Keep up-to-date with wrestling official Rusty Davidson on his experiences on and off the mat here in Thailand at the 2012 FILA Junior World Championships.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
I had a kid question me in class, a couple of weeks ago, when I said I would celebrate September 11th in Thailand this year. “Why would you use the word ‘Celebrate’, when you talk about that day ?”, the kid asked.
It’s a Language Arts class, and I explained that the term ‘celebrate’ has a broader meaning that some people think. Aside from the ‘Party’ interpretation we use when we celebrate birthdays, anniversaries or Independence, the term reaches much further.
We ‘celebrate’ Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day. We ‘celebrate’ Dr King’s birthday. We ‘celebrate’ Thanksgiving and Hanukkah and Ramadan and Christmas and Easter.
Today, in Pattaya, Thailand, I am Celebrating September 11th, 2012… eleven years after the horrific events that separate the date from all others. I will use the entire scope of the word.
As I celebrate I remember, quietly and intently, every minute of the day and how it touched the students I spent it with. Seniors in high school, in 2001-2002, those kids are twenty eight now. Although he spent the day in another classroom and another school, my Sterling is one of them. They have all spent the irreplaceable years of their twenties in the shadow of that day’s events.
As I celebrate, I mourn. Many of us know someone who lost a loved one, maybe more than one, that day. Knowing that people lose loved ones every day only makes it harder for the families of 9/11 victims to find a scope to encompass their special loss.
As I celebrate, I honor. We all seem to have regained that ability in the last decade. The respect, shown recently, to military, fire, police and other service personnel, stands well against the lack of it we saw for a generation before 9/11.
As I celebrate, I hope. Just being around young people, being able to talk them through some of the questions, answers and issues related to this anniversary gives its history a purpose. All history wants purpose.
As I celebrate, I rejoice. As horrible as September 11th, 2001 was, I got to live it. Being born when I was, I got to share that chunk of my lifetime with my Mother and with my Son. All of the other significant people I share lifetimes with are just icing on that family cake.
All of us healed during the last eleven years. We all wear different scars, some much deeper and uglier than others. I ‘celebrate’ September 11th, 2012 in Pattaya. I am bundled in the freedom and fortune to be here. I share the day with dear friends from around the planet, brought together by a sport based on love more than fight. Today is a good day.
Monday, September 10, 2012
Today, we wrestled three World Championships on the Beach: Both men’s and women’s Juniors; and the Senior Women’s. The Senior men compete in three weeks, in Budapest.
We had 53 competitors from a dozen countries, today, and 10 referees. I’ll admit, up front, I was pleasantly surprised at these large numbers. I am a fan of Beach Wrestling.
I realize I don’t represent mainstream thinking… Hey ! There’s a shock. But, as I get to listen to several of the key leaders in FILA, I appreciate their willingness to take risk to promote wrestling… any kind of wrestling… on a global scale.
I support FILA’s experimentation in the Grappling world, too. But, that’s another conversation. Sticking to the Beach topic, you can think what you want. I’m convinced FILA has a pretty good idea here and I believe, in my heart, it will benefit the United States for us to buy in.
The last ‘crazy’ idea I bought into, early, happened in the late 1980’s. More than one person, who find themselves in key leadership positions in our organization today, warned me. “You want to keep a distance from this”, they said. “This thing could be political suicide.” They were referring to Women’s wrestling.
So, I’ll take my chances with Beach wrestling. One of my teachers, Stepan Kazarian of Armenia, administers the Beach wrestling program for FILA. In his rules clinic, yesterday, Kazarian focused on the speed and simplicity Beach wrestling offers spectators. This is not something our more traditional styles are cashing in on, at the moment.
Kazarian mentioned the possibility that Beach wrestling could even find its way into the Olympic program. Never say never, is all I’m gonna’ say to that.
We had two American women compete to today. Neither medaled, but both represented us with dignity. I appreciate what it takes for an athlete to pay their own way to a place like Pattaya, Thailand, to do anything called wrestling.
Sunday, September 09, 2012
The comment that got my attention, yesterday, was the one about American Cadets and Juniors needing to travel overseas more to become competitive in Greco. My reaction to that surprised me.
I have always pushed USA Wrestling to commit a strong chunk of our budget to developmental age groups. I believe it is our responsibility to see our mission, at least two… maybe three… quadrenniums ahead.
