Five Point Move is proud to host US Greco-Roman National Team Head Coach Matt Lindland every week for “Coach Lindland’s Report.” For fans and wrestlers looking for insights regarding the US Greco National Team, we ask Coach Lindland questions pertaining to recent events, training, and other topics surrounding the sport of Greco-Roman. If you have any questions of your own you’d like us to ask going forward, let us know via Facebook, Twitter, or through our Contact page.
This week, we talk to US National Team head coach Matt Lindland following what has been a busy time for both he and Greco in the US. Two-time NCAA champ Gabe Dean recently committed to competing in Greco-Roman, so that is obviously a point of concentration. Hayden Zillmer of the Minnesota Storm just took third at a tough tournament in Croatia, once again highlighting the perceived importance of US athletes traveling overseas for international training and competition. Coach Lindland also discusses his enthusiasm for both the Cadet and Junior World teams, and why he feels the Juniors might be on the verge of something very big come Tampere, Finland next month.
5PM: Gabe Dean confirmed he is coming over to Greco. I know he has been an athlete you have admired not just because of his success, but also due to him being a character guy. You’ve mentioned before you like the way he carries himself. So it seems like he presents the full package of what a coach would want. Is that why you’re so glad to have him in the fold?
Coach Matt Lindland: Not only does Gabe have huge potential and upside as an athlete but yeah, I think he brings a lot of leadership qualities to a program. We’re just starting to rebuild the Greco-Roman program. We have incredible athletes. But we also have a lot of young men who need that example of what great leadership is and what good character qualities we’re looking for. I think Gabe is an incredible example of what it takes off the mat to be an incredible competitor and a successful individual, whether that’s wrestling or any other endeavor.
5PM: One of the things Dean said was that he liked the direction in which the program is headed, that it’s an exciting time. Do you think that given the general perception of the Greco program as it stands now, other college athletes in the past who might not have considered Greco now will? Do you think other star collegians might follow his lead?
ML: I definitely think I don’t want to lose the athletes who have gone onto college who were great Greco-Roman wrestlers at Fargo, or maybe they made a Cadet or Junior World Team and have gone on to wrestle in the collegiate system. I don’t want to lose those athletes. We’ve got some incredible competitors, guys like (Sam) Stoll or (Adam) Coon. The list goes on and on of athletes who once their college careers are over I would love to see come back to Greco-Roman. So I think seeing guys like Gabe Dean saying that Greco is a real option, I mean, there are only six weight classes in Greco-Roman in the country and a lot of our athletes who go through the folkstyle system seem to go into freestyle. But that gives you six more places to not only make a team, but six more chances to actually have an opportunity to get a medal at the Olympics or World Championships. Even more at the Worlds because now we’re going back to ten weight classes.
But it’s a great thing for our program to retain some of the athletes we lost to a folkstyle system. Yeah, I think it’s going to take time to make those transitions back to Greco-Roman, so there is going to have to be a plan put in place, like we’re doing we’re doing with Gabe to get him into camps, get him overseas and to international competitive opportunities. We’re going to put a lot of time and energy into somebody like Dean because he has such upside in the sport.
5PM: Leadership is an important concept. Perhaps there are numerous ways to build leadership qualities in young men. How as a coach do you go about that process and what are the immediate benefits you see in the wrestlers you coach once they take on greater responsibility, both on the mat and in their personal lives?
ML: That sounds like a two-part question. I think the first part of that question is how do I develop leadership qualities in athletes? I put them in situations where they are out of their comfort zones a lot of times. Whether that is leading a warm-up in front of a bunch of their peers, or taking them out and putting them on the river, or just different training situations and modalities where you can get athletes out of their comfort zones and you can make them uncomfortable. It makes them grow leadership skills.
As for what are the immediate benefits? You develop more of the individual. I think a coach’s job is not to just develop the athlete, but the full person, to help the individual. It goes along with the Olympic creed, which is about fulfilling your potential. If you’re not developing leadership skills, if you’re not developing character along the way, it’s hard to just have an athlete. We’ve seen example after example of athletes who have been great in the ring, on the courts, or on the mats, who just don’t make it to the finish line. They don’t get on the podium because they lack the discipline, they lack the structure, they lack the character qualities that it takes to be successful at the highest level. So you need to develop the whole person along the way. Certainly, we use wrestling to do that as our vehicle, but there are so many opportunities on the mat and off to keep building up these athletes and their character as men.
5PM: Recently, you had the Cadet and Junior combined training camp at the Olympic Training Center. You were pleased not only with the turnout, but also with the fact that there were several wrestlers who showed the urgency to stay longer, which by all measures, World Championships coming up or not, has to be very encouraging, to see that kind of motivation.
ML: You know, it is encouraging to see. First of all, that was one of the best camps, and I don’t want to use term “developmental”, because these guys are not in the developmental stages of their careers. They are elite Juniors and elite Cadets — although they are in what is considered the developmental age groups. The athletes who we had were our Cadet and Junior World Team members. We combined that training camp along with our Seniors who currently live out here and I think people are familiar with the large number of Greco-Roman athletes who live out here in Colorado Springs between WCAP and the OTC resident program. So we had multiple opportunities to train our Juniors and Cadets alongside and with our Senior athletes, and with these Senior athletes, we have five who live in Colorado Springs. Just getting these athletes together…I think if you segregate your age groups and say, Well, this is a Junior camp or, These are Senior camps, I think you really hurt the growth of your younger athletes because they are not getting to see where they’re at against that next age group.
