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Approaching Wrestling with a Long Term Outlook

Posted Wednesday, October 12, 2011 by Cary Kolat
by Cary Kolat

Many athletes, coaches, and parents preach the importance of goal setting to keep wrestlers on track. I myself am a huge supporter of goal setting but what I’m really concerned with is the finish line.
When I was seven years old, I laid down my goals with the finish line being the Olympic Games, and hopefully a gold medal around my neck. Well, I fell short of achieving the gold, but that goal allowed me to keep my wrestling in perspective, and achieve many accomplishments along the way.
I began everyday with the intentions of becoming a better wrestler in preparation for the Olympic Games. In my timeline, I envisioned myself competing at the ’96 or ’00 Games. Throughout the past 15 years, people have asked me how I was able to remain focused during my championship finals without letting anxiety get the best of me in front of thousands of people or how I was able to achieve success from such a young age all the way to the international level without burning out? 
Let me explain, first, I truly loved the sport of wrestling and I loved the idea of one on one competition. I played football and baseball, but never felt the thrill of victory like I did when I faced an opponent one on one in front of thousands. Personally, this was the ultimate competition that proved who was better prepared when it came time to let it all out. That same love is what kept the fear of burning out or over training out of my mind even as I entered my prime years of competition.
Secondly, I sincerely never thought of winning state and national titles to be great accomplishments while I was competing, because I was on a path that was designed to allow me to become the best in the world when the time came. Yes, I got a thrill out of winning four state titles, NCAA Championships, and world medals but that was just part of the journey in my mind. The best way to explain it was, that was practice! My state, national and international accomplishments were simply preparation for the Olympic finals.
My approach was that if I could not win four state titles then I needed more training, because there was a young wrestler from the former Soviet Republic being trained to knock me off in my Olympic team year, or if I could not win the NCAA tournament then I was far behind the best wrestlers in the world when it came time to show the world what I had trained for the last 20 years of my life. When I was wrestling in those big events I had a level of stress that was manageable, because I was keeping myself on track to fulfill my ultimate quest.
That same thinking is what allowed me to wrestle back, and always finish in the highest placing possible when I tasted defeat. Why, because every time I faced it I allowed myself to learn from the loss, improve upon my mistake, and then say to myself, “Well Cary, feel lucky today because at least it was not the Olympic finals.” I once again stayed on track toward the finish line and improved as a wrestler.
Now that I have entered the ranks of coaching athletes from the youth to high school level I remind myself of what I’m trying to teach the athletes who attend my wrestling school or camps. I’m trying to prepare them for their personal finish line whatever that might be. I have never become upset when one of my wrestlers loses a bout because we have faced an opponent that is far beyond us at that time. I do however voice to my wrestlers my concern when we do not improve our wrestling.
My father has been and will continue to be the greatest coach I have ever had. He clearly had an approach to coaching me with my finish line insight. He knew for me to cross my finish line I constantly need to improve as a wrestler technically, physically, and mentally to achieve Olympic caliber wrestling.  He was not a short term thinker, but long-term when it came to my sport.
I tell the grandby story to parents and coaches when they ask advice about how to improve their wrestlers ability on the mat. My father never allowed me to waste his time or mine when it came to wrestling. When I was 7 years old, he bought a book by Carl Adams and the grandby was laid out step by step with photos of how to properly achieve the technique. My dad moved the coffee table in our living room, and had me get on all fours and perform the move over and over without a partner. Now the problem with this story is I had to do it a speed that would allow me to escape from my opponent in competition but my father was also trying to take mental snapshots of me performing the technique and compare it to the photos. In his mind, I never quite looked like the photos so I wound up doing the granby roll on a carpeted floor for about 8 hours on a Saturday.
I continued to practice the grandby that week during practice and headed into competition that weekend. Being 7 years old, I reverted back to my sit and turn when I was placed on bottom in my bout. I believe I won the match by about 10 or 14 points but my father voiced his anger about spending the time to learn a new move for 8 hours and wasting his Saturday by not attempting the grandby. You see if he had been happy with me winning by all those points he would have taught me to be a short term thinker when approaching the sport as an athlete and now a coach. He was not concerned about me winning that particular match, but crossing my finish line that required me to be one of the best wrestlers in the world in all positions of the sport. The time I spent learning the grandby was one step in this process and that took long term vision and commitment on my part.  
That particular day opened my eyes to wrestling when I stepped on the mat in various bouts and championship finals. I not only was trying to win the bout but accomplish certain techniques during the bout. I’m sure my opponent was wrestling me, the clock, and his fear of losing while I was wrestling to leave the match a more complete wrestler and one step closer to becoming a better wrestler.
This is why I was able to achieve so much even if I stumbled at my finish line. I truly had a grasp on goal setting and what it took to achieve that goal.
I try to gauge my wrestlers the same way in my practice sessions. I have wrestlers who are beating their teammates soundly, but if I betting on who is going to come out ahead in the next 5 years it will be the ones who listen to my advice and makes adjustments. Many of my youth wrestlers are winning on moves and not advancing their wrestling. I spend time teaching new techniques, but they are not trying those techniques in the practice room when we have our live sessions. They are only concerned with beating their partner in practice, and are only thinking of that match. This is short tem thinking however, they are only kids. I have a tough job trying to get each one to listen to my advice, but that is what a good coach does he finds a way to get his point across. I yell at some of them, I talk softly to others, and sometimes I play the disappointed coach roll and walk away. I’ll do whatever it takes within ethical bounds to try and make them long term wrestlers and long term thinkers which will benefit them throughout their lives.
I feel  the old Soviet Union coaches back in the day of the Cold War era had a clear understanding of this when developing teams that would put 6 of their wrestlers in the Olympic finals. They brought their athletes along in a manner that suggested they did not overlook weak points in their wrestling, and focused on those points until they were sure the athlete had improved. I continually teach this to my school members with the idea being I can not  move past basic techniques if we are not executing them correctly in the big matches.
As a coach it is easy to get caught up in winning every event that you enter your wrestlers into and I myself am competitive by nature and I want to win every match we wrestle. However, I also want high school, NCAA, and World Caliber wrestlers produced from my club and camps and to do that I can’t rush into winning; I have to develop complete wrestlers.
Long-term thinkers in all walks of life are the ones who do great things in this world. They are the ones that we write stories of triumph about by overcoming odds that most shake their heads at. They overcome impossible odds because they don’t get discouraged on the present and continue to follow a strategic path to insure success in whatever it is they are trying to accomplish.  
To build great wrestlers you have to build from the foundation up and cannot jump the learning process for short-term success. Stay on track of what you ultimately want from your career and keep developing in a manner that suggest you are not being pulled off course.

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