Thursday, June 15, 2017

Tour Across America Blog #6

We just finished our final workout of the trip – a 30-minute conditioner in the hotel pool.  At the conclusion of the workout we had a contest to see who could hold their breath the longest.  We started immediately following some squat jumps and then tried again and again and again.  As we got further from the squat jumps, each athlete was able to hold their breath longer and longer.  We talked about controlling our breathing in a wrestling match and slowing our heart rate in order to stay focused and in control.  It was an exercise on mental toughness.  The pool was a great place to drive that point home.  On the long bus ride home, we’ll watch a video with David Blaine (magician) explaining how he held his breath for over 17 minutes.

Mental toughness is the ability to stay focused on the task at hand no matter what occurs.  It’s not physical toughness or emotional toughness.  The 10-year old on the playground who falls off the monkey bars and breaks his arm and doesn’t cry is not demonstrating mental toughness.  He might be physically tough.  Both are important, however, mental toughness is something we can develop and leads to sustainable success, consistency and discipline. 

Terry touched on this at the end of practice yesterday, too.  He used the illustration of understanding the one thing we all have in common is time.  How we use it is up to each individual.  Being mentally strong will lead to getting the most out of the time we do have.  It was a good lesson for our student-athletes. 

This trip was time well spent and I’m confident that everyone in our group will look at the time they’re given and be a little more intentional about using it well.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Tour Across America Blog #5

Today is our final day in Colorado Springs.  We’ll be staying in Lincoln, Nebraska tonight.  We’ll take in one final mat practice at the OTC this morning then hit the road.

We had two practices yesterday.  The first was with the national team and the second was on our own.  In the morning, Terry put the group through several drills.  We spent time working on both offense and defense on our feet, mostly using a 2-on-1.  An important message he shared during practice was to be confident in who you are and use the skills that you have rather than trying to be someone or wrestle a style that doesn’t work for who you are.  The quote we use over and over back home is, “when you know who you are, you know what to do.”  Identity always comes before activity.  Being familiar with your own wrestling style and your skillset is critical to reaching your full potential as a wrestler.  This is one of the biggest reasons we encourage our athletes to journal.  I look at journaling as spending time reflecting on and evaluating all things, but what’s more is that you’re getting to know yourself.  You have to spend time with people if you’d like know them, right?  Well, you have to spend time with yourself getting to know who you are, too.

Our second practice was just our crew.  We had the entire wrestling room to ourselves (7 full-sized mats), so we started with some games then did a little troubleshooting of our own – moving our feet, quick scores, front headlock offense.  We’re still looking ahead to being prepared in Fargo.  This has been a valuable experience on many levels and we’ve made sure they’ve enjoyed the trip and still improved as wrestlers. 

Not only have they improved as wrestlers, they’ve grown as individuals.  Spending time in the mountains, soaking in the energy of the Trials and the OTC will inspire each of them to live their life at higher levels.  They’ve spent a lot of quality time with quality individuals.  This is a terrific group of people - hardworking, respectful, grateful and kind.  They’ve been a pleasure to be around the entire week.  That’s rare when you put over 30 teenagers in close quarters.

You are the company you keep and we’re pretty lucky that the company we’ve kept this week has been the best wrestlers in the world.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Tour Across America Blog #4

We had two mat practices yesterday with the women’s national team.  A senior national team camp is currently winding down.  Several residents, national team members and world team members are in attendance and we’re fortunate to jump in as additional practice partners.  These camps are structured through USA Wrestling in order to accommodate the needs of the world team in anticipation for the world championships.  This year, the championships are 67 days away in Paris.  Practices are run by Terry Steiner (head coach).

Terry was one of my college coaches at Wisconsin before taking the head women’s position at USAW.  His influence led me into the world of women’s wrestling.  I took my first group of female wrestlers on a trip in 2005 to Beijing, China and I’ve been entrenched in the women’s program at both the development and senior levels ever since.  Terry has been an important mentor of mine over the past 20 years.

The morning workout was technique-focused.  They covered some “opportunity areas” or areas of need as a group (double leg attack defense, snap and score, trap arm gut wrenches, etc.).  The afternoon practice was live combat with 8 x 3 minutes live.  It was great to see some of our developing females mixing in with the senior level athletes.  It took a few goes to understand how to wrestle at that level, though.  It’s similar to getting on the freeway with other cars already going 70 mph.  It takes a little time on the ramp to get up to speed.  Sometimes it takes a few years to catch up, however, yesterday a few of our top Cadets took advantage of the opportunity to wrestle world team members and Olympians.  As practice moved along, they became surprised with their own ability level.  They took a beating for a bit before catching up to speed, but once they felt what was going on, it was just another wrestling practice.  I was proud of those who stepped up to that challenge.

Between practices, the kids spent most of their remaining food money on souvenirs in the Spirit Store.  They’ll be coming back decked out in Team USA gear.  We also took some pictures on campus and soaked up the atmosphere.  Of course, I went with a few other coffee junkies to the newly added Starbucks across the street.

