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 some questions to get his take on training and upcoming competitions. If you have any questions you’d like us to ask going forward let us know via Facebook, Twitter, or through our Contact page.
This week, we catch up with Coach Lindland the day after he returned home from Mongolia, the sight of the 1st OG World Qualifier. The three US Greco athletes who participated in the tournament (Jesse Thielke at 59 kg, RaVaughn Perkins at 66 kg, and Joe Rau at 98 kg) have not yet secured Olympic berths, which means they are currently in Budapest training before heading to Turkey next week for the 2nd (and last) OG Qualifier in Istanbul. We asked Coach Lindland to give us his assessment of the US performances and he also shed some light on the upcoming Junior and Cadet Nationals taking place this week in Las Vegas. He also laid out some of his plans for bringing in the next generation of Greco stars who will be representing the US in the future. This is a can’t-miss read.
5PM: Okay, so how the guys doing, they’re in Budapest?
Coach Matt Lindland: Yes, they’re in Budapest with Coach Momir (Petkovic). They’re going to stay in Budapest until the tournament. Everyone is going to travel to Istanbul on the 4th, and then I’ll meet the guys there.
5PM: How are they doing otherwise after last Friday (in Mongolia)?
ML: RaVaughn had six matches, so he was a little sore, a little tight, so we got a massage on him. We actually had a lot of resources there. We had our chiropractor there, our sports med nurses, everything, so we had a lot of resources. We got him loosened up and then they traveled to Budapest. They are going to do a little training there and like I said, we’ll all meet in Istanbul on the 4th.
5PM: Could you give us your assessment of their performances?
ML: Something happened to Jesse there, he was up by five points and let his foot off the gas. He let that guy score four on him, you know, and then all he had to do was keep wrestling. But he kind of stopped wrestling a little bit. He didn’t get a good warm-up, he didn’t refuel his body properly, in my opinion. He did a great weight cut, he was disciplined all the way through, and then he put some junk food in his body after he made weight. When you’ve been eating clean and cutting weight, and then fill yourself with a bunch of junk food, I don’t think that helps. Jesse’s an experienced athlete, he should have known better on that. But yeah, he’s definitely capable. There are some very talented athletes who still aren’t qualified at that weight. You got the world champ from Bulgaria, you got Soryan, the Iranian… When Jesse’s flowing, we’ve seen what he’s capable of doing, like the world championships in ’13, we saw him at the Trials this year. When he’s rolling, he’s unstoppable, but he has to get rolling early. He can’t have a bad first round. He needs to have a great first round and keep that momentum going all the way through the tournament so he gets himself to the finals.
5PM: I watched the stream and then probably over a dozen times since using software and he was so fast, just so much faster, and then it all stopped. It was weird, is all.
ML: Yeah, he took his foot off the gas. He slowed down. I don’t think it was his weight cut, he had done a great job with that. He maintained his weight, he cut it properly. It was just that he refueled his body with the wrong foods.
5PM: Rau had a tough match against Schoen, he’s a tough Swede…
ML: You know, he had beaten him last summer over at the Spanish Grand Prix. Rau is capable of going with any of those guys. But it was the same thing. He didn’t get a great first round match. He didn’t get to his positions, he didn’t get to his two-on-one. He was letting Freddy dictate the pace out there. And it was hard to watch because I know if Joe gets to those positions he’s capable of scoring. From his positions. But we’re not capable of scoring from Freddy’s positions. If you let that guy control where the tie-ups are, he’s dictating the match. If Joe gets to his two-on-one and starts creating angles, he starts dictating the match and scoring from his positions. So he’s got to force himself to not allow his opponent to put him in the positions they want to be in and force his own positions.
5PM: How are their spirits, their attitudes, following the tournament?
ML: Their spirits are good. Rau and I had a great time the day after getting to see the real Mongolia. Like I said, RaVaughn was sore and didn’t want to go horseback riding, so he stayed at the hotel. Jesse likes playing Pokemon so he stayed back, also.
5PM: They are staying in Hungary for the next ten days or thereabouts. Who are they training with, is this with the Hungarian team?
