Regional Training Centers . . . a cause for concern.

I guess I should apologize for starting this by mentioning the good old days when wrestlers didn’t have to qualify their weights before going to the Olympics; to a time when our athletes had enough confidence to achieve their potential; and to a time when you could trust the leadership at USAWrestling.

Regrettably that’s not the case today; too many things have changed as a result of a single change. Gone are the days of believing we’re the best in the world and whether that’s true or not doesn’t matter. Iowa wrestlers weren’t America’s best in the 80’s either, but Gable made them believe otherwise. They not only won but dominated the competition because he instilled in them the resolve to impose their will on others. They knew absolutely, positively that they were the best and that belief put them at the top of their game. It’s the “thing” that carried the Hawks to more national team titles than other schools care to count.

Fast forward to today; our athletes, other than Burroughs, Snyder and a few of the women have a vastly different mindset. They might say they’re going to win but I’m afraid their words are more of a hope that expectation. And here in lies the problem. No one ever goes into competition hoping to win and comes out a champion. That doesn’t happen. It’s the total belief in oneself that we’ve lost as a country.

This shift in our performance chi is the direct result of the decisions and direction the administration at USAWrestling has taken us; from the Executive Director to the President to the organization’s Board of Directors. I realize that making mistakes or having a lapse in judgment is normal for to err is human. But to ignore mistakes when they happen is stupid; to repeat them is inexcusable.

Never before have American wrestlers worried about being left at home after making an Olympic team.  Granted this issue of qualifying weight classes is a relatively new one for Colorado Springs to worry about but the point is, had there been qualifying tournaments in the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s I can’t think of a single weight class that wouldn’t have qualified because our athletes always focused on winning events, not qualifying at them.

Whether I’m 100% correct here isn’t the point. What is noticeable though since 2000 and the beginning of the present administration, our athlete’s belief in self has taken a nosedive. There are so few of our wrestlers who feel, actually believe, they can stay with the Russians, the Iranians or even the Cubans.

And one of the major reasons for our decline is the existence of the Regional Training Centers which we’ll cover together in a minute.    

Are you aware that as of this writing USAWrestling has only qualified 50% of the 18 weight classes we compete in? That’s 9 out of 18 very deserving and talented athletes who won our Olympic trials who won’t be competing in Brazil. Hopefully we’ll have more going as there are still two qualifying events left on the calendar. But even then, why has it taken us so long? Why does USAWrestling’s budget have to absorb an additional expenditure of over $100,000.00 to send athletes overseas to do what the organization should have done months ago when we had several qualifying events here in the states?

As an aside, here’s some other information you might find interesting. The IOC (International Olympic Committee) allows between 16 and 18 wrestlers to enter competition per style and weight class. So when anyone fails to qualify a weight class it means that country doesn’t have one athlete who is good enough in world competition to be ranked at least in the Top 16 .

That’s incomprehensible. America, a country that has more wrestlers competing than any country in the world, better nutrition than any other nation, more wrestling rooms and better sports psychologists and medical services than anyone else on the planet and we can only qualify half our athletes?

Were you aware that we used to place 76% of our wrestlers in the Top 8 in world competition between 1980 and 2000? Now we’re only placing 50% of our athletes in the Top 16. How does this happen, how does our success rate and global expectations fall that far?

In my opinion, it’s due to the failure of our athletes to believe in themselves and I put the blame squarely on the shoulders of politically ambitious leaders who bow to the wishes of those who keep them in power.

Before going further, let’s look at some statistics . . .

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Comparing performances in World and Olympic competition from 1980 to 2000 and then under the current leadership. Here’s what the numbers tell us:

World Championships . . . . . 1980-2000, only 24% of our athletes didn’t place in the Top 8

2001-2015, now 46% of our athletes don’t place in the Top 8

A 96% reduction in athletic performance.

Olympic Championships . . . 1980-2000, only 12% of our athletes didn’t place in the Top 8

2001-2015, 30% of our athletes didn’t place in the Top 8

An even larger reduction in athletic performances, 250%.

On the men’s side in both styles, since 2001, only Bill Zadick, Jordan Burroughs and Kyle Snyder have won World Freestyle Titles as Dremiel Byers and Joe Warren did on the Greco side. That’s 11 years of competition and 158 opportunities for a Gold Medal with a production rate of 4%.

