Thanksgiving Week and Clinic

We had a little time off this week for Thanksgiving. For a wrestler, it is rare to be able to enjoy a Thanksgiving. Hopefully the time to reconnect, refresh, and reload will help our guys down the road with their final exams and on the mat. During the season, due to competitions, it is hard to get good training cycles. Because of the time off competing, we were able to get some good training under our belt.

On Saturday we hosted a clinic. We had 63 kids show up for the 2 hour clinic. Our guys did a good job working with the youths. I was pleased. We also sold 20 season tickets at the clinic.

After the clinic, we hosted a public workout. For whatever reason, the team struggled. Maybe they were fatigued from the long day, maybe they were lethargic from too much turkey at Thanksgiving, and maybe I did not push them enough. I am unsure, but as a coach, I need to figure it out and make an effort to help them improve.

The margin for error is small in college. Little mistakes in training, little mistakes in lifestyle, can be the difference between winning and losing. I have talked on this point several times with the team and will continue to express it to them as long as I am their coach. We need to train hard, we need to eat right, we need to get the right amount of rest, and we need to make the right choices in life. Good decisions add up, but so do the bad ones.

A few of the guys continue to struggle with making their preparation a priority. It seems like they find reasons not to make it to practice. I know, in the end, they will regret cutting corners. People always do. It is better to live without the regrets and live without the “what if’s.” I hope they can make the change before it is too late. My fear is this lack of accountability to the team will drag some of the others down. I am hopeful the others will see it as the path not to follow. I am hopeful the team will pull the few who struggle along with them. I also know this is a hard thing to do. It is much easier for them to pull others down.

Before the team left for the short break for Thanksgiving, I gave them a training plan. On the plan, I told them to find excuses to train. Make the other parts of their life revolve around their training, not the other way around. They should set their schedule in a manner that enables them to make practice and preparation the priority. For some people this is second nature, for others it can be a struggle.

This weekend we will be tested in competition. We need to have the right mindset and preparation to succeed. On Saturday, we will wrestle 3 dual meets at Bloomsburg University. We will wrestle East Stroudsburg University at 9am, Bloomsburg University at 10:45am and Sacred Heart University 12:30pm. The next day we will compete at the Penn State University Open. I hope the team has prepared properly and is able to compete with a great attitude and give their best effort.

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Navy Classic

We departed from George Mason at 5:30am (I was up much earlier – buying food for the boys at the grocery store at 4am) on Saturday morning to get to the Naval Academy for weigh ins for the Navy Classic. It was my first time at the Naval Academy. The place is beautiful. There were 7 teams at the tournament. Teams were allowed to bring more than their 10 starters. We brought 13. Overall, we finished in 6th place. The guys won 12 individual matches, 5 of which were by pin. I was most impressed by Ty Knepp, Shohei Takagai, and Zach Isenhour. They finished 2nd, 4th and 4th respectively.

We are getting better. It is noticeable. I have had several people compliment the guy’s effort level. As a coach, it is pleasing to hear. We still have a long way to go, but if we keep working hard and have the right attitude, we will get there.

We struggled this weekend in some key areas mentally. Guys take mini-breaks in matches. Good wrestlers capitalize on their opponents mini-breaks. We need to eliminate our mini-breaks and capitalize on the mental lapses of our opponents. Guys need to fight as hard as they can at all times. Human nature causes us to take the easy way out, wrestle with less intensity, put our head down, get frustrated, and succumb to fatigue… When you do these things in a match, your opponent can take advantage. A mini-break can be less than a second. Nevertheless, it can be the difference in a match.

We also struggled with our demeanor while competing. Our body language was not the best. We let guys out hustle us. I want our guys to push the pace during a match, but also push the pace between whistles. I want our guys to be the first guy ready to wrestle. I want them waiting on their opponent. Too many times this weekend we were slow to return to the center and slow to get set on bottom. Opponents can gain energy because they believe you are fatigued and not ready to wrestle. In contrast, if you are waiting on your opponent, you can be perceived as a machine. I also think the guy who hustles will get respect from the officials and anyone watching the match. It is imperative that we improve our demeanor on the mat. Win or lose, when you wrestle a Mason guy you know you are going to wrestle a guy that hustles.

This weekend we will be hosting a wrestling clinic. We are doing this mainly as a fundraiser and for community outreach. The entire team will participate. We will all donate our time. Every cent raised will go back to the George Mason Wrestling Team budget. After the clinic, we will hold a public practice for those in attendance. I like getting the team to practice in front of a crowd, so they get extra stress and learn how to deal with it. Teaching technique will help their wrestling IQ. Practicing in front of a crowd will simulate competition atmosphere. It will be a good day for growth.

