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 talk to Coach Lindland just prior to him leaving for his first vacation since taking over the US Greco Roman National Team. He will be in Costa Rica for a week celebrating he and his wife Angie’s 25th wedding anniversary. Even still, there were topics to cover before he jumped on a flight. For starters, we ask him about the relationship between wrestling and MMA, a subject he is intimately familiar with. The value of international training for age-group wrestlers is also discussed. In addition, Coach Lindland opens up about training with the 10th Special Forces Group last week as well as the first new technique video being introduced on his channel, which is part of the coaches’ education movement.
5PM: With your experience as a successful MMA fighter and now as the head coach of the US Greco Roman program, how do you see the relationship at this point between MMA and wrestling? Do you think one hurts or helps the other, or both?
Coach Matt Lindland: I think it’s a great question. I think you would get people from both perspectives, that we lose wrestlers because of MMA. I would disagree. If a guy’s heart and passion is wrestling, he’s going to try to accomplish his goals in wrestling before he makes a transition. We saw Daniel Cormier start pretty late, we saw Dan Henderson, Randy Couture, myself, and even Joe Warren start late. The guys who are doing MMA are kind of post-wrestling. Maybe they reached their goals or decided their goals are out of reach and moved onto MMA. I think the promotion of the sport is great although, the participation numbers seem to be going down in wrestling. The numbers are actually going up with women, so we actually haven’t lost the memberships because women’s wrestling is growing. But men’s memberships across all levels, from kids through high school to the Senior level are down. In this country, it isn’t growing at the rate women’s wrestling is growing, that’s for sure.
But I don’t think that is because of MMA by any means. I just think there are a lot of opportunities and plus, wrestling is really hard (laughs). Not everyone wants to do hard things. They get into it, they try it, and then realize this is really, really difficult to do, especially to do it well. So I think that is what hurts our numbers. If we can focus on a model with our youth development and stop getting six and eight-year old kids a hundred-plus matches a year, and just get them in to show them the fun part of the sport, I think our numbers could grow. But there are too many overzealous individuals who want to push athletes too hard too fast. Too many matches, too many long hours of training. I’ve had a lot of parents and people reach out to me on wrestling clubs and the feedback I get is that these guys are crazy. Stuff like, These coaches are nuts. They’re training five days a week with two and a half to three hour practices and my kid is eight. (Laughs) I hear, He’s got school and other activities in his life, we have a family. And I don’t think everyone is as passionate about it as some of the overzealous coaches. There is a way and it’s not more, it’s less.
When I first started wrestling, I really wasn’t competitive until I got into high school. I was in seventh and eighth grade and there was a four-week wrestling class in my junior high. In seventh and eighth grade you got to go out and try wrestling, scrap against a couple of kids, and see what the sport was about. But once that was done it was, Okay, go out and do your thing, you’re in seventh grade, you’re a child, go play. I don’t think we do that enough, but not just in our sport. You also see that in gymnastics, soccer, and football. You see that in every sport. Everyone thinks their son or daughter is going to be a professional athlete and they are going to start their training when they are six years old.
5PM: Does this means specialization? Do you think specialization is poison for youth athletes?
ML: I think that children should have fun. I can share Facebook messages that are crazy. Just crazy people talking. Sometimes, they actually respond like, What should I do? My son is six and doesn’t seem to have the heart that he used to have for the sport. Well, then maybe you should tell your son to go out and play and get off the mat. I’m not sure it’s specialization, I think it is just too much. We’re not allowing children to be children. We’re not letting them play, to explore, to go out and experience things. More and more as a culture, we’re trying to direct our kids where we want them to go and I don’t think that is the right philosophy. You have to let your kids discover where their passions are.
5PM: What is an appropriate age? Cadet?
ML: Yeah, I would say Cadet is a great age. Even last-year Cadets could start specializing in the sport of wrestling, or even a particular style.
5PM: Okay, well then that leads into the next question, which is that for parents, coaches and even fans, could you describe why training and competing with international opponents is so valuable?
