Approaching Training to Become the Best
I was in Guelph, Ontario, this past weekend coaching the Cliff Keen Wrestling Club. We had three wrestlers competing, and when it was all over we came home with two gold medals and one silver. This was our second straight year going to this tournament. As a coach, I cannot stress how important the Guelph Open is to our development as a team. It’s held at a perfect time of the year, and since it is only a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Ann Arbor, it is almost like wrestling at home relative to other international tournaments.
At the tournament Jimmy Kennedy and Kellen Russell placed first at 60 kg and 66 kg, respectively, while Kyle Massey was second at 120 kg. All three of them did an outstanding job from the time we arrived to the gym until the last match was over. They know exactly how to warm-up properly, get mentally focused for each match, stick to a game plan during the matches and, most importantly, rest between the matches and get good nutrition into their bodies throughout the day. It doesn’t matter which tournament you are wrestling in, you have to approach each one like it is the World Championships. To achieve this, you have to find a routine that works and practice it, tweak it and perfect it. When I run practices for the Cliff Keen Wrestling Club or for the U.S. National Team, I run the same warm up every day. We have a routine where we jog and get limber for five minutes, tumble and do some gymnastics for five minutes and do a dynamic stretch routine for another five minutes. Every one of our CKWC athletes can run this warm-up on his own at this point. When they do the warm-up on their own, they will always know they are ready to wrestle live soon after. Getting a routine down and sticking with it will help get you mentally prepare for the biggest matches. You will have no doubt in your mind that you are ready to rock when the referee blows the whistle to start the match. Habits are formed by doing things on a consistent basis, and our warm-up is consistent every day. Every component has a purpose, not just for that specific day, but it includes aspects that build strength and flexibility over time. I didn’t just throw together random calisthenics and call it a warm-up. I studied the most successful wrestlers in the world, saw them doing this warm up in practice and before tournaments, and applied it to my own wrestling. After the warm-up is complete, you have to drill and wrestle live before you are ready for your first match. Just as with the warm-up, the amount of drilling and live wrestling is consistent in all of my practices. I’m a firm believer that drilling is an extension of the warm-up, and the most important part of the practice is live situations and the live matches. Drilling to learn new moves and to work through situations is very important, but it’s my philosophy that this is better done after the live wrestling and not before. When I run practices, we do just enough drilling so we can get right into the live situations. I do this so we are fresh for live wrestling. We do between 8-16 minutes of situations every day. I vary the time of each situation and the total time of all of the situations depending on the time of year and what tournaments are coming up. If you lose in international wrestling, you have to wait to see if the person who beat you makes the final so you can have a chance to wrestle back. In the majority of my practices, I only do one match. There are some days — Tuesdays and Fridays — where I will have two matches in a practice, but this is only when we have major competitions coming up. I only do it on these two days, because Wednesdays and Saturdays are devoted to cross training and rest. The idea behind only having one match in practice is to teach the guys the importance of approaching every match like it is the only one. If you lose a match in practice, it will be on your mind until the next practice. Over the weekend, all of the CKWC guys approached every match with great focus. My thought is that if we wrestled more than one match each day a practice, they can mentally slack and say to themselves, “I will do better next match.” In international wrestling, we don’t have that luxury to have a bad match and get it back the next one, because there might not be a next match. This is a hard thing to teach, but we practice this every day when we train, so they are used to focusing on the match in front of them and not the one that may come after. After getting a good warm-up and focusing on the first match of the day, the next step is having a game plan and sticking to it throughout the match. A game plan is not something you can come up with on the fly. You have to train yourself daily to have a game plan, and this is the biggest impact a coach can have on an athlete. U.S. National Team coach Zeke Jones has provided me with every imaginable stat from the Olympic Games. It’s my job to know these stats and use them to develop a game plan for wrestling and winning matches. I would be a bad coach if I just threw practices together that did not teach and instill the game plan that is optimal for winning matches. I have the ability to throw together the most physically demanding practice ever, but if there is no purpose behind it, then it is just wasted time. There are drills and situations we do as a team every day that are meant to be embedded in the athletes’ heads so that when they are pushed during a tough match, they can instinctively do the things that need to be done. Having a game plan for matches is built over time with consistent training and sharpening of skills required to win. In order to be prepared, you have to put yourself in the most common situations and learn how to win them. Practice is not about learning moves, it is learning how to use moves and score with them when someone is defending you and vice versa for the defensive aspect of sport. A good game plan for a match is derived from a philosophy of how you want to compete and then applying that philosophy to practice every day. Take a look at the best programs nationally and internationally, and you will see the philosophy of how each program wants to wrestle. I believe this is where a coach can have the biggest impact on his athletes. That philosophy has to be preached every day in a way the athletes can understand, and it must be broken down in small parts that they can master individually. Eventually all the wrestlers will wrestle exactly the way you want them to. This is why they call it training, because it has to be done daily or the skill set will not be developed properly. I was very pleased with how Jimmy, Kellen and Kyle approached each match. They know what it will take to be the best in the world because they do what it takes on a daily basis. We will use the results from the past weekend to identify their weakness and strengths. Wednesday we go to a National Team camp in Colorado Springs, where we will have plenty of time to fine tune our game plan. By the time they wrestle at the Dave Schultz and the overseas tournaments, they will go into each match with confidence that they will win in every position, and most importantly, they will dictate which positions they get in. The final key to having a successful tournament is knowing how to rest, recover and eat between matches. The National Team has a great support staff that helps with this aspect, and although everyone reacts differently to different foods and drinks, you can use the information from this team of experts to find out what will work best. This too has to become habit, and in making it a habit, your body will know exactly how to recover and get back up for the next match. I thought the CKWC guys did a great job at this over the weekend, but we can still improve. This is the hardest part of the sport to perfect, because you have to practice it in real time. It makes every tournament very important, and everything you put in your body should be recorded and tweaked until you find out the best combination for you and make it a habit to do the same thing every time you compete. I am excited for the Cliff Keen Wrestling Club’s upcoming tournaments. The guys are looking sharp, and they know what to expect every time they step on the mat to compete. Stay tuned to my blog as I travel to Colorado Springs and all over Europe for the freestyle season. Andy Hrovat