In the evening, we gave everyone a couple hours to explore downtown Colorado Springs and try some modern, hip restaurants.  Between 8:00 and 10:00 PM, I received several pictures of elaborate meals from restaurants like Fujiyama, Bingo Burgers, Rasta Pasta and urban pizza joints.  I think most of them have their map planned out for today’s eating options.  Personally, I’m excited to go to one my favorite restaurants in Colorado Springs: Skirted Heifer.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Tour Across America Blog #3

Manitou Springs is a cute little city about 5 miles from downtown Colorado Springs.  It has gift shops, restaurants and a ton of character.  It has a unique tourist feel.  In the athletic realm, however, it’s popular for the hiking trail most commonly known as “the Incline.”

The Incline is an old cog railroad track and is approximately one mile long, going up the base of Pike’s Peak.   It’s at the trailhead of the Barr Trail which goes 13-miles to the top of the peak.  The Incline has an average incline of 45% and as steep as 70%.  The steepest parts forced some of our athletes to bear crawl.

The bus dropped us off about a half mile from the trail because the tight, twisty road was not suitable for large vehicles (more on this later…).  We walked to the starting position, snapped a team picture and started the hike at 7:00 PM.  We knew we would have to hustle to the top and hurry to the bottom because the dark would surely bring several more challenges that we were not prepared for.  Coach Chad Shilson laid down a challenge: whoever made it to the top in less than 30 minutes would get a fresh $100 bill.

Some took off swiftly while others attempted to find a steady pace.  Each step is different, so it’s difficult to develop any sort of rhythm or cadence.  Looking up to the top provides a false sense of security because the “false summit” is what you see when you begin and there is still several stairs to the top.  I started at the back and of pack and enjoyed conversations with several of our athletes as I passed them going up.  I might be getting old, but I can still work hard…

We crossed paths with a mule deer making his way around the scenery.  He even climbed a few stairs before jumping back into the trees.  That wasn’t the only wildlife we crossed paths with as we encountered a cinnamon color bear at the bottom of the trail around 10:00 PM.  He wasn’t interested in us, though, as he was digging in dumpsters.

When we arrived at the top.  We took some pictures, talked about the experience and forged a new bond as a group.  Whenever a team suffers through a grueling workout experience, they come out on the other end more unified because they have something memorable to draw from.  It was, indeed, memorable.  Several of our athletes made mention to me that it was the most difficult thing they had accomplished in their life.  One of them - Nathan - ran to the top in 29:57 and he's fortunate that Chad is a man of his word.  He got the $100 bill.

As a coach, the attitude and sense of accomplishment among the group is what makes trips like this worth it.  Climbing the Incline was hard work and everyone made it to the top, so it was a successful adventure.

Our adventure didn’t finish when we got to the bottom.  Finding the bus in Manitou Springs, making our way through the ever lingering smell of marijuana smoke, tasting the mineral spring water and taking the bus up to get the final two team members (getting stuck and taking down a fence to make the y-turn).

All in all, it was another great day for our crew.  Back-to-back life changing moments.

Tour Across America Blog #2

We loaded the bus early this morning and are cruising down I-80 heading West to Colorado Springs, CO.  We’ll spend the next four days training alongside the women’s national team at the US Olympic Training Center.

There could not have been a better event to prepare us for the opportunity to train with some of the best female wrestlers in the entire world than the World Team Trials last night.  The atmosphere was electric and the action was world class.  Indelible memories were formed by the drama that unfolded right before our eyes.   The individual performances fueled by a nation of support inspired everyone on the bus to live their lives at a higher level.  Several people online are calling it the best World Team Trials ever.  It will serve as a great lead into soaking up the energy and excitement of the US Olympic Training Center.

When USA Wrestling announced that Lincoln, Nebraska would host the men’s freestyle trials, the wrestling community knew they would be in for a treat.  Hometown hero and American legend Jordan Burroughs attended the University of Nebraska and currently resides in Lincoln.  Additionally, world team members James Green and Thomas Gilman have Nebraska roots and Olympic medalist J’Den Cox is from the Midwest.  And they did not disappoint.  Digging deeply, overcoming adversity and drawing strength from the crowd, the four men mentioned above appeared larger than life.

Other athletes showed great resolve and humility throughout the day.  Tony Ramos stood out to me as a champion who showed great class in defeat in spite of an entire arena expecting the opposite given the scenario.  We were also fortunate to bump into some admirable female athletes who were in attendance as spectators.  With a bus load of some future stars in the female wrestling world, Jessica Medina provided a spark to the girls who were fortunate to meet her.

Overall, it was a great day.  Lincoln did us well and now we’re on to another big adventure.  Today we’ll spend the equivalent of a workday on the bus (8 hours). Upon arrival in Colorado Springs, we’ll take one step at a time up the face of Pike’s Peak on the famous Incline.  It will be another game changer for these teenagers.