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.
It’s coming ever closer. With the US Greco Roman Olympic Team leaving for Brazil in just under two weeks, we ask Coach Lindland about how the athletes are doing overall and if there is ever a need for him to step in and limit distractions. In addition, we also discuss the valuable role of the volunteer assistant coaches and touch on the successful Northern Michigan program which has once again making headlines on both the national and international stage.
5PM: You guys went to Houston for processing last Saturday in Houston. What exactly is processing?
Coach Matt Lindland: You get all your swag. You get all your stuff, man. That’s the whole deal. You get all your gear, your bags, your uniform.
5PM: Oh, so it’s not a situation of them getting medical checks and things like that?
ML: Nope. No, you get your gear. They go over Rule 40 and 50 pretty clearly. They talk about media, they talk about expectations, standards of an Olympian and representing the United States type stuff. But you get a lot of cool gear.
5PM: So all of the shirts, warm-ups, singlets, stuff like that is what they got out there?
ML: Their singlets come from USA Wrestling. The shoes that they’ll wear on the mats are obviously from their personal sponsors. But everything else is either Nike or Ralph Lauren-branded stuff. That’s the only gear you can wear outside of your performance uniforms and your singlets and shoes.
5PM: Okay, I thought it was more involved and a lot cooler than that.
ML: Well it is pretty cool after two hard weeks of training camp getting on a plane and getting two duffel bags of gear, one from Nike, one from Ralph Lauren. It’s like Christmas twice. It’s pretty cool. I think the guys enjoyed it. They had fun, you know, it was a good time after they were a little tired after training. Go out there and have a little Christmas morning.
We went and watched a ball game afterwards, I don’t know if you saw that. We took in a Houston Astros game, took in a good time that night. And got on a plane and came home the next morning.
5PM: I don’t know if this is necessary for you, I don’t presume it is. But it’s worth asking given the era we live in where everyone is so connected to each other and so many media outlets. Do you have to limit distractions for your wrestlers and if so, how do you go about it?
ML: Yeah I mean, that’s a great question and I think it’s my job to help these guys anyway I can and limiting distractions is part of that. But it’s also inevitable that things are going to be distracting. You have relationships and parents who want their time and attention. You’ve got significant others whether it’s wives, kids, girlfriends… All of those are distractions you can’t really get too involved in. But there are distractions you can help the guys with. The media, you can kind of filter some of that stuff. You know their times so they are not bugging your athletes. You tell them, These are the times and I’ll let them know you’re going to call at this time or they’re going to call you. So they’re not bugging the guys and giving them phone calls. I mean, life is distracting, to tell you the truth. You have got to be there to talk to them and help them out.
But you do, you want them to relax and get away from the training environment. And when they’re away from the training environment you don’t want them to be overwhelmed by everyone who wants to be around them, their friends, their families…just people who want to spend time with this guy because he just made an Olympic team and they think it’s cool. So yes, I do think it’s part of my role, to do that.
5PM: Does it seem different now than for the Olympics in 2000? I don’t know if that’s imagined or not. I mean, it is different in that there is more attention on Olympic athletes now just because of the media culture than it was for you going to Sydney, isn’t it?
Coach Matt Lindland: I don’t know anybody who could have possibly had more distractions than I had in 2000.
5PM: Well that is an absolutely fair point.
ML: Everyone knows that story. And on top of that, I had two kids and a wife, and I had all of the obligations the athletes have now. The media wants to talk to you and even more so when you’re going through a controversial court case. Yeah, I don’t know. I would say at least for me, personally, I don’t think anyone is as distracted as I was. I didn’t know I was going to the Olympics until the day we left and got on a plane. We went from processing straight to the Olympics like the freestyle and women are supposed to do next week. The reason we went into processing early is because we have an entirely different philosophy and plan, so we’re not going in until four days before we compete. And that is part of it, going back to your earlier question about limiting distractions, that is the exact point of us going in four days before competition. Because, in Rio, that is going to be a distraction, being around that city and around that many people during an event the entire world is watching. I think that is the biggest thing that I’m doing, which is helping them avoid those distractions.