Similarly during the previous 11 years from 1990-2001 America won 17 individual World Championships with a Gold Medal production rate of 11%. That’s a 250% decrease in performance between the two administrations even with budgets that are almost double what they were in the 1990’s.

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Shame on USAWrestling . . . did you watch any of the Olympic Trials? If you did, something you may not have noticed was the unacceptable behavior of members of our national coaching staff as they openly sat in the corners of OTC athletes and coached against others who happen to be fellow Americans and USAWrestling card holders. How can this possibly be permissible and approved of by our Executive Director and President?

One would think that any National Governing Body should be impartial toward their own during competition. Yet that hasn’t been the case for this administration that supports stacking the deck in favor of the few at the expense of the many. Shouldn’t the goal of USAWrestling be the resurgence of competitiveness, not the expansion of organizational mistrust?

Preferential treatment like this is indefensible. This is why so few athletes go to the Olympic Training Center for help and why we’re falling short when we compete overseas.

Instead of going to Colorado Springs to train and use the OTC as a place where steel sharpens steel, our athletes prefer to attend Regional Training Centers because a) They’re more convenient and b) They know it won’t be help they receive but scouted instead so “favored” athletes can succeed. When you pair this distrust of family with USAWrestling’s poorly conceived RTC program you end up where we are today.

What I find so disturbing is somehow this behavior seems to be acceptable to USAWrestling’s Board of Directors. If it wasn’t acceptable, the practice would have been discontinued years ago.

Now I realize when I expand my scope of blame that I’m offending many of my dearest friends. I wish that wasn’t the case but if they’re going to enjoy the perks and responsibility of power which they’ve earned and are entitled to, then they have an obligation to right wrongs where they exist and be accountable not to leadership, but to membership. For without a willingness to check and balance, the organization is destined to continue achieving what it’s currently lacking.

Now granted in the big picture, does the manipulation of athletes trust cause cracks to appear in the foundation of USAWrestling and destabilize programming while assuring subpar performances overseas; you bet it does!

And I wonder, would anything change if one of the Board Members sons were wrestling opposite an athlete who was being coached by a member of the national staff? Does anyone need me to answer that for them?

So why is this okay for any child when it’s not okay for a Board Members child?

I hope everyone understands I write these blogs as a result of my endearing passion for the sport and my need to remind USAWrestling that politics, albeit a very positive way to operate not-for-profits but when decisions are made that strangle the effectiveness of performance, leadership has crossed the line. All of this is why wadeschalles.com should be on your favorites list of must reads.

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USAWrestling’s 32 Regional Training Centers are at the heart of our demise.

As much as they were created for the right reasons, all of which were promising, they’ve slowly turned as toxic as the water in Flint, Michigan.

Since their inception in 2004 and the NCAA’s approval of them in 2011, these training centers were meant to broaden America’s interest in the two international styles while providing geographically convenient training centers. As impressive as all this sounds the outcomes have fallen short of their designs.

For the athletes the training centers are double edged swords. On one hand they’re convenient, typically close to most of their homes where athletes can sleep in their own beds while training in familiar surroundings. There’s also the financial assistance of Colorado Springs’ stipend program in addition to anyone of several revenue sources that the RTC’s have available to them.

Yet to receive those secondary and in some cases substantially larger sums there are a few unwritten expectations. One of them is to help train those collegians who are sharing the same wrestling room. Granted I understand the NCAA has specific rules about such interaction but the grey areas of this is so expansive that it’s not hard to stay on the side of right while violating the intent of the rules.

In essence, there’s a quiet understanding between athletes who are training in freestyle for the purpose of winning World Championships with their collegiate counterparts who are training in folkstyle to win NCAA titles.

Now I don’t begrudge any of these athletes the freedom to select the type of cake they like and be able to eat it too. But I do blame Colorado Springs who should know better than allow this to take place when they’re responsible to advance the sport through international dominance; not collegiate success.

America’s international aspirants should strive to be all they can be, not what they think is the best they can be. There’s a stark difference between the two and training with collegians, no matter how structured practices might be can’t possibly achieve international goals. By definition, world class means clicking at 100% of ones capabilities and at 96% because you’re working out with college kids it means DNP (did not place). There’s a pretty wide gap between the two just as finishing .02 seconds behind the Olympic Champion in the 100 meter dash keeps you off the podium.

Training in collegiate wrestling rooms with athletes who are striving for much smaller goals doesn’t put anyone near a World Championship. This is always the way it is unless your name is Burroughs or Snyder where 96% of their talent level is 10% more than is needed for Gold. For the rest of the field, they have to be at 100%.

