Five Point Move is proud to host USA Greco-Roman National Team head coach Matt Lindland each week for Coach Lindland’s Report. Here is where you will find detailed perspectives from Coach Lindland regarding results, training, upcoming events, and other Greco-related news that isn’t available anywhere else. ALSO — if you would like to donate directly to the US Greco-Roman program, just click here. Your support is appreciated!
It’s a very special week for the United States Greco-Roman program as the top Senior athletes from this country and Serbia are participating in a joint training camp leading up to the much-talked about dual meet between the two teams this coming Saturday. Lindland provides a synopsis on the camp and also discusses a couple of the US performances from the Zagreb Grand Prix, Alex Sancho‘s move to Colorado Springs, how the new rules look so far, and why athletes need to maintain a semblance of order off the mat in their everyday lives.
5PM: What does it say about a kid like Xavier Johnson, who is still raw at this point, to be pretty inexperienced and go to a tournament like Zagreb and not only bring back a medal his first time out, but to also defeat a terrific Junior World champ after having already lost to him earlier in the day?
Coach Matt Lindland: Well, I think it shows a lot of resilience in that he came back after he lost to a really good guy and then came back to beat a really good guy. He made some adjustments, made some improvements, and that’s the whole point of getting ourselves overseas and getting the competition and experience. So I’m super-proud that all of the guys went out and competed hard. We got some matches in and I’m super-excited that we’re bringing home a medal from a really quality tournament. It’s a very tough event and it has been for the last few years. It was no different this year. If you look at the results, some of the better guys in the world were competing, so it’s nice to see the guys get out there and we’re starting our camp here in Boise, and we’ll have some more guys going out on the road real soon to Cuba and Denmark. This is the time of year when things start getting exciting and fun.
5PM: Michael Rodgers is a guy you see all of the time in Colorado Springs. He was kind of itching to get out to Croatia for this event. Knowing his skills and background, what was the most important component for him participating at this tournament from a competitive aspect?
ML: The thing we were asking Mike to focus on for this trip was what he could control. We talked before he left, Can you control if your head is up and your legs are underneath you, and you’re keeping your opponent moving his feet and you are creating angles? Those are the type of things we talked about and when I get to the film, that’s what I’ll be watching for. Was Michael doing those things? I’m not going to approach it like, Did he win? It’s funny, the other day in practice one of our coaches goes to Mike, You’ve been here like a year and a half! Mike says, Nah, I’ve been here for like four months (laughs). He has really just arrived out here and gotten started with us, and he’s made huge gains in a short period of time and I know he has been itching to get out there and compete.
Now he is going to spend the next five weeks in Europe. We’re just looking for him to constantly grow and improve, and to keep stepping up, making those adjustments, and getting better. We’re not looking for big wins from Mike right now, we’re just looking for growth and improvement. I’ll be happy when I look at that film and see him creating angles, moving his feet, and keeping his body in the proper position. I’m excited. I know he fought hard and competed well against a very tough opponent (Aleksandr Hrabovik), somebody who is one of the better guys in that weight class.
5PM: You’re in Boise right now, you guys have the camp leading up to the dual on Saturday. Do you know what the general curriculum is going to be?
ML: I know exactly what the general curriculum is going to be because I put the wrestling plans together. The training camp is going to consist of one Suples System workout with Ivan (Ivanov) and those are probably going to be 60 to 90 minutes, but not all high-intensity, obviously. There is going to be a lot of teaching in there for the athletes and the coaches both. Ivan is going to talk to us about programming and when to use his tools and how to use them properly for different periodizations. The athletes are going to learn a little better technique with his equipment, because there are certain things that really matter. It’s just like wrestling, if you try to muscle everything, it just doesn’t work as efficiently and smoothly as opposed to if you can learn to use your hips more and get your body to start coordinating things.
We sent Kamal (Bey) out here for one week and after he came back, it was like he was an expert with that piece of equipment because he started working with Ivan and understanding how to properly use these tools. When he (Ivan) went up to Northern and spent a week with those athletes, now they have a really good grasp on how to use the equipment properly and how to get the most benefit out of it. We haven’t had Ivan out for a week in Colorado, (Camp) Lejeune, or Minnesota, so we’re going to bring a bunch of guys together from all of the different clubs and hopefully, they can go back and share that information with all of their teammates and we can get more benefit out of using this equipment than we have been.
