International training camps
After 8 years of touring the world with USA Wrestling via training camps and competitions, and talking to numerous athletes/coaches from Russia, Japan, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, China, Austria, Germany, Sweden, India, Canada, Mexico (plus other countries) regarding their development of wrestlers from the cadet level to the senior level ( 14-20 years old), I have learned that international training camps with teams from around the globe is the best practice to ready aspiring Olympians for Olympic success. Below will describe key factors for why this idea may contribute to international success at competitions like the World University Games, Pan Am Games, and ultimately, the Olympic Games.
When a team/country is consistently the best in the world for decades (e.g. Russia Freestyle & Greco Roman Wrestling; Japan Female Wrestling), their practices or model can be studied, analyzed, and perhaps even simulated. Starting in 2005 as U.S. Olympic Education Center (USOEC) coach, my charge was to get cadet and junior athletes ready, willing, and able for training as senior athletes at the U.S. Olympic Training Center (USOTC) in Colorado Springs. And, in the first year, the USOEC team competed in a tournament in Italy called the Trofeo Milone. As a team, we had three 5th place winners and the athletes paid for this event. In other words, many athletes spent $2,000 for an average of 1 to 3 matches and the overall record for the team was something like 6 wins – 12 losses. After that experience and talking to foreign coaches at the Trofeo Milone, I learned we need to spend more time training (not just competing) with these international foes and this is precisely what the USOEC team did.
We started training in Canada, Japan, and Austria via international training camps respectively in 2006, 2007, and 2008. During about the same time, we also started inviting international teams like the Czech Republic, Canada, Mexico and China to train with us in Marquette, MI. Additional training with international competitors was also accomplished by going to national team training camps at the USOTC. Starting in 2011, the USOEC trained and competed in training camps and competitions in Mexico and Sweden too. Here’s why I believe these international training camps were helpful developmentally: the athletes explain to me there is a sense of extreme preparedness versus anxiety (what I like to call the it-factor or X-factor) once you have trained with international opponents; athletes explain they feel more ready, willing, and able to compete internationally after training in several international training camps because these are the same folks they will compete with at Jr. Worlds, University Worlds, Sr. Worlds and ultimately the Olympic Games.
The athletes learn more than just wrestling when they travel. In an article titled Travelling abroad, I suggest a lot of things will be different like the food, environment, internet, culture, etc. The athletes not only learn and adapt to these differences, they also learn a lot about themselves in the process because these differences may expand their way of thinking and or stimulate new thought patterns about differences. When thoughts are expanded and new thoughts emerge, sometimes, we are less likely to take things for granted and be more open minded. When you or I become more open minded and at the same time begin to become prepared for just about anything, we start to become more ready for whatever life throws at us (especially if we embrace this idea). As a result of learning about self in a foreign environment, in my experience, athletes develop and mature better plus learn to apply what they have learned to the maximum.
The subtle differences of national versus international wrestling are another reason why international training camps can be important. Generally, the differences between the USA wrestlers and the best wrestling nations of Europe, Asia, and the world (recently, Latin American & African nations have won senior world championship medals) are strategy and tactics which could be a by-product of folkstyle wrestling for American grapplers. In an article titled Folkstyle vs. freestyle, a description of the 2 sports is detailed. And, in sum, folkstyle wrestling stresses constant control and working to score points and or pin your opponent all the time as the main strategy focus. International freestyle wrestling, in my opinion, stresses more of a score and run (some may call this stalling) or an offense and counter offense as the main strategy focus. Over time i.e. a career, the subtle differences of folkstyle and freestyle wrestling become big differences at international competitions largely because of the time spent mastering each style.
Freestyle or international style wrestling allows for deliberate practice or execution of the freestyle wrestling rules, sport specific movements, tactics, and strategy of freestyle wrestling. And, two of the biggest differences or rule interpretations of freestyle wrestling, to me, are par terre wrestling (top & bottom wrestling) and the execution of counter offense without penalty unless you are blocking with your head, clasping the fingers, or running away from (fleeing) wrestling holds while you are winning or losing. On the other hand, folkstyle wrestling penalizes wrestlers who are blocking wrestling or not attacking all the time and especially if the wrestler is winning or parallel riding in the top position. The execution of top and bottom wrestling, tactics, and strategy really looks and feels quite different (almost like 2 different sports) especially to folkstyle masters and world class freestylers when they compete against each other.
