Episode 52 welcomes in the one and only Jim Gruenwald, whose presence on the show aligns with the recent release of his first book titled Not All Roads Lead to Gold.
As an active competitor, Gruenwald embodied faith-fueled perseverance. He fought, hard, for every meaningful milestone he achieved throughout what eventually became a 16-year career that included appearances in two Olympiads and three World Championships. And when his “playing days” reached the end, Gruenwald quickly stepped into a forward-facing leadership role as the assistant coach for Northern Michigan University’s Greco-Roman program (then known as the US Olympic Education Center) before taking the reins as the head coach for Wheaton College, where he thus remains.
All of the above are mentioned in E52, though only as breadcrumbs. Rather, Gruenwald — effortlessly, professionally — digs deeper into the peripheral underpinnings which serve as the foundation for his perspectives. In Not All Roads Lead to Gold, Gruenwald lays bare personal and athletic anguish for all to see — and from which to hopefully learn. Readers who are expecting 189 pages of “work out hard and follow your dreams” diatribes most commonly associated with wrestling literature are perhaps in for a surprise. While Gruenwald does delve into significant moments experienced on the mat, and the accompanying costs which made them possible, they are but arrow signs pointing towards a greater lesson.
There are, of course, other topics brought to the forefront. Gruenwald has increasingly been able to help coach US Seniors at various National-level camps, which arms him with interesting and useful insights when it comes to upcoming matters of importance (i.e., the 2022 Pan-American Championships as well as the World Team selection process). In addition, Gruenwald’s method of communication when coaching is uncovered. Abiding by a systematic yet purposeful verbal strategy that can be aimed at different wrestling audiences, the Wheaton head coach explains in full detail how he relays instructions based on the curriculum.
A Few Highlights
Gruenwald on the impact of tearing his shoulder apart during the ’03 World semifinal against Armen Nazaryan and how it relates to others inside and outside of wrestling
“I look at that catastrophic moment now and realize that there are other people who are going to walk through their own catastrophic moments. How are they going to manage that without someone walking alongside of them when their career could possibly be over now? So, I could walk alongside of them and say, Hey, you’re in a dark place right now, but I’m going to give you hope. Because, you are going to get through this. I’m not going to push you, I’m not going to pull you. I’m just going to walk alongside you and let you know that you can do this. As painful as it is to relive it, I have to revisit it so that people can see what some roads look like.”
Gruenwald on how he carries himself as a Christian and as a coach
“I’m not going to get super-preachy. I’m not going to stand on a soap box and start thundering the Gospel out. I’m going to be salt and light. I’m going to help people, I’m going to form relationships. I think that there is a time to be very direct with the Gospel, but I think the better way to present things is to say, This is life — and this is how life can be lived more abundantly. In other words, This is how life can be lived in a way that is more fulfilling. And I don’t use a ball-peen hammer, but that wasn’t always the case. Over the last 25 years, I’ve learned how to walk a much more graceful life without sacrificing the truth that I believe in. One of the other intents of writing this book was, How can we stay true to our belief system and yet present it in a way that is graceful, will hopefully sow seeds, and transform lives?”
Gruenwald on his approach to teaching
“What you do is you break down the technique. Where do my feet need to be? Where do my hips need to be? Where do my hands need to be? Where does my head need to be? And you go through it bit by bit. Whether they are little kids, middle schoolers or high schoolers, or even at the Olympic level, you’ve got to give them enough to be able to absorb the right amount at the right time. You don’t show the whole move, you just break it down part by part and then you send them out and they work on it. You go around, you correct them, and then you bring them back in so that you can refine it. Then, maybe, you show the next part of the move and send them back out.
“You go through this process. During the course of a camp, whether it be one or two or three days, I don’t show a thousand moves and say, Look at how great I am, look at how much knowledge I have about the sport of wrestling, with the kids leaving no better than when they came in. What you got to end up doing is you give them five or six moves with which they have created mind and muscle memory. Because, you have broken down every single piece of the move so that when they leave that camp, they have five or six moves they can do. And you tell them, Pick one or two that you’re going to master, and then each year you add another move or two. Now by the end of your middle school career, the end of your high school career, you have anywhere from four to eight moves that you have mastered because you came to this clinic, you came to this camp. You helped them create mind and muscle memory. If you don’t do that, if you don’t help people create mind and muscle memory — I don’t care what level it is — if you don’t break it down for them, they’re not going to learn it and they’re not going to improve.”
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