5PM: January and its Winter Strength Training Camp is wrapped up and now February is here, a month in which you said that its arrival would signal a very busy time. With everything going on, from Zagreb and the stuff going on this week in Boise to Cuba and the Armed Forces, it certainly seems that way.
Coach Matt Lindland: I really hoped the January camp would set the tone. We didn’t schedule events in January to focus on our strength and conditioning cycle that we talked about extensively. We just started getting our guys back on the mat and now we’re in Boise training before the dual meet on the 11th. Not to mention that at the same time, we have an upper-weight camp in Colorado Springs. It’s actually not just the upper-weights. I mean, it is an upper-weight camp, but we also have some residents who are still in town and aren’t part of the Serbia delegation in Boise.
But yeah, I’m really getting excited to see our guys compete because I feel that we are going to see the dividends of this strength and conditioning cycle we just finished. It’s a good plan; I’m seeing the guys’ bodies transform, I’m seeing them become more explosive, and they have increased their lifts in every area, be them snatches, squats, or deadlifts. Their times on their circuit workouts have increased, also. Everything is looking great and then we’re getting into what I wanted to get into, which is lift guys off the mat, take them off the mat and put our opponents into danger. And we’re doing that. We’re doing high reps, 50 lifts a practice. We’re lifting guys off the mat, we’re driving with our legs better. So I’m already seeing the benefits of this strength cycle that we put the guys through and I’m really excited to see them compete.
We’ve got a lot of guys going to a lot of different places. We just had a delegation of athletes in Zagreb and our young guys who are becoming immersed in Greco-Roman in Europe are going to see a huge benefit. I told Rodgers just before, I said, “You know Mike, you’ve been out here for six months, you’re going to see as much growth in these next five weeks as you did in these last six months.” And it’s not to diminish what we’re doing out here in Colorado, but the fact that you have to figure out things, you have to adjust, and you have to be really flexible in your mindset. You might show up at the airport and say, the Croatians might not be there to pick you up and you have to figure out where your hotel is or order an Uber — whatever it is — we’ve all gone through that experience and it helps facilitate growth on and off the mat. It’s going to help Rodgers.
He is just so explosive but he’s also a neophyte. He is just barely figuring out how to walk on the mats in a Greco-Roman environment. You know, it’s symptomatic of what we see in the United States. We have these athletes who wear it like a badge of an honor, Oh, I’m a three-style athlete. It’s like, Three styles? What do you mean three styles? We’re wrestling Greco-Roman here at the training center. It’s about really converting these athletes into developing a definitive skill-set where you can look at this guy, and not only look at him, but also talk to him and say, THIS is a Greco-Roman athlete. You hear them and they’ll say, This is what I want to do, I don’t want to grab legs. I want to throw guys, I want to pick them up and put them on their heads. I remember two years ago when Michael was on the Junior World Team and he was so disappointed that he didn’t compete well. I didn’t expect him to compete well, he wasn’t training properly. He was still training folkstyle and listening to college coaches who were telling him he could do both styles and be successful in everything. At this level, it’s hard to chase two rabbits. You’ve got to focus on one discipline. I’m not saying I know for sure at what age that happens, but from what we’re seeing in the changing of the tide in some of our athletes, it’s around 16, 17-years-old. I think if you want to be a Greco-Roman wrestler at the Olympic Games and you want to compete for a World medal, I think at 16, 17-years-old you have got to say, This is going to be my focus.
We’re really happy to have Michael in our program 100% focused. He had said, “I don’t know why I’m even doing this folkstyle.” I was like, “Yeah, I don’t know, either, but if you ever decide to switch over to Greco, there is a place for you at the training center.” After one year of college he made that decision and we’re seeing other guys make that transition now, and we’re not pushing them. I’ve asked. I remember after Sam Stoll blew his knee out for the second time wrestling folkstyle. He was an incredible Greco-Roman wrestler. So I reached out to him, We have a place for you in Northern or in Colorado Springs if you want to transition over. Because I look at guys like Sam or Mike and I’m like, You are a square peg trying to squeeze yourself into a round hole. You’re more suited for Greco-Roman the way you wrestle. But we’re seeing the culture change, Tim. We’re definitely seeing it change and guys are understanding that they can have success in Greco-Roman and they don’t have to follow the traditional path, the path that everyone else has taken along the way.