We have also started selling season passes for our home competitions. This has not been done at George Mason for several years. I am excited about getting people to our home duals. The bigger the crowd the more fun it is for the team. It is also important to show the community and school that George Mason wrestling is valuable. I am hopeful we sale at least 200 season tickets. If we do so, this would be a huge positive statement for this program. Tickets are cheap – $15 for the season. All the money raised goes to help pay for scholarships. If interested please go to gomason.com or call 703/993-3270. Help us reach our goal.

Binghamton Dual and Open

We had our first team competition on Saturday at Binghamton University. We lost 31-11. Using wrestling speak, we won 3 of 10 individual matches. We gave up bonus points in 4 matches and scored bonus points in 2 of our wins. Bonus points are huge. Many duals and tournaments have been decided by bonus points. I was pleased to see 2 of our guys give the extra effort to get major decisions; thus, scoring bonus points for the team. It was tough seeing 3 of our guys get pinned and one guy losing by a major decision. We need to fight for the win, but also fight to save team points. Sometimes, a guy is just better than you. Nevertheless, you need to give your utmost effort. Losing a match but saving your team bonus points can be a positive for the team. I remember more than once cheering loudly for a guy who lost but fought hard to save team points. It is a big deal. Our effort, for the most, was good. Our attitude was great.

Wrestling is an individual sport . Dual meets are a rare time when we can come together and work as a team. I love the dual meet concept and what it can do for your team. Before the dual, instead of lining up in weight class order, I had our team huddle. I think this is a better way to show unity. I told the guys to huddle and said it would be our signature at George Mason. I started laughing when they literally did huddle up with their arms around each other. I quickly went toward the group and told them I didn’t mean literally to huddle with arms interlocking. I beamed with pride when they retorted back to me that they liked the huddle and were going to stay arm and arm. It was a good sign that these guys are a team.

We had a great showing of friends and family at Binghamton. It was noticeable. Family and fan support is a huge motivator for any team. We are lucky to already have support. Hopefully we can make the number grow.

The following day, after the dual, we had 16 guys compete in the Binghamton Open. We had 3 placers and 3 other guys fall one round short of placing. The guys showed improvement from the previous week at the Hokie Open. We are still losing more than we should. I do fear losing becoming too easy to accept. It can become contagious. Our difficult schedule can make us or break us. My hope is it is the former. As a coach, I will need to walk a fine line. I want the guys to key on their performance and not the wins and losses. I want them to give me their best effort no matter what the score of the match might be. I also want them find a way to win the close match; find a way to score the big move when they need it.

This weekend we will wrestle at the Navy Classic. My plan, since I saw the schedule, was to have the guys wrestle in only 2 of the 3 early season tournaments. We are hoping to have 15 guys compete this weekend. Most of the guys who wrestled in the Hokie Open and the Binghamton Open will not compete this weekend. They will use this week to improve in the room and not worry about cutting weight and competing. My hope is this strategy will help us in March.

Hokie Open

We took 14 guys to the Hokie Open on Sunday.  It was our first competition and my first as a head coach for a division 1 NCAA wrestling team.  There were about 300 competitors in the event.  We were able to see several division 1 teams from the area as well as Ohio and Air Force making the longest trips.

In a word I guess the experience was humbling.  We finished with one place winner.  Frankie McLaughlin finished 5th going 5-2 on the day.  He is good and I think made some positive gains as a result of this competition.  Our overall record as a team was 15-28.

There were definitely positives.  I was pleased with the effort guys gave during their matches.  Other coaches and an official told me they were impressed with the fight our guys had. Wrestling hard will be part of our team makeup.  In several matches, win or lose, our guys scored last.  I was proud of their effort and ability to keep fighting in the 3rd period.

I was also pleased to see, as a coaching staff, that our perceived weaknesses in the practice room were certainly the same things we saw in live competition.  We have been working on the correct things.  We just need lots more work to overcome the deficiencies.

With the new NCAA start date of October 10 and with our limited practice space and time, I think the tournament of this quality was too early for our team.  I will have to think about what to do in the future with our schedule.  The guys need to be tested, but was this too early?  In the long run, if we use this tournament as a learning experience, we can grow quicker because of the experience.  I just need to make sure the guys stay confident and believe we are headed in the right direction.

The good thing about competition is it exposes things to you in a very public manner.  Guys will hopefully have a sense of urgency.  In the future, I hope some of the technical issues can be solved in the spring and summer.  It is difficult to solve some of them in the heat of the season.  We need to worry about more during the season and there is less time to spend working on technique.

It was also great to spend time on the road together.  The school requires us to use buses.  This is new to me.  I was shocked how nice the bus was.  We definitely rode in style.  I felt spoiled.

As the new guy, it is fun getting to know the guys on the team.  We have some characters.  We have guys with lots of different personalities and backgrounds.  I am not sure I agree with their taste of movie selections for the bus ride, but it is nice spending time together as a team.

We compete at Binghamton on Saturday for a dual and on Sunday for a tournament.  We will take a bigger squad.  We will be better than we were last week.  We are trying to improve 1% per day.  If we do that, we will be pretty good come March tournament time.