I love what foreign travel does for our younger athletes. But when you get down to it, wrestling is the vehicle that allows them to travel. It is not the product of the travel.
Music students benefit from their art taking them places, but their music doesn’t get better any faster than it would with the same effort at home. The same can be said for chefs or for doctors or for engineers. It’s great to have your chosen passion take you places, but it’s the passion… not the places… that separates you from the pack.
My point ? The coach that made the comment said European kids get to wrestle in a lot of countries. That is simply a function of geography. A kid from Austria traveling to Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania and Slovenija is really NOT a big deal. None of them are more than a four hour drive.
What IS a big deal is that, when the Austrian kid gets there, those other countries have brought their best and their brightest. There’s your “Magic Wand”. Average competition produces average athletes. Great competition produces great athletes.
Wherever you are, in the States, think about the places you can be in that same four hour drive. What kind of competition can your kid anticipate ? How many of the great ones will wake up early and drive to test themselves against yours ?
I see wrestling’s new entrepreneurs making a pretty good living, marketing this same opportunity in folkstyle. I admit, openly, that part of me is jealous. I kinda’ wish I had figured out how to get rich from offering kids a chance to compete, instead of spending money to do it for free.
We can see, clearly, from the quality these folkstyle trophy-fests draw, that there is plenty of talent within a few hours to test great kids and make ‘em better. But, as a nation, we have to fess up.
If it’s easier to teach, coach, score, watch a single style, unique to our culture, I’m good with that. But we gotta’ stop crying about the Olympic medals American kids are not winning.
Saturday, September 08, 2012
So… Here’s my answer to the question, “How to get better in Greco”. We wrestle Greco.
This touches one of my key points, as I address my renewed zeal for the Seven Basic Skills. Greco-Roman wrestling, one hundred percent, DOES contribute to the success ratio for American kids who want to be high school and NCAA champions.
I see so much of a microcosmic parallel between how we react to stress in our sport and how our society reacts to economic stress. We want to create jobs at American factories, while we drive a Japanese car with bags full of Chinese products in the trunk.
We tell our kid about how we need to win more Olympic medals in Greco-Roman wrestling, while we’re driving him to a folkstyle tournament in June. We want to conquer the world from the comfort of our living room couch.
Don’t get me wrong. I have no beef with scholastic wrestling. Every culture in the world has their own unique “Folk Style” of wrestling. Many of Olympic Champions from other countries have been very successful in their culture’s special style.
But, when it comes to competing globally, for international pride and prestige, successful nations do just that… compete Globally. Freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling are the evolutionary results of Worldwide competition back to the time of Alexander the Great. Throughout the centuries, as political and national boundaries have changed, wrestlers have agreed across those boundaries to compete in our time honored sport.
As cool as our American lifestyle is, we have to choose between isolationism and an honest attempt at domination. If our answer is going to be, “Screw it… we’ll just wrestle folkstyle”, then we have to live with the outcome. There’s no need to send American wrestlers to be sacrificed on the altar of the Olympic stage.
If we want to be respected as a Greco-Roman nation, by the 2020 Games, we need to get at the task of building better American wrestlers in the Middle School and High School rooms of 2102.
Friday, September 07, 2012
If you’re reading Jason Bryant’s coverage of the Junior Worlds, you already know that our Women have added two more bronze medals to the USA collection. Our kids are wrestling pretty well but, clearly, we have some work to do.
From my perspective, both as a coach and ref, we have to build whatever confidence we can to ‘Pull the Trigger”. Admittedly, the current rules don’t promote that notion. But, I get frustrated watching kids wait two minutes for a ball-draw and lose. If I’m the only one frustrated, tell me and I’ll shut up.
Our men freestylers start tomorrow. In talking with them, and their coaches, I am convinced this is a very talented group. I hope we “Pull the Trigger”.
We’ve found an interesting place for dinner. It’s about a fifteen minute walk, up the beach. The first time we walked it was at low tide: easy, dry sand. Tonight was at the peak of high tide, with waves breaking right at the wall along the beach. We got wet.
Cool place, though. The epitome of ‘Mom and Pop’. There are a few tables set in the sand, with plastic lawn chairs that sink when you sit. The shelter is made of good sized branches tied together and covered in painter’s plastic.
The staff of three waits and cooks and bartends and cleans. They also take turns checking the fishing poles propped a few yards outside the shelter.