ML: Well, I think competing against international opponents is absolutely critical — if your goals are to compete on the international stage. If your goals are different and you just want to be the best high school wrestler or the best guy in your state, I don’t think there is any reason to go overseas. If you want to be a Division I All-American and that is your goal, I don’t think there is a reason to go overseas. But if your goals and desires are to be the best in the world, you’ve got to wrestle that style. And we don’t wrestle that style in the United States, we wrestle a bastardized version of Greco at the youth level. It is essentially freestyle without grabbing the legs. Heads are down, hips are back, we’re pushing away and we aren’t in constant contact with our opponents. And when they go overseas, they get their eyes opened. They get to understand that it is a different sport. The officials call things differently, they force proper wrestling internationally. And the athletes, that is the only style of wrestling that they know. They aren’t trying Greco, that is their style of wrestling.
5PM: Two athletes are going to win the non-Olympic Trials, which means it could potentially be a very busy time of year for them. Would an athlete who wins the Trials be eligible to compete at the Golden Grand Prix two weeks later, or is it too much of a time crunch with the World Championships a couple of weeks later following the Grand Prix?
Coach Matt Lindland: That is something we would discuss if they have already qualified. We have already set up our lineup for the Golden Grand Prix and it is based on qualifications. We are taking Ryan Mango at 59 (kilograms), Alex Sancho at 66, Pat Smith at 71, Kendrick Sanders is back in the mix. Speiller qualified the weight but he is out right now. I’d love to see Kendrick continue his career. I think he was looking at MMA but again, this is someone who hasn’t accomplish his wrestling goals and he has decided he wants to give it a full quad. So let’s support him and help him get the competition that he needs because he is a very talented athlete. If he puts the work in and does the right things, he has a ton of potential. It’s really up to him, but I am going to help by creating the right opportunities for him.
Getting back, at 80, Cheney Haight qualified the weight and then at 85, Patrick Martinez. Okay, now with Haight and Martinez, one of those two guys could go to the Worlds. Could they wrestle in the Golden Grand Prix? I think that is really a conversation we have to have after the Trials. Immediately after the Trials, because things start happening very quickly. The Clubs Cup are on December 8th and 9th, so we are working on our plan right now to take the athletes who will be competing in the Grand Prix directly to Budapest for either the Clubs Cup or the World Championships if they are a World Team member, and bring the rest of the Clubs Cup team over. So the Grand Prix you had to qualify for. The Clubs Cup is an invitational that Hungary and Iran are dual-sponsoring and we are taking a team to that.
So, to answer your question as to whether or not they would wrestle in the Grand Prix, I guess it would depend on if they are already scheduled to be there and then talking about the preparation and the training plan. Whatever is best for that particular athlete, we will make a decision on at that time.
5PM: Is it the amount of matches that are either beneficial or detrimental, or is the fact that the traveling makes this all a cumbersome process?
ML: It is definitely the travel (laughs). The travel, the acclimation. So if you are in Europe, it is almost better to do what we’re doing. We are wrestling in the Clubs Cup two weeks after the Golden Grand Prix, so instead of traveling all the way back home, let’s go from Baku to Budapest and find a place to train while we’re there, and get a second tournament in. I don’t necessarily think it is the amount of competition. It could be for some athletes. This is such an individual sport, you’ve got to talk to each athlete separately. Someone like Cheney Haight, he is 31 years old, maybe that is a lot of competition. But he’s healthy, he looks good, and he’s wrestling well. Maybe he’s alright and wants to do it. If he wants to wrestle in the Grand Prix and gets hurt, then it doesn’t make sense to wrestle in another tournament right away. I think the younger guys need a lot more competition. So yeah, Ryan Mango should go straight from the Grand Prix to the Clubs Cup. I mean, this guy is incredibly athletic, he’s very good, and just needs more experience in the Greco Roman style of wrestling. He spent five years at Stanford bending over and grabbing legs.
5PM: Last week, we talked about videos for coaches’ education and you’ve already put one up on arm throws. How did that go and when is the next one coming?
ML: That went because I was hearing the feedback from coaches saying, We want content. This is a great time of year to put some technical stuff up because we’re not training super hard because we are building our base. We are in the weight room, we’re running, and we are doing technique. So it was a good time to break out my camera. I found some editing software for my iPhone, we put it together and put it up on YouTube. It’s not polished, it’s not professional, but it is out there and that is the first step. The second step would be to be a little more consistent with getting video content up there.
I’ve got another video coming out before I go on vacation — bodylocks. I think that is going to be a really fun one because you’ll get to see three different bodylocks and get to see a bodylock each one of the coaches shows a different piece of. We talked about the sag bodylock and Mohammad shows it the way he does it. I do it a little differently, Momir does it a little differently. All of those different technical ways that the coaches do it, maybe one of the athletes is going to gravitate towards one of those throws more than the other. But what I love about the video is that we are all saying essentially the same thing principally. Each coach developed a style that worked for him. That’s what I want my athletes to do, develop a style that works for them that they can execute. To take this technique and make it their own move.