And we are going to have an opportunity to walk in the Opening Ceremonies here in Colorado Springs in front of our hometown. All of these athletes on the team live in Colorado Springs, so it is their hometown, really. There will be 10-15,000 people downtown. But we don’t have to stand in line for 12 hours. We’re going to show up and each athlete gets to run half a block and they are going to hand the torch to Bruce Baumgartner, wave, and get back home to our own beds and sleep. I’m limiting distractions the best I can, but I still want these athletes to have as many opportunities as they can to enjoy this experience, as well. But the experience isn’t why we’re going to Rio. We’re going to Rio to bring home some medals.
5PM: It’s July 28th, so we’re about two weeks until you guys leave. You’re leaving the 10th.
ML: We leave the 10th, arrive on the 11th, 9:00am. We’re actually going out later in the afternoon on Wednesday. I think it’s a 3pm flight into Houston and then on a connection to Rio. We land somewhere around 9:00am.
5PM: Rio is what, a five hour difference from Springs? No, it’s three hours.
ML: It’s a three hour difference and the reason we’re going in four days before is because it is going to take three days to acclimate. One day per time zone change and we’re just going to give ourselves a little buffer day in there. Plus, the guys have to make weight, so there is that part of it. It lets us give them an extra day to cut weight so they don’t have to keep it down while they are traveling. But everyone is going to have their weight under control when we go in. It’s just that last dehydration part, whatever, two, two and half kilos, dehydrate, and put that back on.
5PM: The last time we talked it was coming off of the second full week…
ML: Of Olympic camp. We gave the guys some time off, the Olympians had some time off, we got back on the mat today and we had a really great practice. It was good. We were on the mat and off the mat in one hour exactly with all of our work done. You can tell we’re really cutting back on the volume. The intensity is super hard, super short, and we just want to keep the athletes fresh and healthy right now. They’re ready. They are ready to go. They’re peaking and we just have to hold that until it’s time to step on the mat and perform.
5PM: This might be somewhat redundant, but how did last Friday’s workout go?
Coach Matt Lindland: Phenomenal. Actually, it went just like I envisioned it to go the first week (laughs). It took a little more coordination on my part. I guess you could tell the guys, you could post it on the wall, but on top of it you should still email and text them a reminder. But lesson learned. Like I’ve said, this job is a lot about being able to communicate to the different stakeholders and your athletes are the most important stakeholders in the whole game. I mean, if it wasn’t for our athletes, they wouldn’t need USA Wrestling. They wouldn’t need me to coach them. So it is all about them and if there is someone I need to communicate with in the way they are going to understand it, I guess it falls on me to learn how to communicate so the message gets across regardless. Not the way I feel like I should want to communicate, but the ways they are going to get the message and the information. I should just step up the channels I communicate through. I might need to get a little more active on Snapchat, maybe that’ll help me (laughs).
5PM: So you’re virtually two weeks away from leaving. How are you doing with all of this? How have your assessments been, how is your own confidence and your first-time experience being the head coach of the US Olympic Greco Roman Team?
ML: Well, even if I wasn’t confident I have to be confident, I’m the leader (laughs). But I am. I feel really good about first of all, the quality of athlete we have on the team. We have an outstanding team, we couldn’t have hand-picked a better team, to tell you the truth. So first and foremost, we’ve got really quality athletes and they are well prepared. They are all capable and they have executed the plan as asked of them — every bit of it and nobody has had a problem. And if we do have any problems, it’s communication and we discuss it and adjust. I think it really comes down to coaching each one of these guys as individuals and they all have different needs and just helping them get what they need specifically. We’re going in, we’re Team USA, we’re the Greco Roman team, but it comes down to that each one of these men has to step on the mat on their own half-naked, and they need to prepare on their own what’s best for them.
