Illinois Regional Training Center head coach Bryan Medlin is in a unique position. As one of the principal engineers behind his home state’s massively successful age-group program, he understands the developmental process for young American athletes as well (if not better than) anyone. But as a former Senior competitor — and now as a Senior coach — he also knows firsthand what a finished product should look like when that preceding goal has been achieved.
And it is on the Senior level where most of this discussion’s focus resides. With the IRTC having added Travis Rice (63 kg, world no. 15) to its roster last year, and 2019 World Team members Max Nowry (55 kg, Army/WCAP, world no. 12) and Ellis Coleman (67 kg, Army/WCAP, world no. 14) this season, Medlin now finds himself involved with three World-ranked, established Greco-Roman wrestlers who are at or near the primes of their respective careers (with potentially more on the way). That the Olympic Year is in view naturally heightens this responsibility.
So there has been enough going on recently to perform a checkup. Rice just finished up his second-straight season as a top Senior athlete; Nowry and Coleman are about to enter an arduous training cycle; and Medlin himself is more in-demand than ever before, especially given the summer’s arrival. Most importantly, he’s happier than ever. When this conversation took place, Medlin was driving to practice. “I’m on my way to work,” he said, before correcting, “if you want to call it work.”
There you have it.
Bryan Medlin — Head Coach, Illinois RTC
5PM: You’ve had an exceptionally large imprint on development in our country and we just witnessed the first-ever U15 World Team compete this past week. What do you see as the biggest positives, and if you have them, the biggest negatives surrounding this age group having a World-level Team?
Bryan Medlin: I’ve got your negative right here: the fact that we didn’t know when the Trials were. We’ve got to do a better job of advertising it. I think the more exposure we get for these kids overseas is awesome, but we just have to make sure our best kids are at the Trials. However we do that, such as reaching out to these kids’ clubs and making sure that our U15 guys are prepared and ready to compete at the Trials system. The thing was, I was not sure when the Trials were being held this year. I had a kid who was under 15 at my training camp that weekend, and I think he’d fare pretty well but he wouldn’t know about it until the week before.
That’s just me not being in the loop as much. I think it’s a great thing but we need to do a good job of making sure our best kids get over there. The more exposure we can get for those best kids, obviously our results will follow. We do have really good young kids, and that’s the other thing. I think as long as we develop them at a young age, if most of our 15-year-olds wrestle in any style against anyone in the world we’re going to do really well. It’s just that we have to make sure we are following through with development.
5PM: You talk to good coaches and they say that the younger we go, the more the playing field evens out internationally. That if anything, we’re even better than most countries throughout the world the younger the age group is.
5PM: Why is that?
Medlin: I think because we’re competitive too early, to be honest. It is a little bit of a fault of ours and it is something that we can correct. We compete a lot when we’re young and I think it develops an unrefined product that is a little bit better at the young age. And then when they get older, their (athletes and coaches from other countries) idea of development and our idea of development are different. They are developing skill. They are developing kids who are able to do back arches, back-steps, and things like that. We’re developing kids who can win matches. And at some point, our skill isn’t good enough and that’s when they overtake us.
I think just making sure as youth coaches that we’re not falling into the trap of ‘win now at the cost of not following through with skill-by-skill-based training’.
5PM: Travis Rice, last year was kind of his breakthrough year as a Senior. He is coming off of another solid year. What has been the key for Travis in terms of stamping down the consistency he has now demonstrated the past two seasons?
Medlin: He had a great year minus one tournament. The North Carolina tournament (World Team Trials Challenge Tournament), for whatever reason, you just show up on some days and it’s, Hopefully, better next year. It just wasn’t his day and we are going to really look into making sure it doesn’t happen next year. The biggest thing with him is the word you said, ‘consistency’. He is being more professional with his wrestling. He is doing things with recovery and doing things with developing strength. Just the kind of things that can get passed over, those little parts of wrestling that are a big deal. He is being a lot more consistent with his diet and making sure he is doing things right.
As long as he keeps doing that, he is going to see more growth, which is what he needs. He needs to make sure that he is not satisfied with where he is at this point and that he’s moving forward. I think he is in a good spot. He is in a good headspace. He knows what he is capable of, he has competed with all of these guys, and has made sure that he understands what it takes to get there and that he sees a path. That’s all we can hope for, right? That there actually is a path for you to make the Olympic Team and win a medal. I think now it is just about following through, hope you stay healthy, keep a good mindset, and go live your dream.
