There hasn’t been enough time yet for Gary Mayabb to fully settle in. Officially named the USA Greco-Roman Operations Manager in the spring, it has been one thing after another for Mayabb — from four different World Team Trials and their accompanying World Championships, to helping organize tours, camps, and clinics. Busy falls short of accuracy. Rather, nonstop is the word you’re looking for.
The position of “Operations Manager” requires wearing a lot of hats. There are responsibilities everywhere. Development is a key priority, but so is fostering more training opportunities for the Olympic-level athletes. Measuring performance, communicating areas most in need of improvement, and constantly reinforcing the concept that effort is not subject to deviation irrespective of task difficulty all have their place in Mayabb’s job description. But effort, yeah, that’s a big one for him as you will come to find out.
The man oozes passion for his current position. He can’t help it, the enthusiasm is apparent in his pleasant yet machine-gunned staccato rhythm every time he answers a question. Mayabb is what you’d call “next-level intelligent” — he devours research, but it’s not the Google generation type of research that entails briskly skimming some scholarly article or another just so you can say you did. On the contrary, Mayabb is equal-parts willing to dig into the soulless data advanced metrics provide while simultaneously being interested in the actual souls of US Greco-Roman wrestlers. It’s a unique combination of brainyism, that for some reason, does not render competing ideologies. However convoluted that sounds, just say it like this: if Mayabb believes there is something out there that can aid the US program, he will tirelessly devote himself to learning how to apply it.
Because we’re now sprinting to the end of 2017, and because the US Seniors have just recently returned home following a multi-week stay in Europe that ended on high note (and saw Mayabb coach those events), spotlighting his perspective on recent topics surrounding the program felt mandatory. If you’re someone who has expressed concern regarding whatever the perceived problems facing the United States Greco-Roman program are, then just sit back. Mayabb is here, and he may just have the solution.
5PM Interview with Gary Mayabb
5PM: You’re concerned with being constructive. You’re an educator at heart, right, so the idea of using prior experiences as a catalyst for improvement is likely important to you. Now that we’re a month removed from the U23 Worlds, when you look at the performances those two days, is there a fine line between saying That happened, let’s move on, and at the same time feeling like, Let’s look at it further so we can improve our approach and our attitudes so it doesn’t happen again? Is there a balance with how you view that tournament’s ramifications?
Gary Mayabb: Oh absolutely, it’s a fine line, but I loved Matt’s (Lindland) response at U23. And you know, the deal is I heard a couple of people around that time saying, That was a knee-jerk reaction. No, it wasn’t. There might have been some leftover frustration from Paris inside that, but it’s only because the lessons we thought we had learned, obviously, we did not learn them. Obviously. We went out and did things in a very similar fashion (in Poland).
One of the things we looked at on this last trip to Haavisto was, I don’t know if we get our heart rates up systematically. I mean, Corey Hope worked hard to get his heart rate up to where it needs to be prior to match. When he walks on the mat, his heart rate is up to a usable area immediately upon the whistle. And I’m still seeing guys who want to be totally calm before they walk into the fight. In my opinion, we have to stop doing that. This whole, I walk out, I shake hands, I’m really, really calm and then the whistle blows… This match is already happening. Right now, officials are calling passivity in the first 20 seconds. You don’t have time to stand there and let the match come to you anymore.
It’s going to be interesting to see. I haven’t had a clear definition come at us yet regarding who is going down. They talk about a two-minute mark and stuff like that, but what does that really mean? Whoever has the passivity is going down at two minutes? What does that look like? If you’re the guy who does fall behind in whatever their idea of passivity is and then saying, I’ll take care of it — maybe you can, but you’re going to have to score. Now, which I hope in theory is the reason why they’re doing it, is because it’s going to take us out of the “push mode”, I’m going to keep pushing to one-up you. So not to be abstract, I think that fine line is there, but my goodness, if we don’t look at Poland…
I told you while I was in Russia that Poland really hurt me. It hurt me far worse than Paris did, and Paris was a nightmare. It’s like you said during that conversation about expectations and how when you write, you start out with the expectation that we’re going to perform well. Going into Poland, I really felt we were going to perform well. Paris, I might have still been where you were talking about earlier, like, Oh man, we still have to do this, but if this happens then maybe that can happen. On the way out the door, we were talking about how our medal count was better than it has been for American wrestling in a while for the year and we were about to set a record. We had the capability of doing that at the U23’s, and yet, we walked away with nothing. At the end of the day, that has to become unacceptable.