There is a time to be a team player and there is a time to be where you are always giving. But there is also a time when the moment of your life, you’ve been training your entire life, you get an opportunity to be in the Olympic Games, and you need to be a little selfish and think about what you need specifically. My coaching staff has been able to help each one of our athletes get exactly what they need individually. I think that is going to be really positive when it comes down to time to compete. I just see that working out for our athletes.
5PM: How have you enjoyed having Chris Saba and Mark Halvorson be part of this experience?
ML: These guys are not just faces and people that we put on the roster as, Hey, they’re coaches. These guys are working. They’re phenomenal workers. They wouldn’t be as successful in life if they didn’t know how to work and get the job done, and both of these guys have been a tremendous help to me and Momir. We’re just blessed to have both of them as part of the staff. They both bring different things to the table and I couldn’t do it without them, to tell you the truth. We’re set up as a volunteer organization and we have volunteers who are doing what they do. Especially the ones helping me. Mark, Chris, and all the other coaches who have been out here this week. Coaches like Derek Waldroup, Ahad, Shawn Sheldon, Lucas Steldt, Scott Cleaver, JD Robbins from the Florida Jets, Craig LaMont, and Gary Mayabb. We just have a lot of great people out here right now.
Even with the Juniors out here and still having a Senior team you still need to be utmost concerned with, we haven’t missed a beat. With the Junior team, the Cadet team, and our Senior team all out here the same week, all doing different plans, different programs. When it’s time to come together, the Juniors and the Cadets have been working out a lot and we’ve peeled over one or two of the Juniors and Cadets as a drill partner for Jesse (Thielke) and Tracy (Hancock) drills with Robby (Smith), so I mean, everybody is working together. It’s clear there is a pecking order. There is no question. The Olympic team went six minutes over today and the Juniors and Cadets gave them their space. They didn’t disrupt their training even though we were six minutes over into their training time. They showed the utmost respect to the Senior athletes and when they were done they got right on the mats and got to work. So whether we’re working separately or as a team, it’s coming together and we’re building quite a culture out here with the sport of Greco Roman.
5PM: Speaking of which, you’ve had some Juniors out there over the last what, week and a half?
ML: No, both weeks of the Olympic training camp we have had members of our Junior team participating. Taylor LaMont, Dalton Roberts, Tracy Hancock and Kamal Bey. LaMont and Kamal both went up to the Junior tournament for a couple of days of that camp. But mostly they were here. They literally used that tournament as a training day, both of them. They were working really hard in camp and looked at that as, Okay, I’m doing matches today for my training. Kamal has a little tear in his hamstring that he’s healing up. LaMont had a phenomenal tournament and then I saw he actually ended up wrestling freestyle, as well, and stuck around there for a couple of days. But yeah, I think they just used that as training because they know they are going to compete at the World Championships and both of those guys are serious athletes looking to get medals and perform. They aren’t looking to just have a great experience and get a vacation.
5PM: This youth movement seems to be growing more and more. Some of these Juniors who have been in Springs recently are from the Northern Michigan program. Another, Alston Nutter, has two years left in high school, but he’s leaving his high school wrestling career this year to start Greco earlier and train at Northern Michigan. The NMU program has once again started to reach the level of success it was at in the mid-2000’s, Couple that with the athletes who have ditched high school early to concentrate on Greco in Colorado Springs and this seems like a lot of momentum is being built up.