5PM: Alex Sancho just moved out to Colorado Springs after spending about a half-decade up at Northern. It’s a big change for him. How has he been assimilating into the new environment thus far?
ML: It has been a seamless transition, to tell you the truth. He has great relationships with all of the athletes out here and the coaching staff, and it has been a breath of fresh air to have him in the room. It has been exciting. It has been just over a couple of weeks since he came out here. We’re really pleased to have him in the room, just what a hard worker and what a disciplined athlete he is. We’ve talked a lot about what are the things we need to work on, and really with Alex, it is trusting.
He knows himself really well as an athlete. Alex is honest with himself and that is really beneficial to an athlete. And he realizes that he needs to work on some mental skills, but at the same time, he didn’t have a mental skills coach. So we connected him with Dr. Jack Stark, our mental skills coach for the Greco-Roman team. If Jack is a great fit, awesome. But if he’s not, we have other guys we can try as other options. We’ve got a lot of great resources at the Olympic Training Center, I just felt like Jack would be a good fit and so far, so good. He and Jack are talking and Jack is coaching him on some mental skills.
I think that is where he is going to make a huge difference. I mean, yeah, it’s great that he’s in a different environment with new partners to raise his level. But at the end of the day, Alex Sancho is an incredible wrestler, he’s a risk taker…there is a lot to be said about an athlete who takes risks and puts himself in danger in order to execute techniques and try to score points. Alex is really good at that, but when it’s important, he has had a tendency to close down and become conservative, and that is just not his style. When he wrestles
wide-open up to his abilities I don’t think there is anyone in the world who can hang with the guy. So if we can figure out what that missing piece was and I think it might be the mental skills coach, we’re happy he’s working with Jack right now and out here as part of our resident program. We’ve got Kamal, we’ve got RaVaughn (Perkins), we’ve got Corey (Hope) — he can wrestle with all of those guys who are in our room. And he’s going to raise the level of our program, absolutely, so we’re excited to have him here.
5PM: How athletes live off the mat, does that affect the manner in which they approach training and competition overall? We hear about different lifestyles, achieving balance, and so forth. Senior athletes are by and large starting to become introduced to their primes but even before that, there are a lot of identity changes in high school. Living circumstances are adjusted to participate in this sport at a high level, so does the way you live and structure your lifestyle off the mat really affect performance on it?
ML: I think that is one of the most neglected aspects for some of the athletes in our program across the board. I’m not talking about OTC residents or Army, Minnesota, Cornell, or Northern, I’m talking about globally as athletes. You even mentioned high school. This is a message for everybody who has high aspirations and goals for our sport. For me, I was married as a young athlete, so I had the structure and the balance at home. Routine is absolutely necessary for our athletes.
The acts of life we repeat everyday, we need to automate those things. They need to be turned into stable, reliable habits so that they lose their complexity and gain predictability and simplicity. We have to have simplicity, discipline, and structure off the mat. If you cannot make your bed in the morning, clean your room, fold your laundry, and put your clothes away, how do you expect to handle life when you step on the mat? Because when you do step on the mat, you’re stepping into a chaotic world. When you get on that mat, it is absolute chaos, which is what is so fascinating and intriguing about our sport.
You don’t know what’s going to happen. You may have wrestled that same athlete before and it’s never going to be the same match. The same guy, you could wrestle the same guy 20 times and you’re never going to have the same exact score, the same exact match that you had before. Therefore, you have to understand the value in incorporating a disciplined structure off the mat, because when you step on the mat, it’s going to be chaos. If you don’t have one foot in chaos and one foot in discipline and structure, it is very difficult to live.
If your whole life is about chaos, you’re probably waking up in the morning only to roll out of bed just in time to scramble yourself to practice, and then you’re missing one of your wrestling shoes. There just has to be routine, there has to be structure. There has to be this really sensitive routine that can be predictable, because that is what is going to allow you to have success on the mat where everything is chaotic.