There are menus… several of them… in covers I think have been discarded by neighboring restaurants. All the menus include pictures, but no two of the menus have all the same pages.
Once you get down to the business of eating, though, the place is awesome ! Great fresh seafood, everything you can imagine, incredibly inexpensive. I’ve taken the stack of twenty Grilled Prawns as my favorite. Pop ‘em, peel ‘em, slam ‘em. When I’m done, I get one of the three in-house dogs to come over and lick the barbeque sauce off my fingers.
I met, this morning, with the group of coaches studying here with Cody. Great group of guys ! It’s fun to see guys fired up… ready to go home to their own rooms and share their excitement.
I got a chance to test my presentation on breathing new life into our Seven Basic Skills approach. I was happy with the results and feedback. I also fielded an interesting range of questions, wearing my official’s hat. You can recite the questions. Neither their target, nor their intensity ever change much.
One question, right at the end, really wound me up. Actually, the question AND a comment related to it, is what got me going. The question was, “What, in your opinion, can we do to strengthen American Greco-Roman performance ?” No surprise being asked that, right now.
The comment, from another guy, was, “We need to get our developing athletes on more international tours”. He went on to point out, ”Some of the guys on this (Jr World) team are on only their third or fourth trip outside the states. The Azerbaijanis, Hungarians, and Germans have been to many more international events”.
The combination of the question and the comment blasted me, and I’m dying to share the answer I gave. I’m going to wait until tomorrow, though. I want you to have a chance to think about it and come up with your own hypothesis.
Wednesday, September 05, 2012
Interesting, the people who do this and the addiction to it we share. One of the officials’ instructors we have is a retired fighter pilot ( not American ). Many of these guys are small business owners in their respective countries. I know a couple of referees that are IT coordinators for major international conglomerates.
Casey owns his own business. He’s giving up a chunk of income to spend a week in
Thailand. At least three of us, on this trip, are teachers. That brings its own set of both problems and perks.
Working for public school systems and officiating or coaching, as a volunteer for USAW, is kind of a roller coaster ride. Some years, you’re golden. Some years, you’re not.
I’m pretty lucky, the last couple of years. My principal believes in what we’re doing and can figure out that it’s good for all kids in all classrooms. I take my ‘leave with no pay’, but I don’t get hassled or threatened.
The other teachers that are on this trip have it at least as good, maybe a little better. Not everyone is as fortunate. Some years, as leadership in each school changes, you just end up working for narrow-sighted people.
USA Wrestling has been proactive, the last couple of years, in helping us grease the wheels. USAW President Ravanak and USWOA President Tucci sent a letter to employers last fall, detailing the commitment our volunteers make to the Olympic effort. From what I’ve seen, the letter help quite a few of us.
The hardest thing is to convince school leaders or anyone, for that matter, that we do this stuff for free. In fact, more often than not, we pay our own way to do it for free !
Fortunately, there are at least a few clever leaders out there, in both business and school administration. Those few realize the positive impact that volunteerism pumps into a business or classroom.
Entering my 38th year in public education, I can speak specifically to the impact in the classroom. It is one thing for educators to ‘talk the talk’ about goal setting, sacrifice and success. But, you can see kids light up when the ‘walk’ meets the talk.
I really enjoy sharing, with kids, what education and love of sport have done for my life. Kids are smart… they know we can’t all be Rocket-Surgeons or billionaires. When they see ordinary people, with ordinary incomes, doing extraordinary things… and doing them with passion… it becomes a little easier to buy into the work ethic thing.
The kids in my classroom are following the Junior World Championship in Wrestling. Not many of them will wrestle. But, all of them can convert pounds to kilograms , convert US dollars to Thai baht and find the Gulf of Thailand on a map. They can all figure out the sacrifice these magnificent young athletes have made to chase a dream. And, I hope, many can discover the benefits of daring to dream, themselves.
Tuesday, September 04, 2012
After getting settled in, through the ‘Express Lane’, our first day of competition was a success, by my standards.
My two American colleagues, Casey and Danny, had great a great day on the mat. I enjoy watching the respect that the officiating world shows American officials, as they rise through the ranks. Whenever there’s a tight match coming up, one that really needs to get done right, FILA’s leaders put an American on the whistle.
More on that, in a minute…
Our kids wrestled well, which is important. Tempo is critical, as the tournament wears on, and our first four established a strong pace. Showing my bias again… it is clear to me that the future of our Greco program is bright.
