted. For sure it is the opposite. It is merely a part of his life that at this juncture feels like home.

Even in Europe, especially after all these years. Wherever Smith goes, he will gratefully make the most of it.

Patrick Smith — 72 kg, Minnesota Storm

Overseas Tour Journal 2022 – Croatia

5PM: How was training in Croatia different this season compared to last? How about just traveling in general over the past year, the changes you might have noticed in that regard?

Patrick Smith: Actually, the only thing that was different in Croatia is that there were more countries this year. Last year, there were a lot of countries, too, and it was really high-level. It was just widening the pool. It was the same level of guys but there were more of them, which was great. There was not a lot of overlap in terms of partners. There were a lot of different people. It was really worthwhile. They had three different groups of weight classes running on six mats during practices, so it was full.

A lot of the traveling processes are still the same. They are just becoming

more efficient at it, I guess. You still have to get a test, the vaccine, and have the same thing to return home. It goes a lot smoother at the airport now than when these protocols were new. I think a lot of them were just confused about how to handle it; but if you have the right documentation it goes smoother. I know some people have had hiccups but I’ve gotten to the point where it’s like ‘You just have to give them everything’ (laughs). That makes it easier.

Every overseas trip you have to expect the unexpected and COVID just add another piece to that. You have to go with the flow and get used to it.

5PM: Most of the time when athletes go on these winter tours, the training part is attached to a competition. It wasn’t like that for you this year. Was that just so you would know that you only had to focus on training and not have the stress of preparing for a tournament, watching your weight, and so on?

Smith: I just wanted to go over for the training camp just because it fit in with my schedule a little bit better. I mean, the majority of that trip was being able to train, get different looks, and be around the best guys in the world. That was kind of the meat of the trip for me. I was glad that I was able to get that in before ramping up for the Bill Farrell Memorial. I guess that was more important in my head at this point in my career, to go over there and get the different looks in. Obviously, tournaments are good to get experience and things like that. But this time, I just figured I’d do something a little different and not make the trip so long. I’ve done a lot of six-week trips over to Europe the past few years. This year, I just wanted to do the camp.

patrick smith, greco-roman training

Smith (right, red) training in Porec, CRO on February 3. “Obviously, tournaments are good to get experience and things like that,” Smith said. “But this time, I just figured I’d do something a little different and not make the trip so long. I’ve done a lot of six-week trips over to Europe the past few years. This year, I just wanted to do the camp.” (Photo: Matt Lindland)

5PM: Because of your extensive experience and all of the traveling you’ve done to Europe, you are familiar with a lot of athletes from other countries. When you are in that kind of a training environment and know the guys in and around your weight, does that make it easier to grab partners?

Smith: Yeah, it does. I’m pretty familiar with everyone at this point. It’s all of the usual suspects, right? It’s a pretty small world because you are finding all of the best guys in the sport in one spot. I think the comfortability helps, but in that environment everyone is encouraged to expand their horizons and find new partners to get different looks. That’s why everyone is going there. They are sick of wrestling the same people from their own countries, their own clubs, or whatever. That is kind of the appeal.

I think for the most part it probably helps a little more with comfortability and talking through positions. I feel comfortable asking guys around my weight about certain positions or where they beat me, how something felt. Everyone is open about that kind of stuff in that setting, so it’s pretty cool.

5PM: Often when a US guy is getting set to go overseas, they talk about taking what they will learn during camp and bringing it back to their practice rooms. Does that actually happen? And if it does, how? Or is it a thing where by the time some athletes arrive home, whatever was on their minds has disappeared?

Smith: (Laughs) I guess that depends on the guy. You have to hold yourself personally accountable. I’ve picked up a lot of stuff. You are going there for data points. Even if you’re wrestling in a tournament, you are going there for data points. You are seeing where things are working that you might have been practicing in your room and testing them out. That’s the idea. What’s the point of doing it if you’re not testing it out? You are seeing if it has been working.

You are also getting different looks. You are trying to expose different holes that might be appearing. That is the whole point. Usually, you can keep notes or something like that. I’ll talk to Matt (Lindland) after practices about making little adjustments that I need to lock things in. It is cool to see those improvements you are making throughout the camp, too, because you are still getting the same looks over a two-week period. It is really nice to test that out and see where you’re at.

Whether or not it comes back home is on you. That’s how you hold yourself accountable and continue to do it right. In a training camp situation, it is a highly-stimulated environment. You are constantly there. But when you come home, you have to figure out if you are going to continue working on those things. Or, are you going to forget them?

Even if you are the best guy in your room, if you got beat overseas then you should keep the same frame of mind at home. Let’s say you could win a go from one position, but you know that you wouldn’t win if you were wrestling that guy who was beating you up at camp; then you should probably make that adjustment anyway. It is about being in positions that will allow you to train yourself to get better in those situations. Because if you don’t train it, then you are going to go back over there and get beat by the same thing.

No one is going to do it for you. You have to hold yourself accountable. Everyone is an adult. You’re supposed to be a professional athlete. At a certain point, you become your own best coach. You know what’s going on in a certain position. And if you don’t, use the resources around you to figure it out. But at the end of the day, you are the one who has to learn how to move, get in the right defensive position, or attack in a certain spot where you weren’t in before. It is X-Y-Z position stuff, but you are going to have to be the one to connect the dots.

5PM: What is your favorite thing about Croatia?

Patrick Smith: Porec is pretty nice. It is one of the nicest places I’ve ever been for training camp. Being on the Adriatic Sea was amazing. I can definitely see how that is a summer spot. (Tanner) Farmer and I actually rented a car one day. There is a town about an hour south called Pula and it had one of the five original coliseums.  That was neat, and now I can check off two because I also saw the one in Rome. It was only an hour away, so that was cool. We did that on one of the days we had downtime.

I’d say that was probably my favorite part other than, again, just being in a room full of some of the best guys in the world. That reinvigorates you a little bit. It is cool to be around a lot of guys who are trying to do the same thing as you. And you can see it because everyone is showing up and doing the best they can everyday. They are committed. It’s cool to be in that environment.

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