You know, we’re going to tell our athletes the plan and the structure and they may have a general outline. But even so, when you hear, Oh, we’re going to 10 one-minute go’s and 12 20-second par-terre go’s, whatever it is, you might understand that on a theoretical basis. But when RaVaughn Perkins gets on top of you and snatches you off the mat to throw you through the air, you know you’re in chaos right then and you have to figure out how to be structured and disciplined in that moment. So there has to be this incredible balance between the two.
It’s a little hard to describe because what I’m talking about is a really big concept that says, Get your shit in order. Get your life in order. Everything about your life off the mat has to be structured and it has to be disciplined. When you eat, when you train, what you’re doing in-between training, when you sleep, when you wake up…we have to have that discipline and structure so we can handle the chaos when we step on the mat whether that is for training or competition. It’s a fine balance, but I mean, you’re walking a tightrope, you really are. You are walking on that rope with one foot completely in chaos, but it is a great metaphor for our sport if you think about it. You step into the danger zone, right? You step in the danger zone, you get that leg up underneath that guy’s hips. That’s chaos! But you have that back leg, though, and it’s still balancing you because you have a low center of gravity. That’s the structure, it is literally structured.
When you talk about that balance between chaos and structure, it is an analogy for our sport for stepping up underneath that guy. You don’t know what’s going to happen when you take ahold of that guy’s body. Are you going to throw him? Or is he going to counter your attack and throw you? Or are you going to be successful in your execution? I love that concept of structure and discipline, and chaos, because I feel it is a great metaphor for our sport. Does that answer your question?
5PM: Yes, but to be clear, you’re not just expressing this concept to those who want to be mere participants, right? Are these essentially conceptual guidelines singular to athletes who are aiming to be successful at the highest level?
ML: I think these are pillars of life. This is really my first job. I had been an independent contractor as an athlete and as a businessman, running businesses between SportFight and my management company, or my gyms. But yeah, business is chaotic (laughs). When you throw a huge sum of money at an investment, you don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s a risk. Wrestling is a risk. You can train and prepare as much as you want, but when you step out there you don’t know what is going to happen, and you have to be prepared to take that risk. It’s the same thing with life and business. When I got married, I didn’t know if this was going to be the right woman. I hoped, I vetted her pretty well (laughs). But at the end of the day, she could have been a crazy whacko. She’s a great mother, a great wife, but at the time I asked her to marry me, it was a little chaotic.
But I was grounded in who I was, I knew who I was, and I knew I was disciplined and I knew what I wanted out of life. And it’s the same thing with business. I threw a bunch of money at my business. I rented a building, bought mats, hired coaches, hired staff, and at the end of the day if the workers are going to fail, I don’t know that. But I had the structured discipline behind these decisions.
There is nothing that is going to be successful with chaos. You’re either too timid to take a chance which means you’ll never give yourself an opportunity to be successful; or you can step in and be brave, set a goal, take a risk and go for that opportunity. But behind you, you still have to have that discipline, predictability, and simplicity in your life. If your whole life is chaotic, and then when you step on the mat it’s chaotic, you’re never going to have that structure and discipline behind you. That is what I’m trying to say.
5PM: Switching gears, when it comes to video, what is the software you guys use? Is it Dartfish?
ML: That is our software of choice but it isn’t what we always watch video on. What I’ve really been excited about lately is that we have been doing a lot of film sessions on Friday afternoons. We just started this during the last month with our strength cycle and the guys are bringing stuff that they’re watching. They’re sending me videos or texting, asking, Why wasn’t this four points? They are asking questions, they’re engaged, they are watching film and sometimes, I don’t have the answer. I’ll respond with, I don’t know why the ref didn’t score it four but here are my thoughts, so I’ll answer back with whatever I’m thinking. But what I want to hear is why you don’t think it’s four points. What would it take for you if you had that guy in that position and it was you executing that technique? How would you score four instead of two? But they are asking the questions, they’re engaged, they are having fun with it and enjoying it.