I was Wowed by Geordan Speiler and Jesse Thielke. Their athleticism speaks for itself. But, their composure, their willingness to make a fight, their ability to confront adversity, speak well for them, their families, and everyone who has touched their preparation.
Cool kids ! Not just those two, but our entire team. It is so much fun listening to the intelligence and the humor that so often accompanies athletic prowess. I have become convinced, over the years, that the athletes who can deal with challenge and keep a sense of humor about it perform at a higher level consistently.
That was certainly true yesterday. I was delighted to see an American get on the podium the first day. I was happy to see our coaching staff relax a little last night, then instantly regain their intensity for more medals today.
On the FILA topic… always a popular one for American audiences. We have a team of American coaches in Pattaya, studying with Cody Bickley and our National Coach Education Program. I am scheduled to do some presentation and discussion with the coaches, throughout the week.
My primary focus, as I have mentioned the last few weeks, is a renewed view of the Seven Basic Skills of Wrestling. Being that I wear both coaching and officiating hats, though, I am used to getting asked to explain, or editorialize, on rules and their application.
This event is no different. As I saw Cody, getting on the elevator, he asked what he thought is a very simple question. “Will you explain FILA to our guys ?” I am just gullible enough that I answered, “Yeah, sure”.
Truthfully, I would rather try to explain Women !
Monday, September 03, 2012
It’s the old “Good News… Bad News” gig. Good: I made it to Thailand. I’m sitting at a little café, in the Bangkok airport, waiting for the young guys who met me to round up several more that have to ride with us to Pattaya. Bad: We still have a two-hour bus ride to get to Pattaya.
Good: I got to see Singapore this morning, which is a first for me, and pleasure I had not planned. Bad: I missed my connection in Beijing and, thus, our clinic this morning. We’ll see what repercussions that has.
The San Francisco airport kept us on the ground an hour and a half past our scheduled departure time, Saturday afternoon. With an hour and forty minutes original connection time, in Beijing, I knew it would be iffy.
Air China’s original solution was for me to spend twenty-four hours in Beijing , and catch tonight’s late flight. After pleading with two ladies at the transfer desk for about an hour, they agreed to ship me to Singapore at 11:30 last night.
I arrived in Bangkok, right on time, this morning at 9:00. There were two young guys waiting for me, right off the plane. As I said, the only down-side is that they have to meet several more before we can drive to Pattaya.
I want to catch up with the American officials, Casey and Danny, along with several from other countries whom I’ve come to trust over the years. I need to get a real clear sense of any subtleties we might see, as a result of the outcomes in London. Many times, if FILA’s leadership needs to flirt with change, the Juniors become the first guinea pigs.
Tonight, I want to meet with Coach Ike and our Greco guys to share whatever I learn this afternoon. It may be not much… no big deal. But, if there are changes, however small, I want our guys to be able to capitalize immediately We will take whatever the rules give us, and take it all !
So, here’s my break. I’m going to finish up my plate of giant, ripe mango and sticky rice with coconut milk. Then, I’m going to wander back to my meeting place and wait for the bus.
Still Monday, September 3rd…
That bus did finally roll. It was actually the big –box van… Just me and the Vietnamese delegation. The ride from Bangkok to Pattaya is a solid two hours, and I think we got a pretty good picture of the economy of this ‘big-city’ part of Thailand.
More good news: I arrived in Pattaya at 2:00pm, on the same calendar day I was supposed to. This beats the plan Air China had for me, which included an entire day in Beijing, flying out tonight and arriving Bangkok tomorrow morning.
More bad news: the Officials Clinic I was supposed to attend ended around noon. I did attend weigh ins, and managed to explain my delay to the two FILA coordinators, Kim and Ender. Both were receptive enough.
There are 67 officials here, spread over four mats. That means there is more than plenty of help, and it can be tweaked to create strength when needed. There’s also a good mixture of ‘Old’ and ‘New’ officials here. One big purpose of this Championship is to identify the next generation of star officials. That’s why we send people like Casey and Danny.
For the ‘Old’ guys, this is a big deal, too. There are many of us entering the twilight of careers. In just a few minutes, this afternoon, I got hugs from a dozen guys I’ve grown up with.