5PM: There are two athletes on the Senior World Team who are affiliated with the IRTC, Max Nowry and Ellis Coleman. Will you be playing any sort of role in their preparation for the World Championships, and if so, what will that look like?
Bryan Medlin: They are getting ready to come out July 1st. There are a lot of pieces in play when it comes to them, and we’re just another part, I hope, that makes their training and preparation better. When it comes down to it, Shon Lewis does a great job with his guys and we’re not trying to step on anybody’s toes. I think the more people you have on your side pushing in the same direction, it is just going to make your experience better, so it’s going to make you better, and that’s what we’re after. We are here for those guys. We just wanted to be pieces in the puzzle.
As far as training goes, they are coming out July 1st and are going to stay a week. That is prior to the Pan American Games. Ellis has to go to the Pan Ams, Max doesn’t. When Ellis is here, the big thing with him is that he had some injuries the past few years, so you can’t go crazy and expect him to wrestle really well. Max is in a different training cycle, but he has had a couple of little dings and things like that.
You have to have the pulse of your athletes, too. You have to know what they need. I’ve known those guys long enough, I have known them since they were very young kids, so I think I understand what it is they expect from coming out here and what they want. Hopefully, we can mesh everything together and it adds to their chances of success.
5PM: You just said “mesh everything together”. Is this going to be the kind of situation between yourself and WCAP where — be it tactically, technically, or both — you share notes?
Medlin: Yes, absolutely. I don’t think it’s possible any other way. Shon Lewis is an awesome coach and Spenser Mango is one of the next great coaches of Greco-Roman. I think those guys are awesome, but at the same time, they aren’t me, either. So I don’t want to be saying things and doing things that are counterproductive, and I think they probably feel the same way. I think the fact that they are okay with Max and Ellis coming out and that they’re okay with them training at other places, in my mind, really establishes Shon and Spenser as great coaches.
Great coaches don’t care about their egos. They don’t care about Look at me, look at what I did. They only care about their athletes. They don’t care how Ellis Coleman and Max Nowry win their gold medal. They don’t want to be propped up on a pedestal being told ‘it’s all about you‘. Seems to me from the outside looking in, all these guys care about is what’s best for their wrestlers, and that is the biggest compliment I can give a coach. And I think it is the biggest sign of what a great coach is.
So, kudos to those guys for being open-minded and being all-in for their athletes. Because there are not a lot of people who would do that. A lot of people just want to be the guy who is in control of their athletes, and they don’t seem to have that attitude.
But yeah, the long and short of it is we will make sure we’re working together.
5PM: How has it been for you personally and professionally having a focus on the Senior level?
Medlin: It has been good, it has been good. I’m excited every day I go to work, I am lucky enough to say. Last week I took my kids up to the boundary waters to do some fishing. I wasn’t supposed to be back until today and I was so excited that I came back a day early. I wanted to come to work. Just having that in my life, you know, who knows how long things last? You don’t have a crystal ball. But just being excited today makes me happy. I am grateful, blessed, and excited for the future. I think we’re doing great things within USA Wrestling right now that are going to leave a lasting footprint for the next generation of coaches and athletes. I’m just happy to be part of it.
5PM: Simple last question: is Jason Loukides the coach of the year in your mind?
Bryan Medlin: 100%, 100%. I am not going to say that he’s the guy because there’s nobody else or because there aren’t other great coaches. They (the All-Marine Team) had a great development year. It was what should be expected of that team year-in and year-out, but they have some hoops they have to jump through that aren’t the norm for a military branch, so he had some difficulties and they overcame them. And man, they just wrestle with spirit. I watch their guys compete. They have heart, they have character, and all of those things the Marines are supposed to promote.
So yes, I do think so, but there are a lot of great coaches out there. I mean, look at what the Army has. They have 55, 50, 63, and 67 kilos. They have the bottom four guys on the World Team (laughs). So it’s hard not to think they’re doing great things, too. But from a development standpoint, from year to year and looking at what they did, I don’t know if it’s even close. There are some other great coaches, but yes. I don’t get a vote or know how they vote, but yes, he is. In my opinion.