The way we’re doing these Friday group sessions is that every week someone brings a video in. It could be from the ’16 Olympics, Poddubny two weeks ago, Takhti last week, and we could be talking about the new par terre position and if we should be standing up off the bottom…it’s just guys who are really loving what they’re doing. They are having fun learning, picking up things, and studying. I was so blessed when I was an athlete. I had an opportunity to get in the film room and it was a little different. We didn’t have YouTube, we didn’t have digital film, we had VHS. And I had to break down film from VHS and I was doing the editing for USA Wrestling at the time, taking films I created and implementing a system called FATE — Foreign Athlete Technical Evaluation. It was just an acronym I made up. But I really was determining my own fate because I knew if I was studying these guys, I wouldn’t just figure out how to beat them, but I could also figure out how to become better just by picking up different strategies, tactics, and techniques, mindset and mentality. I mean, there are so many things you can gain by watching film.
It doesn’t always have to be a really active process where you are studying. You could just be watching and what I mean by that is, I like Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, and Brooklyn 9-9, those are about my only shows. I have Hulu, I canceled TV a decade ago just because I didn’t see the value in it any longer. Then my wife wanted us to be able to watch movies together and those are the only shows we watch. But it can be that kind of environment where you’re just watching, and there can be another time where you are studying, really trying to figure things out. I think both have a lot of value. There are times when you can just be watching a tournament, just checking out what happens and seeing the results. And I think there are times where you are really studying how something happened and what took place during a bout that stood out or how a certain technique was executed. I love watching film, it’s one of my favorite things to do.
But yeah, Dartfish is great. We have a department at the USOC that tags the videos at scoring moments. So we can watch a video and then go back and watch at that one point where the actual scoring action took place, and then we scroll back three seconds before to see how it was set up. Did he attack the wrist? Did he attack the elbow? Did he make his opponent step? There are so many little details you can figure out, and those are the details that matter, those finite things you’re picking up. A really naive guy can look at that and go, Oh, that’s really simple. But when you go into the practice room trying to execute that same maneuver, and you’re not having success, then you have to go back and really figure out why it worked in the video but not in practice. Once you figure out why, then you can start figuring out how you can do that. If you can understand why, you can figure out how, for sure.
But there is a time and place for both. There is a time and place to watch, and there is a time and place to study. I think we’re doing both. We have so many great minds in our room between the athletes and the coaches, and we’re having discussions, we’re having debates on why. Maybe we don’t always come to a conclusion, maybe there a couple of different reasons why. But then we get the opportunity to go into the room and experiment. That is where our lab is, on the mats, and we’re testing our hypotheses why something worked. From there, we not only able to replicate what we’re seeing, but also, able to make it our own technique, and I think that is where the real art comes in.
5PM: You referred to the Poddubny and the Takhti Cup, which are two of the more high-profile events to have taken place so far under the new rule-set. What is your general impression so far?
ML: Thus far? Great question. Thus far, I still think we’re still kind of waiting for that first par terre and then we’re seeing a lot of guys trying to hold a lead. My perspective is we need to find a way to go out and score in those first two minutes. We need to eliminate that par terre by putting points on the board from our feet. Now that guy has to come to us. If we are able to execute early and put ourselves in a vulnerable position, accept that we’re going to be in chaos, and then step into it and attempt to score, now our opponent has to come to us.
When we’re not urgent to score, we can score because he’s coming at us, and that opens up so many more opportunities. When you’re behind and you have to score, now half of your offense is shut down because he’s not coming at you, he’s not attacking. So you’re losing half of your offensive attacks due to the simple fact that he doesn’t need to score now. He can just hold position and sit back. If his head is up, his chest is in, and he’s not grabbing fingers, he isn’t going to get put down. If he’s still wrestling or at least looking active, he doesn’t have to score. He can just hold position and we’ll lose half of our offensive opportunities. But if we go out there and execute early and take risks as bold athletes, and we do score, now I think everything is going to open up to us.
Philosophically, I still believe that we have to understand the fact that we don’t want to go to par terre. Whether we get on top or we go down, that is something the official determines, so it is out of our hands. We want to control what we can control. If we’re moving our feet, keeping pressure on our opponents, and backing them up and getting to our ties, the officiating is calling that “active wrestling” or “hooking” — underhooks, overhooks, two-on-one’s…they want to see you hooking an opponent. If we’re doing those things, we’re going to put ourselves in position to create opportunities to score. There has to be a bit of a sense of urgency to score, and if fate should have it that we don’t because we’re wrestling another world class athlete and sometimes in those matches it’s tough to score, then hopefully we’re being offensive enough to get put on top. If it goes the other way and we get called passive, I think there are opportunities to escape. We’re starting to study some of that stuff. That might even be an advantage to American wrestlers because I don’t think there is an American on our team who hasn’t done a stand-up from the mat. I think there are opportunities there.