Putting them together lets them see that they are a lot closer than maybe they thought they were as far as closing those gaps. Certainly, there are strength issues, maturity issues, and experience issues which all factor into that. But once you put these guys together, you will see your Cadets step up. You will see them raise their levels. Your Juniors will raise their levels along the way. We saw that this year with two Junior age-group athletes making the Senior World Team and one of our Cadet athletes made the Junior team, as well. We’re seeing that along the way and I think it’s going to lead to exponential growth for these athletes.
The skill level of our younger athletes continues to impress me. These guys are good and we did have the best guys in the country. We chose our World Team members and a few number two’s and number three’s out of the Trials to bring in as training partners. So we did bring in our best guys and maybe that was part of the reason I was so impressed with their skills and their abilities, but there were still some areas where we needed to make some adjustments and the athletes adapted so fast. I mean, I think that is obviously what it takes. It’s not the smartest, the fastest, and the quickest always. It’s the athletes who are able to adapt to the environment who are going to progress the fastest, in my opinion.
5PM: The Cadets and Juniors would obviously benefit from that kind of environment, but it reminds me of last year in Concord, when the Juniors worked alongside the Olympic Team and the Olympians would teach in the afternoon at the camp. I remember you thought that was important, too, because it would allow the Seniors to teach, which in turn would help them with their own technique. Also, it gave them a chance to mentor a little bit, as well.
Coach Matt Lindland: I think all of those things bring value, the fact that your Senior athletes have to stop and think about why a technique works. Some of these guys are such incredible athletes to where they do things and they don’t realize why they work. They don’t realize that the principles are actually sound and they start to think about, Why do I do a technique this way?, or Why do I attack a certain way? When they break it down, they have to describe it and it allows them to actually understand that position, that technique a lot better. It allows them to make those neural connections to where they go, I did that same thing in another situation. It’s still a level change, it’s still creating an angle, it’s still keeping the pressure on my opponent. Then they can start making those connections in other areas of their wrestling on the mat.
Also, you’re right — it does allow these guys to be mentors and be examples of somebody for these younger athletes to aspire to, and hopefully soon. We’re seeing guys who are coming up making some of these Seniors nervous. Man, I might not have this spot much longer if I don’t keep progressing at a rapid pace. It makes our Seniors realize they have to grow and evolve, as well. I think it helps you gain a real holistic approach to the way you are training your athletes, when you combine these guys. There are certainly times and places where you don’t need that, but there are times you do, especially when you’re preparing your Juniors and Cadets. And I don’t think there is anything better than having each one of these guys have what is almost an individual coach. When you looked around our room you had Robby Smith working with Cohlton Schultz, Patrick Martinez and Cheney Haight working with Wyatt Koelling — up and down the line we had athletes in place as basically a personal coach, but also as a training partner because they were in there battling with them. We were seeing these guys making huge gains in our Juniors and Cadets during the camp.
I’m really excited about this Junior team. On paper, this one of the best teams we’ve ever sent to the World Championships.
5PM: Well, you have two returning medalists and I believe four returning members overall.
ML: Yep, and I think those guys who didn’t get a medal last year, realistically, have a very high probability of getting medals this year, Randon (Miranda) and Kamal (Bey). They were both in their matches. I know their abilities and I know the abilities of the athletes they are going to compete against. We’ve seen Kamal step up and compete against Senior athletes and come away with medals. We’ve seen Randon right in there with some of our best Senior athletes, as well. So I think there is a high probability we can come away with at least four medals in this tournament, if not five or six, optimistically.
5PM: Two US guys, Barrett Stanghill and Hayden Zillmer, went over to Serbia recently, with Zillmer taking bronze. He had a couple of dominant wins and then got a pin with 30 seconds remaining to take third. How important is it for a guy like Zillmer in his first full year of Senior-level Greco to take that opportunity to go train out in Hungary and then get himself into what was a very competitive overseas event?
Coach Matt Lindland: I think it’s super-important, not just for Hayden and Barrett to go over there, I think it’s important for all of our athletes to go over there. We’ve seen athletes who have fallen short, they were the number two, the number three, go overseas, start getting international matches and a year later, they’re making the team. And then a year later, they are capable of medaling and performing at the World Championships and the Olympic Games. We’re very fortunate in this sport to have clubs like the (Minnesota) Storm, the New York Athletic Club, and Sunkist stepping up to help fund these athletes. And now that we have Gabe Dean, maybe we’re going to capture another club with Titan Mercury being involved there. We’re very fortunate to have help from these clubs to get these athletes to the right competitions because this time of the year, the National Team budget is really starting to hone in on our Senior athletes who are on the World Team so they can get the preparation, training, and competition they need to get them back to the World Championships so they can get their medals. So it’s very important, it’s critical for these guys. Not just during the summer months, but year-long, to make those journeys overseas to get those tournaments and training camps they so much need.