5PM: For all intents and purposes, you took over the Seniors in St. Petersburg. When you’re acting in the coach’s role and there is this large group of athletes, some of whom you hadn’t gotten to know yet, what is the #1 point you’re trying to drive home when it comes to competing in these types of tournaments? Is there a stated goal, an overall goal, or is it more about attitude at this juncture?
GM: I think all of those. For one, the stated goal that we went after consistently was, Let’s go to score. Let’s go to score, and if we do score, let’s build on the scores. Of course, not build wildly, but we had several members on our National Team who were on this tour. If you look at those guys, Randon Miranda, he’s been on a couple of Junior World Teams now and we’re expecting big things out of him. And he loses to Dalton Roberts, his teammate, in the Russia tournament. Well, now you go to Finland and Dalton’s not there. So then it’s like, if you want to gain ground, then how do you gain ground? You lost to Dalton Roberts because Dalton Roberts is really, really active with his hands and his feet. He’s moving all of the time. He’s knocking you off, he’s passing you by, he’s dragging, he’s chasing the body, an underhook — he’s constantly making you react to him. Well, it’s easy to see why he is getting the calls on passivity. How did he win against Miranda? Passivity.
The last three times Miranda faced him in competitions, the first match at U23’s was clearly Roberts’ match. But the second one was just a back-and-forth fistfight between two guys who wrestle each other everyday, which was awesome. That match in Russia was well-controlled, but all of the points scored came from passivities. For Miranda, then it has to become, What do I need to do to change that outcome? Well, for one, I have to become more active. The funny thing is, I watched this young man the day before weigh-ins. We had to travel early Friday morning. We traveled all day, we got off, and we had to make weight. We knew that. We had a week, so we knew that. We had to get our weight under control and we were going to have to travel a little bit dry, a little drier than we wanted to. I told them, We’re going to be on the road all day, so you have to take care of business early.
On Thursday, Miranda got done with the afternoon session. We get him on a bike after he was on the mat for a little bit. He gets on the bike and goes hard for 30 minutes. And I mean he’s cranking this thing. He’s got clothes on, he has sweats on, and he is busting this workout on a treadmill. He never broke for 30. I’m kind of working out, but I’m monitoring, watching, and he just never broke pace. So afterwards, we talked and I just said, “Hey, you just went for 30 minutes hard. Why would you ever let a match come to you?” Part of this is that Randon is very slick. You go to score on him, he’s going to counter-score very well. But unfortunately, you and I both know that at the World level, these guys don’t give you a chance to counter-score. If you let them in, they’ll take full advantage of it. But the guys who are the also-rans and the mediums, they’ll make a mistake on the way down. They’ll leave their heads down, put it over the top, whatever it might be, posting on the inside of the hip — something — they’ll do something that maybe you can catch them in. But the really good guys aren’t going to do that.
We just said, “Why would you leave anything in the tank? You have to go after these guys.” He goes after the first guy (at Haavisto) and he gets a lead, builds the lead, and scores. Then he goes against the Ukrainian in the semis and he’s down 6-0. Now, we know that at the World level you’re not coming back from 6-0 because the match just stops. But what he did do, because he pushed so hard and put in so much work, was get the Ukrainian tired. Miranda came over at the break and said, “This guy is so much stronger than me.” Which you are always terrified to hear that coming from your wrestler when they come over (laughs). Because you’re like, No, that’s not what I want to hear. But I said, “Okay, but I think you’ve got him. You’ve made him tired in the first three, now push the pace again.” And he went out there very controlled in how he was pushing the pace, but he pushed the pace. The guy wanted to sit on the lead, but he had to constantly move with Miranda. At the end of the day, Miranda snapped him down in a front-head hold, the guy gets out of it, Miranda puts him in another front-head hold and this time lifts it for four. Then he scored on him again at the end of the period and he won because he had the last point scored, and both of them had four’s and two’s.