But certainly, if we get opportunities from top we must execute. He is in a much more vulnerable position when he’s down in par terre. The lines of defense are head, chest hands, elbows, hips. If you are starting on top of an opponent you have already breached all of his lines of defense.There is a significant advantage if we get on top, which is kind of what this lifting cycle has been about. My vision is to see us become strong and explosive enough to lift opponents off the mat and execute four-point throws. If there aren’t four-point opportunities, then certainly gut. And if we’re going to gut, then gut in a combination. As a coach, I really preach multiple executions on top. The best time to score on an opponent is after you just scored. If you lift a guy, follow up with another lift or a gut. If you gut a guy, follow up with a lift right away. There are a lot of opportunities to be seized when you’re willing to take a risk. We see it happen when we watch film, a lot of those scores from par terre are multiple scores. Don’t take that top chance for granted. Be very aggressive and serious about executing your techniques when you get that chance on top.
But as far as what I’ve been watching, I haven’t seen the officials enforce the rules as much as I had hoped or anticipated. We’re still seeing heads down and we’re still seeing guys not take hold, head up and chest-to-chest. I even saw today that they are starting to make some rule adjustments. They haven’t come out yet necessarily, but the word on the street is that leg fouls will be two and a caution. I know we said everything is going to be one and a caution, but for Greco-Roman I have a feeling we’re going to see a caution-and-two for defensive leg fouls. The second leg foul will not only be a caution, but also a disqualification. Then something that is kind of new are offensive leg fouls. An offensive leg foul is when you attack a guy and hook his leg, sweep his leg somehow and it’s judged as such. The first time will be a warning, the second time will be a caution. I think we’re going to see that come down the pike real soon as far as some tweaks to the rules. But hopefully what we’re seeing is the referees enforcing active wrestling.
I’d just like to see it more active. We have such a beautiful sport but if we’re allowing the athletes to be passive and block, we’re not going to see the true beauty and art of Greco-Roman wrestling, and that would be a shame. I don’t think it’s necessarily about changing the rules, just applying the things we said we were going to do.
5PM: In your mind, define the difference between enable and empower.
Coach Matt Lindland: What I would say philosophically, is that when you enable someone, you’re guiding them step-by-step instead of teaching them. It’s like the old Proverb, Do we give a man a fish? Or do we teach him how to fish? And I think that is the difference between enabling and empowering someone. If you teach them how to think for themselves, how to grow as a human, how to continually improve, you’re empowering them. But if you are showing them and telling them everything they need to do step-by-step, you are enabling somebody.
I constantly see this with the younger guys we work with and even some of the Senior athletes to an extent, and it is just the systems some have grown up in developmentally. It was, This is how you do it instead of saying, How are you going to do it?, and letting them come up with the ideas of why and how. Giving them guidelines, giving them the structure and the architecture, and saying, Here are the general principles. You know, You need your head up, your hips down, a low center of gravity, you need to drive with your leg, you need your hips underneath you, and your elbows in tight. Okay, those are fundamental things we all need to continually develop, grow, and improve. But understanding that the athlete needs to develop his own identity — because this is just such an individualized sport, it’s so dynamic — that if I move this way he is going to move that way, and you can start to figure it out on your own.
That is what I try to do, create that environment to where I don’t want these guys to wrestle like me. They are younger, more athletic, and more explosive than I ever was. So I am thrilled to just have the opportunity to work with these guys, it’s an honor. But some of them want that guidance. They want that because that’s how they were taught in our public school systems. Here is the material, remember this, here’s the test. The test is how you are going to perform on the mat. That’s the test. You step on the mat at the World Championships, you step on the mat at the Olympic Games, that’s the test. All of the other stuff you’re doing is experimentation and exploration, and I want our guys to explore and experiment. And I want them to figure out what is going to work best for them. I’m never going to tell someone, This is how I want you to do it. I think I want to give a lot of guidelines and I want to give a lot of direction. But I really want them to figure out how they are going to create their own art out there on the mat and how they are going to be successful. I think that’s the difference between enable and empower.