Coaches, I could not leave you out of the Fargo Survival Series! This tournament can be just as rough, if not rougher, on the coaches than the wrestlers. 2016 will be my fourteenth trip to Fargo, North Dakota for the Cadet and Junior Nationals and in 18 years of teaching and coaching, I have missed only three: 1999 and 2000 while I was coaching in Maryland; and 2002 when I took classes to earn my Virginia teacher’s certification. 2016 marks 13 years in a row for myself and Fargo. I have learned to love the Fargo Dome and its less than stellar Wi-Fi as well as Sandy Stevens’s announcements to clear the floor.
At least the wrestlers get to sit down for an hour or two in between matches, while you will be on your feet all day on old school AstroTurf that is unkind to feet, shins, knees, and well, pretty much the rest of your body. If I didn’t know better, I would assume this is why Gimp from New Jersey walks around barefoot all week. But knowing Gimp for almost thirty years, the guy barely ever wears shoes. I digress. Fargo is going to take a lot out of you, coaches.
Why are you at the Fargo Nationals?
For starters, decide why you really made the journey out to Fargo: To coach and network? Or to socialize and coach a few matches? When I first made the 24-hour drive from Virginia to Fargo, I wanted to do it all: Coach, network, socialize, etc. In those early years, I made a ton of poor decisions which make for great stories, but in retrospect were just plain stupid. Find me throughout the week and I will share some of them with you. But you are mistaken if you think you can do your job while staying out past last call all week. Eventually, you will mess up and either miss a session or show up late. Try explaining that to the kid you have spent the last two weeks, months, or whatever working with who depends on you to be in his corner.
I’m not saying that you should go right to sleep when the session ends, but keep in mind why you are in Fargo. Like the rest of you, I enjoy socializing at the Bison Turf with a Grain Belt, catching up with old friends, but I do my very best to get out of there early. The 7:00am weigh-ins come way too fast and I want to be there to help if any of my wrestlers need to shed their last bit of weight. Everything should be done with perspective. It took me almost ten Fargo’s to learn this harsh lesson. My first priority in Fargo is the wrestlers. The wrestlers depend on me to be there to get them warmed up, pumped up, and ready to go. Trying to do this while hung over is not going to work.
The second thing you need to do for a successful week in Fargo is be organized! If you have been given a specific group of kids to coach, be sure that they know you will be in their corner. There is nothing worse for a wrestler than to not have a coach he is comfortable with in their corner. With the advent of technology, TrackWrestling’s mobile site allows users to bring up a schedule of their state’s wrestlers. Keep this handy and periodically refresh the site. It tends to move faster than the bout board on the jumbo screens. It’s awesome if the coach shows up mat-side before the wrestler. Keep a water bottle and towel handy for in between periods. I actually carry a few towels in my bag in case a wrestler bleeds on one.
Hang onto your wrestler’s belongings as he warms up and wrestles. Wrestlers have a tendency to toss their clothes all over the place as they warm up and you do not want your kids to have their equipment stolen. If they lose their ID badge, it will be impossible for the wrestler to get down on the floor to wrestle in the first place.
The next thing you should do to make Fargo an awesome experience is wear comfortable shoes/clothing! If you are a Fargo newbie, you will understand this at the end of day 1 when your entire lower body aches from running from mat to mat on the AstroTurf. AstroTurf over concrete is not kind to your feet! I’ve tried everything from adding insoles to my shoes to wearing my trusty Birkenstocks, but not much helps ease the stress on your lower body.
Take care of yourself, too
Stay hydrated, caffeinated, and fed. You’re going to be on the move much of the day, so staying hydrated is an absolute necessity. The Red River Coffee Company on the main floor of the Dome is an excellent source of caffeine. And the baristas are some of the friendliest people in Fargo! They always have a smile on their faces and know how to make your day a little better. Finding food on the run can be dicey. I plan on keeping some protein bars in my bag to munch on throughout the day.
Find the hidden, secret, clean bathroom! This is a must when you have to go number two! I make it a point at whatever tournament I am at to find the secret bathroom. And when you find that glorious bathroom, keep it clean! No one enjoys walking into what they think is a special bathroom, only to find it unkempt.
Meet some new people
Network, network, network! Fargo brings some of the best coaches and officials in the country together. Get to know each other. Wrestling is not so big of a sport that we can’t get to know one another. Some of my best friends are coaches and officials I have met throughout the years. Pick each other’s brains about technique, training, and so forth. I have learned so much wrestling through observation and questioning coaches.
For the married coaches whose spouses are at home: Keep in touch with your significant others! They need to know you are alive and surviving Fargo. Even if it’s a five minute call in between sessions, it’s probably a good thing to do to stay in the good graces of your spouse. One would think that this doesn’t need to be said, but having “forgotten” to make that call a few times proved costly.
Most of all, have fun and enjoy the experience! Fargo is one of the best places to network, watch great wrestling, and grow as a coach. Although I will be extremely tired after a week in Fargo, I would not trade it for anything. I would not continue the annual journey to North Dakota if I didn’t like it. We want to continue growing our sport and Fargo is a great way to help out. You will return home a changed person – for the better, I hope.
I look forward to seeing many of you in a next week in the Bison Center, in the Fargo Dome, at Buffalo Wild Wings, and even at the Bison Turf! We can discuss coaching philosophy, play a little black jack, or swap stories. I know I have plenty of funny ones to share. See you all soon! Travel safe.