I thought it was a turn-the-corner type thing for Miranda and all he did was introduce himself to his opponent. He was saying, Here’s my strength, I can be more active. I hope that it’s long-term, I hope that it is one of those wins that you’ve had, I’ve had, hopefully everybody has had, that says, I’ve leveled up. This is a better pattern I can go forumulate.
That’s just one example, but again, sometimes we have to get in competitions that are more geared towards us doing well and learning. This was one of those environments. It was the right thing. First of all, we had great training in Russia. We were training with very talented, very skilled, technical wrestlers. Here’s another thing Randon said that was so big. He said that the week before he had wrestled every night against these four 66-kilo guys who were just studs. They can lift you, they can throw you at will, if they want to do a move, they can force it on you. He wrestled with these four guys all week, and then he turned around and goes 59. The second 59-kilo guy was the Ukrainian, and he was huge. He had to be 5’9, 5’10, his thighs were striated. I mean, this guy had obviously cut hard. He was a monster. But you know, hopefully, these kinds of circumstances we can make happen.
5PM: In Russia, results-wise it was a medal blitz for the US. Was this important, especially since there were a lot of younger, inexperienced wrestlers competing for this country?
GM: Take a guy like (Eric) Fader. He’s been around the block but he’s still young, he is younger than I thought he was. He is a corporal in the Marine Corps and he’s done a good job there, but you and I both know, his job is being a Marine. In his bronze match, Eric lifted — he lifted the guy up and threw him backwards. That was impressive. These guys went out and earned wins. But they should have. For the level we were wrestling, they should have been able to do that.
Again, I don’t know, I’m looking at film right now and you’re right, I’m still learning about these guys. But I don’t know if we turtled back in to becoming fearful at U23, it’s just that when the whistle blew and the bull jumped out of the chute, I don’t know if we were strapped in hard enough at the time.
St. Petersburg was more of a local tournament, but Haavisto was the biggest tournament they’ve had in years. They are talking about doing a minimal charge next year and cutting numbers earlier because it was bigger than they wanted it to be.
5PM: For the wrestlers who need more international exposure, to get that foreign feel we’re always talking about in one way or another, for you personally, what do you grade performance on? And not to bluntly toss this in, but I sometimes wonder if young US wrestlers see a guy from Russia or another “power country” standing across from them and are assuming things. How do you combat that from a mental standpoint?
Gary Mayabb: I think the biggest thing I try to focus on, and I’m not saying I always do a good job of it, but I attempt to focus on effort. When you look at Weiner’s Box, ability is stable, effort is unstable. Guy’s efforts will go up and down. If a wrestler is down 3-0, next thing you know, they are kind of mailing it in. They’re pushing maybe, but you know what I mean? When you look at the film, you wind up asking, How many legitimate risks did you honestly take? When someone wrestles from behind for 1:20 and they make one recognizable attempt at a move, that has to be unacceptable. That can be measured and questioned by effort.
I just think that at the end of the day, those are things we can challenge ourselves on and are things that we can measure. If you’re following Weiner’s Box and it says task difficulty is measurable, then it is constant, it has consistency to it.
But you’re right, if it’s a Russian standing across from you, you might say, Okay, what am I going to do with this guy? Gosh, he’s a Russian, he must be good. Alright, that’s true. But — let’s see more effort then. Put more effort in. If you aren’t taking very many risks, are you really trying to win the match? Those are things I focus on because you can go to practice and you can look at what is measured there by effort, also.
5PM: The Haavisto Cup has been a tournament the Americans traditionally perform pretty well in. This year seemed to take on a different meaning for the Greco community in a way, the year has been a dichotomy of sorts. There were a lot of medals at the Senior level but that success obviously did not translate to the two Senior World events, Paris and Poland…
GM: It certainly didn’t, not at all. And I would go back to effort.
5PM: With Haavisto closing the book on a solid overall year with another string of strong overall performances outside of the Worlds, what was the major takeaway you wanted the wrestlers to have when you were breaking camp and leaving to come home?