One of those is a Frenchman named Serge Damiens. In 1992, Serge and his family stayed in the same hotel as a group of roommates and I, in Barcelona. Serge was a local referee from Clermont-Ferrand. During our two weeks in Spain, we convinced him to give it a shot, at a higher level.
Serge and I have worked six or seven World Championship events since. His son, who we helped drag up and down the stairs, in Spain, is twenty-three now. Serge and I talk on the phone, sometime every Christmas Day.
We finished the evening with a kind of ‘ice-breaker’. We had a kind of traditional, outdoor Thai meal. I think it’s good to get this quantity of official together for a beer, early. Makes the chemistry of what we’re about to do just a little more efficient. We’ll see !
Saturday, September 01, 2012
Life is never dull. Reading through what I wrote on August 19th, I had promised to check in. Well, so much for that.
I knocked out that second week of school and felt like we got a great pace established. I have to credit Coach Fraser, because I steal his quote at the beginning of every school year. Fraser has coined the phrase, “Expect to win, with relentless intensity”. More on that, in a few minutes.
I put that quote on the board for eighth graders, just beginning to ponder the challenges of high school. After some discussion and background, we simply strike through the word, “Win”, and replace it with, “Succeed”. I have to say, I have always been pleased and proud of my kids’ reaction to relentless intensity. We can run with the big dogs.
That second Friday, right after school, I drove to Colorado Springs for our State Leaders Summit and Board Meeting. It’s a blessing, and a curse, to be within a six hour drive. I drive it a lot.
I enjoyed seeing all the friends and colleagues that have healed up, a little, since Fargo. I really got a kick out of Coleman Scott’s appearance. It really is nice seeing good things happen for good people.
I have to tell you… straight up… I was disappointed in many of our Board members. I felt like some put padding their own political aspirations above the needs of our organization, at a critical time. Clearly, I’m not in tune with the political thing, so I’m gonna’ leave it at that and, maybe, stay out of trouble.
So, I hopped in, drove back to Albuquerque, got up Sunday morning and celebrated Sterling’s 28th birthday. Here’s a chance for me to say another “Thank You” to the wrestling community for helping raise my son. Sterling is doing well !
Cranked out a third week of school. Got kids lined up to welcome a substitute into our realm of relentless intensity. One of the things that makes me proud is that my kids understand the value of treating guests with dignity.
Did the big, “Wake up at 3:00 and go to the airport thing”, and here I sit, in San Francisco. Not ten minutes after I got here, I ran into Cody Bickley and his wife. They go out earlier, through Tokyo. I don’t go out until late this afternoon, through Beijing.
OK… back to Fraser and his quote. This is another one of those “Straight Up” things. I have been, and remain, a fan of our Greco-Roman program. You can think whatever you want about our performance, or lack thereof, in London. But, if I’m gonna’ find fault or place blame, I’ll find it in myself… not in our National Staff.
My pet project, in the coaching side of my life, is better application of the Seven Basic Skills of Wrestling. I know I can do a better job using those Skills to make New Mexico kids better Greco athletes.
I also know I can use an eighth, intangible, Greco skill to make those kids better athletes in all styles. That intangible is the Honor that is inherent in the Classic style of wrestling.
I mean no disrespect to freestyle, which is so important in the American scheme. Still, we have to acknowledge the true nature of the styles. Freestyle is just what it says: all is fair; everything goes. Greco-Roman wrestling, with its limitations and prohibitions, is largely based on the honor of two combatants to respect them.
Yes, I have a bias ! I spend a lot of time in eastern Europe, where Greco-Roman wrestling is important. That time has strengthened my belief that American athletes can profit from greater exposure and practice in the Greco mentality.
I’m not willing to make Coach Fraser, and our staff, take the hit for my country’s making excuses for not wrestling more Greco. I spoke with Steve, last weekend, and I committed to doing a better job with my own “relentless intensity”. I have no reason to question his.
Good ‘Soap Box’ speech, huh ? OK, I’m done. I am so jazzed about this trip to the Junior Worlds. We have some really great people on the tour. Two of whom, I think are among our best and brightest officials, Casey Brennan-Goessl and Danny Blackshear, will take turns looking after “the Old Guy”.
Coaches, Hag and Ike and Steiner always make the mixture of competition and adventure worth looking forward to. Many of the coaches and officials from other nations are long-time friends. Coach Bickley has a gaggle of up-and-coming coaches studying here. And, we have some damn-fine athletes on this tour.
More from Thailand…