There are other rule changes (points for takedowns, back exposure points, par terre turn & tilt points) that make the 2 sports (freestyle and folkstyle) quite unique and may give Europeans, Asians, and the world a freestyle wrestling advantage largely due to the amount of deliberate practice, international training, and international competitions of freestyle wrestling foreign wrestlers get. This international advantage may also be strengthened if freestyle training starts at an earlier age for foreign wrestlers versus when Americans specialize in freestyle wrestling i.e. when international freestylers specialize at 10 or 14 years old versus Americans specialize in freestyle at 18 or 22 years old. Because of early specialization in folkstyle wrestling, Americans have a folkstyle wrestling advantage over the rest of the world.
Skills mastery may be attained during international training camps due to the variety of training partners, coaching styles, and motivation. Most of what I’ve learned from international training camps has been documented at coachshannyn.com, the Elias George Wrestling Foundation, & our YouTube page. In sum, many of the different philosophies, styles, drills, and skills learned at international training camps are amplified because the athletes and coaches seem more motivated/eager to learn, apply, and master them. To me, the key factor in this motivation stems from the variety, the atmosphere, and the mystique of the international training camps. Some of the skills and drills are slightly different, some are completely different, while some of the skills and drills are exactly the same. Again, in my experience, there is more robust learning when variety or a change of atmosphere/environment is applied. Most coaches add variety by competing nationally a lot. Some coaches add variety by changing up the practice plans via manipulating volume and intensity. Many countries add variety with the aforementioned and training internationally with international training partners.
International training camps are as good as national team training camps and even better. You may not have any Olympic or World champions in your wrestling room or country and international training camps offer this opportunity. You may not have enough females (or wrestlers at your weight) to train with in your room or country and international training camps offer this opportunity. You may not have world class coaches to teach you and international training camps also offer this great opportunity. Exposure at international training camps at an early age may also prepare you for international competition sooner not to mention the rules, tactics, philosophies, etc. I believe some countries have an advantage for international training because of above and the proximity of the respective countries.
Europe is approximately the size of the USA with around 50 countries instead of states (Russia’s land mass is excluded). However, when travelling for several hours in Europe versus the USA, you may end up in several different countries as opposed to states. A lot of European nations take advantage of international training due to the low costs of travel and the small distances travelled which appears to help their collective freestyle abilities. For roughly $2,000 per wrestler, Europeans may be able to attend 8-10 international training camps annually. If this is done for several years, these countries may have an advantage for freestyle wrestling because it costs about $2,000 for American wrestlers to attend 1 international training camp. This price, however, will still give American athletes the benefit of wrestling 15-20 matches per international training camp versus the 1 to 3 matches the USOEC team averaged at our first international competition. Can you imagine wrestling 120-200 practice matches (15-20 matches x 8-10 camps) per year in international training camps from the ages 14-20? Do you think these international freestyle practice matches will help in the early and developmental years?
The funding issue. Okay, so you say the cost to get abroad is ‘pricey’. This may be and here are some questions to think about… Is it worth all that you can get in return? Will there be a return on investment? Or, is risking money to train abroad worth the reward? The answer to those questions may depend on your goals. For a high school, university, or other entity (college, business, state organization), the risk may be worth the reward for these reasons: international exposure for university or entity; international training may help your team meet, improve, exceed its national goals; recruiting may be improved for university or entity if international training is an integral part of the program; fundraising may be easier for program or school if international training is employed. Crafty coaches and administrators know the brand of the university or entity is priceless and the more people know about respective universities and entities, the better the branding. In sum, if more people are aware of your university or entity, it may be easier to recruit the best students, funding sources, and coaching staffs which will ultimately help the university or entity.
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