GM: You send a birthday card to somebody you’re close with, so you write really nice words about who they are and what they mean to you. Then you have someone you work with maybe and you feel obligated almost to give them a birthday card, okay? Well, after you get done with U23’s, what do you honestly say to your athletes then? It’s like you start using the standard company lines, We have to work, we have to get better, we have to improve. We could do that after Haavisto, work and improve. Those are just the standard words that just come out. It might be the truth, but still, it’s all they are.
After something like Haavisto, though, you can see it. First of all, Corey Hope, my goodness, the guy has been off the mat for 18 months and he wrestled two tournaments on two different weekends. That first Russian tournament, guys were coming up to me going, You got ripped off, they clearly weren’t going to give you a passivity because you were wrestling a Russian. Okay — but that didn’t change how much effort that young man was putting out. I think you and I spoke some time ago how one of the things that happened in Paris was we didn’t have a very good fifth-to-sixth minute in matches. At the five-minute mark, we didn’t perform better than our opponents did in that last minute. We were trying to play catch-up, most of the time that’s what was happening, or even if we had a lead, or were tied, we didn’t perform as well as our opponents did in that fifth to sixth minute. But at Haavisto? Again, ignore whether the competition is good or bad, and instead, just focus on effort. Well, I saw athletes pushing themselves hard. First off, the Marines? They never give up, because they’re Marines. It’s fun. If half of your team are Marines, you know at the fifth minute if they’re behind — and many times they might be — you know they are going to fight to the next whistle. When they’re done, they are exhausted, they’re spent. Could we get more attempts? Maybe, but you never walked away saying, I think your effort was sub-par. It was always on-par.
Those are the biggest takeaways for me because you could be outmatched, but if you’re behind, how in the world did you get out-efforted? It’s because you’re not in shape, or your training isn’t good enough then, or…I mean, you hate to use the word lazy. But if the conditioning is not the issue and the effort is not there, then obviously we get into a question of, and it’s an ugly word, but that’s being lazy.
5PM: How much of laziness is related to a perceived lack of desire?
GM: You’re right there, that’s what laziness would be, a perceived a lack of desire. If you’re going to lose a match, whether you’re going to lose by one or a hundred, and you’re still not going to get your hand raised, that’s clearly on you. Why in the world would you not take risk? That makes no sense. Those guys? That’s what separates the Joe Warren’s, the Steve Fraser’s, and the Dennis Hall’s. Did anyone ever associate those words with any of those guys, you know what I mean? You can’t, because those guys are goers, and their opponents know that, too.
5PM: A popular, well-respected coach from my state of New Jersey, Matt Ciampa, had an interesting question that I might as well just ask you about. One of the disadvantages for American Greco-Roman wrestlers is the location of our country, what with it being far from Europe, Asia, Eastern Europe, wherever. But Cuba is also far removed and doesn’t seem to suffer competitively because of the distance. Why?
GM: We have some things happening in America where if you really look at it, we’re determining who the best American is and sending them overseas. Their biggest deal is, I want to make a World Team. One of the things we’re discussing right now is bonus money. We didn’t pay money for the Lavari Cup or the first Russian tournament we were in. But we did pay bonus money for Haavisto. It was a UWW event, it was a full event, it had representatives from 15 countries, and there were 104 athletes who competed. That one we looked at said, Okay, we should pay bonus on this. Plus, it was a self-funded trip. These athletes had to raise money, go to training camp, and most of them spent two to three weeks in Europe. They are doing everything we’ve asked them to do, which is what we’ve talked about several times, going over to Europe and those kinds of issues. Well, they’re doing that.
We should be rewarding them based on that — not based on going, but on their results once they get there. But you have to go there and spend that money, that time and that effort, to earn it. That’s where we should be putting our money — You go, you take the risk. Again, if you’re driving down the road and you see a guy waxing up a 1970 Grenada or something with rust all over it, he’s doing that because he obviously bought that car. It means something to him, he earned it. An example right now that we’re fighting is we are going to pay $3,000 to the winner of the US Open. But then we’re going to talk about giving $1,500 to the winner of the Pan Ams? We’ve got that totally backwards. We should be paying money out to the guy who wins the Pan Ams against the Cubans.