ML: I absolutely think that it’s not just that we’re getting younger athletes to make that decision, I think it’s also the athletes at Northern Michigan are making a huge effort to come to Colorado or come to California if there is a training camp out there. The Seniors did a training camp at Northern Michigan last year. We sent our entire Junior World Team up to Northern Michigan. We are not letting these athletes up in Northern Michigan become an island, where it’s the only thing they get to see. They have to get out and we have to get up there to train with them so it becomes one team, first of all. And they are taking knowledge back with them to their teammates, like, Here’s what I picked up at camp. I was training with Andy Bisek at the Olympic Training Center and he showed me this. Or, I was working out with Robby Smith and he added this little thing to my arm-throw. Whatever it is, they are taking that information, that knowledge, that inspiration, back up with them to Northern Michigan and they are sharing it with their teammates and everybody is getting better. For crying out loud, we had four athletes on the University team from Northern Michigan. It looked like an intersquad dual meet out there, to tell you the truth. And then on the Junior team, Northern Michigan has three athletes, as well, with two who train here at the Olympic Training Center and are full-time Greco athletes.
What we are starting to see more is the athletes who are fully-immersed in Greco are the ones who are probably going to start to getting on these teams. Whether it’s Juniors for now, but I think that is going to continue on down to the Cadets. If you’re not fully-focused on Greco by the time you are a Cadet I think you are going to get passed up, you’re going to get left behind. We’re starting to carve out our own path, our own direction the Greco program needs to go. It’s going to take time. We’re not going to get our 3% that we need until we hit critical mass and we have a mass exodus from the traditional folkstyle system and we start seeing younger athletes do it internationally. We have seen websites like FLO do huge features on people like Aaron Pico, but I haven’t seen the same kind of coverage on Tracy Hancock, for instance, who just turned 19 years old yesterday and is on his second World team and made the Senior National Team as an 18-year old athlete. I think we’re seeing this work. We are starting to match in America what the Europeans are doing, they’re having 19, 20-year old World champions and World medalists.
5PM: Tracy is an interesting case. Right next to him is Kamal Bey, and perhaps he’ll be making a Senior-level team in the semi-near future.
ML: I would think. He’s certainly capable if he stays on the right track and continues to do what he’s doing, there is no question he will be.
5PM: It doesn’t seem like this is an anomaly anymore. These kids, whether they are Junior or University-age athletes who have gone out to the OTC recently, it’s all over their social media. There is an element of pride to it, they know where they are, and I think that feeds into people and makes them want to be a part of it.
Coach Matt Lindland: We talk about knowing what your purpose is out here. There is a great story I heard about these three bricklayers. They were building this wall out of blocks. Someone goes up to the first guy and asks, “What are you doing?” The first bricklayer replies, “I’m laying brick. It’s a good job, it pays well, I’m off at five o’clock, my day is almost over.” This person asks the second bricklayer what he’s doing, and he says, “I’m building this wall. It’s not bad work. I can pay my bills, I have a nice family I can go home to at five o’clock. I enjoy this job, it’s not bad.” Finally, the person gets to the third bricklayer and asks the same question. The third one responds, “Oh my gosh, we’re building a cathedral. Right now, this is just a wall, but behind this wall is going to be a beautiful cathedral.” And he starts describing all the things about it. But he knew what he was doing. He knew he had a purpose.
You know, we talk about that a lot out here. You’re not just coming to practice and punching a clock and putting time in. You’re here to get better every time you step on the mat. You are here to improve, you’re here to learn, you’re here to evolve as an artist. And we are giving these athletes as many opportunities as we can to do that. They are showing their gratitude by coming out here more frequently and working hard, and I think we’re going to see the fruits of our labor this year with our Junior team. We have a really solid team with a few veterans on the team and very capable athletes. This is the most well-prepared a Junior team has ever been. Just because of all the different opportunities that we have talked about during our weekly chats, Tim. We have talked about them going to California, coming out here in May for two weeks. We’ve talked about them going back up to Northern Michigan, Concord, California, and then here for this camp. But some of the athletes who have stayed have gone overseas for some international tournaments. A couple of guys have gotten at least two tournaments in, so they have competed overseas and are seeking out training opportunities. They aren’t just training at their clubs with their high school teams. They are training Greco like professional athletes.