I think that the athletes who are out there in the community along with the coaches will enjoy this video. I apologize in advance because I don’t have fancy motion graphics or editing tools. It was shot on my iPhone. But we are getting it out there and I will learn how to master some editing software and get better at this. Maybe there is somebody out there in the wrestling community who is proficient at this and wants to jump on board. USA Wrestling is a volunteer-based organization, it’s a non-profit, and we are run by a lot of volunteer coaches. Coaching can be editing video, on the mat instructing, it can be in the strength room — there are so many different areas where someone can be a volunteer coach and make themselves valuable to the organization. If you’re out there, reach out and let us know how you want to help with video content. Whether that is just a conversation on the right editing tools and teaching someone how to do that. Or getting in there and getting your hands dirty with a video. Either way, we’re always looking for help on that side of things.
5PM: Speaking of videos, you also have another one you put up because you had the opportunity to work with the 10th Special Forces Group this week. What exactly was the process for that, how did it get put together, and who went with you?
Coach Matt Lindland: Momir and I went with Andy (Bisek) the first day and met with a bunch of the guys. What it is, is a group of instructors for the SF guys, the coaches. We coached the coaches of the Special Forces groups. These guys are Green Berets, they’ve been deployed on multiple tours, and they want to stay home and take a break, so they’ve transitioned into more of an instructor role. They have their new Green Berets coming in and they are always trying to update their curriculum by finding new and innovative ways to protect themselves in real-life situations. And what they discovered is that they don’t want to go to the ground. They don’t want to get in a scramble and they don’t want to get in a jiu jitsu match. You can teach these guys all of the Gracie Jiu Jitsu you want, but they don’t want to be on the ground. They want whomever their fighting on the ground and they want to stay on their feet. They are looking for position, body awareness, and body position.
We go through a lot of drills and I did shoot some video of this and we’re going to share these drills. The drills are very applicable for coaches and athletes in our sport, but also for real-life self-defense and martial arts. That’s what wrestling is, it’s a martial art. The fact that the Green Berets validated Greco Roman as a martial art and that they want to include it in their curriculum says a lot about our style of wrestling. They don’t want to shoot in with their heads down and their hips back. They want to keep good body position where the head is always higher than the guys they’re fighting. And we cover some other things that you’ll see in real life that you won’t see in sport, like fighting with barriers because these guys go into rooms and take over buildings. There are a lot of fights up against walls and against barriers, so we did some of that stuff. But a lot of the drills and techniques that we teach are in the center of the mat area and then we go into, Why does it work?
I learned a lot because one thing you don’t have to think about when you’re cage fighting and dirty boxing, are other people who have guns and bad guys who can hurt you. So if you slam a guy up against a cage in an MMA fight, you don’t have to worry about someone coming up from behind, whether shooting you or knifing you, or injuring you in some way. When we started discussing philosophies on why they do that, a lot of it made more sense because they wouldn’t mind having their backs up against a wall because they have a lot more situational awareness that way. They can see the whole room if they have their back against a wall. You might think that’s a position where you’re losing, but what you are doing is controlling a guy why he’s pushing you against a wall. You are able to see what’s going on, Do I have a partner or someone on my team who can come help me out? Or do I have to dig my underhook and spin this guy around the wall, take him out, and then go save myself? You have more options this way.
So it was really interesting getting to work with these guys. I did a little ground-fighting stuff, one of the instructors and I have grappled up at the Air Force Academy. They’ve got some really good jiu jitsu instructors and I’ve gone up and played with those guys a little bit, but unfortunately, I don’t have as much time to work on my own martial arts training as I do my coaching. But that’s something I have to find the time to do more, because every time I get on the mat I get the opportunity to learn something, too. As a coach, you’re always teaching and you look for those chances to study and do martial arts yourself. It was a lot of fun working with those guys.
Today, we brought up a lot of the wrestlers who are resident athletes and they each partnered up with a Green Beret. They got to do some of the drills and we got to play with some of the weapons (laughs). They weren’t loaded, they were practice weapons, by the way. But we were shocking people with the knives that are electric. Yeah, it was cool. It was a lot of fun.