Look at the four ranking tournaments we’ve got. The first ranking tournament is in January in Iran, we can’t even go to that thing. So we’re not even going to be there, we’re going to miss that one. We are sending a good contingent, 10 or 11 athletes, to Cuba in February. That is going to be great for us because we’ll be dealing with the issue you’re talking about. Here’s a hypothetical question: Mike Bowman, two years ago I think he sent around three guys to Cadets/Juniors and four guys to the another tournament, Cadets or Juniors. And when I asked him why, he just said, “We underperformed so bad at U23’s, I didn’t bring anyone who couldn’t place at this tournament. If you show me you can place in the Euros, then I’ll bring ten.”
What’s our approach? You win Nationals and everybody goes overseas. I am not saying we are going to develop a policy that says if you aren’t capable of getting a medal we’re not taking you. But the Cubans have had that policy forever, right? If you look at the Cubans, there are a lot of times at age-group where they’ll bring four or five athletes. And you know every time you meet one of those guys, it is because they (coaches) think he can place. They’re not just saying if you win the Cuban Nationals, you’re going. No, you have to demonstrate the ability to challenge and compete at the World level. We have to do that same thing, we just have to do it a different way. We have to internationalize our American system is what I’m saying.
5PM: What that sounds like to me is the Trials system would probably need to be amended because we’re rewarding single-day performance instead of assessing an overall picture of what an athlete is capable of internationally.
GM: Yes, yes. Right. When we put out our schedule in January for this year, you are going to see a lot of self-funded trips on there. I mean a lot. What I’m working on right now is getting coaches to volunteer their time to work with athletes and get them over to Europe. But they are going to pay for their way here. A lot of times in America, people are like, Well that’s unfair, that’s stupid. No, I don’t think that’s stupid at all. First of all, if you worked hard enough and you find ways to fundraise or do whatever it is you do to raise $1,500 to $2,000, you’re saying, I worked for it, now I’m going to go perform. At the end of the day, we’re going to have a lot better product by doing that. Then we’ll reward the placing, because everything you do that affects your ranking at the World level, makes us stronger. It makes us more credible. And it does what we’ve talked about several times — it puts a willingness and a desire to go to Europe and compete. If you’re having to come up with the money to get yourself there, I’ve got to believe you’re going to be training. And if you don’t train and don’t place, you’re not going to get any compensation on the backside of it to recoup your money. Do you really believe in yourself?
5PM: What you’re saying is that more athletes are going to have to bet on themselves, so to speak.
GM: Exactly. I just want them to invest in themselves. We want them to believe in themselves and we want them to want to compete at that level and say, I’m going to go get myself ranked. Okay, let’s do that. Then it will be our job to work hard in order to help them do those things.
5PM: Coach Lindland outlined the plan emanating from January onwards. Instead of a National winter camp with everybody in one location, this appears to be a situation that requires all the participants getting on the same page via satellite almost. What are you looking for from a performance-based standpoint that will be applied towards competition leading up to the Trials and then the Worlds next October?
Gary Mayabb: One of the things we need to start doing is talking some common language. We worked on cartwheeling when our opponents try to arm spin us pretty hard getting ready for Haavisto, and it showed up in three matches. But it also showed up in three more matches where we failed to get to our leg faster than he was throwing us, and because of that, after the matches were over we had a great conversation.
That conversation now is limiting itself to change and growth. We have to have more of that. All of us are smarter than one of us. We will attempt to move these operations to where we can speak a common language and get our coaches to start talking about how they can work together, and us work with these coaches. Just the other day, I was going back through some stuff that was written up about a bunch of coaches who have done such a good job for us in the past, whether it’s Dan Chandler or Jay Antonelli, who I was just with in Europe. Being able to be around Jay and work with him, and the athletes working with him, well, we need to do more of that.
We’re trying to decentralize some of our camps and workshops. We are working on a deal right now with Wisconsin to take our Juniors into their Junior camp before Fargo, to add another four days of opportunity with our National Team coaches and the Wisconsin state coaches. They do a great job. But by doing things like this, we can start to have these conversations about techniques, tactics, and those kinds of things to where we put more people on one page. This challenge will be the one that takes the longest.