ML: They’re training at some of the local clubs there in Budapest. Some of their top guys will be there, but the national team isn’t scheduled to be. But they will have different training partners and get workouts that way. Over there, you walk into any local club and that’s what they wrestle, they wrestle Greco Roman. It’d be like here, going into a college program but they’re all wrestling Greco. It’s the same club that we trained at for the ’13 World Championships, same apartment building. We know where the food is, we know where the training facility is, everything is in walking distance. It’s a great setup. It’s exactly what we had in ’13, so we’re going to replicate the training environment we had then and stay in the same hotel with the same resources that we had
5PM: So there is a comfort level.
ML: Yeah, it is a really good comfort level they’ve got. It’s a home away from home in Budapest.
5PM: And now this week you’re going to be at the Junior and Cadet Nationals.
ML: The Juniors weigh in tomorrow and the tournament goes on Thursday. Then the 1st through the 14th we have a lot of our top Greco kids that wrestle college, Juniors, and Cadets coming in for two weeks here in Colorado Springs. I’ll miss two of those days while I’m in Turkey but we have guys like Mark Halvorson, Chris Saba, and Herb House coming in. Spenser Mango is in town, so he will be on the mats one of those days. I mean, I got that covered here those days while I’m in Turkey with the athletes. So right after the tournament next we have the top Juniors and Cadets coming here to Colorado.
5PM: Right, and hopefully some of these high school age kids give Greco a second thought instead of going to traditional college.
ML: Well that’s my goal, that’s what I’ve been working on. The hard thing is that they go wrestle four or five more years of folkstyle. It’s just too hard for them mentally to make that transition, let alone technically and everything else. But just mentally in their mindset they haven’t wrestled enough Greco in those five years. The college coaches are so focused on what they want to do getting their athletes to win NCAA titles and stuff, it’s hard to get them back. Then they feel it’s an easy transition to go over to freestyle because they see someone like J’Den Cox have great success and go from a folkstyle season and then two weeks later, he’s making an Olympic team, you know?
5PM: It’s a tough optic to compete with I imagine.
ML: It is. I think so, I think that’s really what it is. It’s a perception and it’s the optics of that. In reality, I think some of these guys are much more suited to wrestle Greco in the first place. They’re forcing themselves out of tradition and comfort to go stay with folkstyle. That’s where the pressure is, ‘Oh, go wrestle in college and get a degree.’ Well, you can still get a degree and wrestle Greco, believe it or not. Nobody on my staff is telling these guys not to go to school and not to get degrees. We’re all about developing the individual and not just the athlete.
5PM: You keep using the word “pressure.” That seems like what is going on, like it’s a peer or cultural pressure.
ML: That’s exactly what it is. It’s totally a cultural pressure. The college coaches aren’t comfortable with the style of Greco Roman, the high school coaches teach them folkstyle, so they’re not comfortable with it, either. They’re pressuring them from every angle that they need to continue down that path. That’s something we’ve got to handle individually with each of these athletes. We have some really great Cadets and Juniors right now.
5PM: That’s actually a good question, because I remember when we first spoke about this you said if I watch what goes on at Fargo, that’s not really Greco, it’s upper-body folkstyle.
ML: (Laughs) It is! It is. No, I mean, you watch Wisconsin, the guys they’re going to send to the World Team Trials in Akron, Ohio, those kids are going to wrestle Greco. The guys that are training with Brian Medlin and Coach Powell in Illinois, those kids are going to wrestle Greco. But it’s frustrating because the officials allow these kids to block, get their head down, push away, and step back from the fight. For those who watched the stream from last Friday, you didn’t see that. You saw that if a guy took a step back he was getting hit with a passivity and then put down. From the outside looking in, you would think those are two different styles of wrestling.
The adjustments are fast if you have those athletes training in the right environments and with the proper coaches. You can make those adjustments very fast, especially with the quality of athletes we have in this country. We have so many. We probably have over half a million wrestlers in this country. I don’t think anywhere else in the world has that many. Maybe Iran. Some of these smaller nations that are qualifying multiple weight classes maybe have 20,000, 15,000 wrestlers in the whole country. We have 500,000…or more!
5PM: Since you’ve taken over the program, have you seen an improvement at the Junior and Cadet levels at all?
Coach Matt Lindland: Oh absolutely, absolutely. I’ve got guys like Cohlton Schultz, who’s a Cadet and retired from folkstyle after winning his state title as a freshman. We have Kamal Bey, who moved out here his senior year of high school. I’ve got Nick Boykin, who was a double-champ at Fargo last year and is making the move out here this summer. Jordan Martinez is going to forego his senior of high school wrestling just to train at the Olympic Training Center. He’s a World Team member, Fargo champ-kind of athlete.
