World Team Trials
Over this past weekend USA Wrestling hosted the World Team Trials in Stillwater, Okla. I was in attendance for this competition as a coach for the Cliff Keen Wrestling Club and the New York Athletic Club. All of our athletes that train in Ann Arbor with the Cliff Keen Wrestling Club all wrestle nationally for the New York Athletic Club. We had a great training camp leading up to the trials. The guys were ready to go and were in great shape. Jimmy Kennedy and Kellen Russell both finished second and are now on the U.S. National Team for the first time in their careers. Both Jimmy and Kellen know they are capable of making world teams and being successful on the world stage. They will use their experience at the trials to build on and move forward. Now that they are on the national team, there are some great opportunities for them coming up this summer that they will take advantage of.
When you are coaching you don’t always get to watch all of the matches. You have to be in the back room with the wrestlers making sure they are ready to go and get them what they need in between matches. Jimmy was our club’s only athlete on the first day of the tournament. He has had a great year. He had a disappointing Olympic Trials last year, going 1-2, but he has come on since then, placing at two very tough international tournaments, winning the NYAC tournament, wrestling in the World Cup and now sitting second on the national team. Jimmy has a lot of tools, and I think being on the national team will really help him make the jump to the next level.
On the second day of the trials, we had Kellen Russell and Kyle Massey wrestling. After winning the U.S. Open in April, Kellen was given a bye to the finals of the trials. Brent Metcalf won the mini tournament during the morning session to face Kellen in the best-of-three series that evening. Kellen eventually lost to Brent, but I know Kellen and he will use this to figure out a way to win. He has won on every level, and there is no doubt in his mind that he will continue to win. Kellen is going to have some great opportunities this summer to train and compete overseas. Kyle Massey also wrestled the second day, going 0-2. This was Kyle’s first time wrestling at the trials. He made the semifinals of the U.S. Open this year and ended up 6th at that tournament. He continued to improve throughout the season. Both Jimmy and Kellen went 1-2 at the trials last year and both improved very much. I expect the same from Kyle. He is a hard worker and just needs to get a little more match experience.
Overall, I thought the trials were great. The rules seemed to promote a lot of scoring, but after seeing a lot of matches and a lot of situations over the weekend, there are still a few things I do not like. First, I do not agree with two 3pt moves ending a match. Jimmy wrestled Nick Simmons in a wild match in the challenge tournament, where at the end of the first period Jimmy scored his second 3pt move to pull ahead of Nick, 11-7. This match was back and forth the whole time. There was no need to end the match when Jimmy was only up by four points. Heck, there were 18 points scored in the first three minutes of the match. The fans could have seen some exciting wrestling as these two piled up the points. I am indifferent about the 5pt move since we don’t see many 5pt moves in freestyle.
The other rule that I am strongly against is using criteria to decide a tied match. At the trials, freestyle wrestling elected to use overtime whereas Greco and women stuck with criteria. There are pros and cons of using each. Freestyle wanted to use overtime to show to the fans and to FILA that this is what wrestling needs in order to get the fans back in the seats and excited to watch the sport. Women and Greco believed they needed to select their team based on the rules that will be used at the World Championships. I was able to sit first row alongside Sean Bormet as Andrew Howe and Kyle Dake battled it out in what was almost a 12-minute match to see who would wrestle Jordan Burroughs in the finals. There were times during that match where I thought my heart was going to beat out of my chest. Overtime is a no brainer for wrestling fans. There is additional drama and excitement in every match that goes overtime. We have to remember the last time we had overtime, there was no pushout rule, so I do not believe this would affect the length of the tournament at all. In order to win in overtime, the athletes must take it upon him or herself to be the first to score or you will lose the match. Overtime does not favor one athlete over another nor one country over another. Overtime resolves matches. Right now we have moves that are worth 1pt, 2pts, 3pts, and 5pts. Every scoring action will have moves that are scored at different values, but once the points are put on the scoreboard they should be of equal value. This is simple to understand — when the match ends in a tie, the next person to score wins the match. Any casual sports fan would tell you that overtime is how tied matches or games should end.
The current criteria system to too difficult to explain. If I can’t properly explain the rules of wrestling to wrestling fans in few sentences, then how are we supposed to attract the casual sports fan? Criteria is anti-climatic. I would love to see a high scoring match in the Olympic finals end while the referees tallied up the scores to see who is declared the winner. Fans can cheer for their athlete when they score in overtime and they can celebrate with them as they just achieved the impossible. I stayed and helped coach at the FILA Jrs on Sunday, the day after the trials ended. I did not see anyone one from FILA in attendance, but there were two great matches that ended on criteria that the fans would have loved to see continue to overtime. FILA Jrs did not use overtime like the Senior trials. Joey Davis and Jordan Rodgers wrestled a great match and in the last second Rodgers scored to tie the match up. The problem is that the wrestlers, coaches, and fans did not know who was going to be the winner. Rodgers wrestles at Oklahoma State and the fans were cheering loud all day for the OSU wrestlers. When this match ended the crowd could barely be heard until Rodgers hand was raised. The other match that comes to mind was Ben Whitford and Zain Retherford. There were two takedowns in the closing seconds, but when the match ended in a tie the fans in attendance and watching on Flowrestling where robbed of two kids putting their skills on the line and digging deep to win a wrestling match.
FILA’s own ad campaign reads “To wrestle is to be human. To struggle. To overcome. To Triumph.” This ad campaign is what wrestling is all about. We are a combat sport and it is very difficult to become a champion wrestler. The rules we have in place allow for a lot of points to be scored. The only problem is with the two 3pt moves ending the match and the 7 pt tech fall we are taking away the soul of our sport. With takedowns now being worth 2pts, i believe a tech fall should be 10-12pts. Wrestling has a fall and a technical fall to end matches early when a competitor shows true superiority. When you allow wrestlers to come back from making mistakes during the match you allow the fans to feel their struggle, the fans can see them overcome a scoring deficit, and then finally cheer them on as they triumph victoriously because they won based on their own merits, not some set of criteria.
I am leaving this weekend for Russia. Stay tuned for more inside access to international wrestling.