We’re getting these guys, but it’s slowly. We’re going to have to see guys like Tracy Hancock, who did it, made a World team, made our National team. Yes, it works! I mean, you put a young athlete like Tracy Hancock, who has been in our program for years. He didn’t do his senior year of high school wrestling, he wrestled at the Olympic Training Center and made a World team as a first-year Junior. You don’t see too many first-year Juniors doing that, it’s normally 19 and 20-year old guys doing that. He made the World team, this year he made our Senior national team, and this weekend I’m pretty confident he’ll make another World team. This year, he’s going to be ready to go medal.
It’s going to take critical mass. We don’t get the coverage on Flo that the folkstyle does, the freestyle does. And so, we need to get the exposure, we need these athletes making the team, winning medals and getting exposure. Then we’ll get some critical mass and we are going to be changing the strength. Because I’m not convinced the folkstyle system is going to develop our Greco athletes. It hasn’t happened in the past and I don’t see it changing. For me to keep trying to do the same thing, that would be insanity. We have to change the way we’re approaching this sport if we’re going to get our best athletes. We have to go after the same athletes the colleges want. But I’m going to be a little more focused on specific guys who just wrestle Greco and are already very good at it and have been coached well. I mean, we have some really good coaches out there. Think about the guys up in Minnesota, they’re training with Brandon Paulson, Jim Zelars, those types of athletes. But there is that social pressure, that family pressure. They want their kid to wrestle at Penn State or wherever the hell the cool place to wrestle folkstyle is right now.
5PM: What you’re describing could almost be defined as a movement.
ML: It’s a different paradigm shift, for sure. And that kind of stuff takes time. Like I said, until we get enough of these athletes who have made the choice to do it. But you’ve got to have some guys who are pioneers. The Kamal Beys, the Tracy Hancocks, Jordan Martinez, those types of athlete have to be the pioneers of the sport. They have the balls to do that, to say, ‘I really have goals to win Olympic medals. You know, the NCAA is an age-group developmental tournament and my goals are bigger than that. I want to win golds at the Worlds and Olympics on the Senior level.’
5PM: Wow, that is one of the king lines I’ve ever heard in my entire life, “The NCAA’s are an age-group developmental tournament.” I’m going to love writing that one.
ML: It IS an age-group developmental tournament, is it not?
5PM: (Laughs) Okay, no, no, no, I just never heard it put that way. I guess of course it is, when you break it down like that.
ML: It’s like, they say if you win in the NBA that you’ve won a world title. No, you didn’t. No you didn’t. You didn’t win the world championships. Is the NFL a world title? No. Let’s be honest. You’re not the world champions (laughs). You might be the best team in the country, for sure.
5PM: It’s saying that “we’re the best out of those participating in the exact same thing we’re doing that we invented.”
ML: Yeah. That’s all it is. But some of these young guys have big balls, they have big goals, and they’re willing to do things differently. People can do things differently. Look at Apple, they do things differently and they’re successful. These are the businesses and individuals in this world that look at things differently, they see the world differently and they come at it with a different approach. Those are the companies, those are the individuals that we recognize and revere. But it’s risky. It’s definitely risky to step off the path and take your own road. But a lot of these athletes get stuck in the grooves, man, they get stuck in that rut. That’s their path and they can’t get out of those ruts.
5PM: What are the risks? You said “risky.”
ML: It’s risky because they are going to get criticized, it’s going to be, ‘Oh man, you’re not doing this, you’re not doing that.’ They’re not doing what everyone else has done. That’s the risk. Being socially ostracized because they’re willing to do something different. Then there is also the risk that you’re not going to be successful. I mean, there’s always a risk you’re not going to succeed. These guys are trying to be the best in the world. That’s a pretty bold thing to do.
5PM: Okay, so things are upbeat it would seem.
ML: Yes, we have a really good attitude going into this tournament. The guys know that this is it man, this is the last chance for real. This isn’t the second to last chance or the first last chance – this is the last chance. They are up for the challenge. They’re in good spirits, they’re up for it. All three of these guys are more than capable of getting this job done. We’re going to help them along the way and provide the support to get them there. We’re excited about this. We’re not scared, we’re not nervous about this. We are excited about what’s in front of us and looking forward to the challenge. They are all capable. For sure.