America’s best should all be in the same wrestling room if we expect to reverse misfortunes. No one can elevate their game globally by playing paddy cake with those who think nationally.  

USAWrestling should absolutely rethink the way the RTC’s are being used or dump the concept all together. But they won’t because they serve a purpose beyond the obvious. You see the existence of the RTC’s helps USAWrestling stem their political hemorrhaging by soliciting the support of many of America’s most powerful collegiate coaches.

By approving collegiate applications to become an RTC, USAWrestling is assisting the rich in becoming richer by skirting around the intent, if not the rules the NCAA has in place to create parody. Basically the RTC’s have become a way for an institution to legally increase the number and quality of workouts partners that are otherwise forbidden. This makes those Division I coaches who have RTC’s very happy.

To give you an idea of who might be taking advantage of these training centers, 11 of the Top 20 and 20 of the Top 40 wrestling programs in America have them. By comparison, none of the bottom 40 teams have RTC’s and more than likely it’s the reason why they’ll stay where they are.

Now regarding USAWrestling, if being successful in world and Olympic competition is the goal, then the existence of RTC’s doesn’t make sense. You can’t keep America’s best athletes spread out all over the countryside and expect to develop finely-tuned competitors. It just isn’t possible and for the last 10 or so years there’s plenty of proof.

Again, back in the good old days when I competed and before sundials, America’s greatest would journey to Iowa City to train with Gable. For months on end we’d bang heads and I credit that with our international successes.

But to be clear, we hated every minute of it; but not as much as we loved realizing the outcomes of effort. Gable instilled a belief of self in us because of the ungodly tough competition we faced every minute of every hour of every day for weeks and months on end.

Day in and day out I helped Dziedzic along with others become a World Champion. He in turn helped Kemp win multiple world titles while Carl Adams was giving a young Dave Schultz and focused Butch Keaser lessons in double legs. When I wanted someone different to look at I’d move up to 180.5 and bang heads with Chris Campbell and John Peterson. This is how we all got tough, through the greatness of those we wrestled. And like the Green Bay Packers under Coach Lombardi, they couldn’t wait for Sunday because that was the only day of the week they had off by comparison. For us it was going to events. They were far easier than workouts under Gable.

Every day was the same; attack, defend and repeat the process. And if you stopped to catch your breath Gable would be in your face and no one wanted that because he had an unlimited gas tank, a fiery disposition and was a little crazy I believe.

But we loved him just the same. Well, it really wasn’t love, maybe it was more of a like, no that wasn’t it either. Whatever it was, no one ever appreciated what Gabe did for us until we returned from overseas with medals, and then none of us ever forgot him.

That’s what America is missing, a location like Iowa City where every one of our athletes can gather to advance the quality of their performances. That was how we became respectable in those good old days. But for over a decade now we’ve been enduring what the current administration feels will be one of their legacies; Regional Training Centers. And I’ll give it to them; they did look good when they were on the drawing board. So they get an A for effort and a B- for implementation but unfortunately the effectiveness of them has been an F.

As an aside, another reason why RTC’s are a bad idea is the revenue that alumni and friends dump into these training centers. I completely understand why they do it and wish to thank them for their kind assistance. But given that every collegiate wrestling team in the country is in the red, and there’s obviously money out there that the athletic departments aren’t seeing to help them with their budgetary challenges, while their facilities are being used by the RTC’s rent free, how do you think this plays out with Athletic Directors? This has also been a slick way for USAWrestling to alleviate the financial strain of training their athletes by placing a portion of that responsibility on the backs of the colleges.

The RTC’s have to go and while USAWrestling is doing that they need to start selling the athletes on the benefits of coming together as much as they might dislike what that means. Will it be inconvenient for a lot of them, yep, but if the goal is to win medals, production must be handled as a business. The athletes already receive paychecks; all that has to happen now is let them know that they’ve been transferred.

Winning is all about sacrificing that which is convenient by embracing that which is not.

And in return USAWrestling promises to stop the favoritism their coaches show toward specific athletes.

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A parting thought; if there are only a few dozen athletes training in Colorado Springs, what is USAWrestling doing with all the coaches they have on staff which costs the organization upwards of a million dollars a year in salaries? I don’t think I’ve heard of them traveling to the various RTC’s to help so besides coaching resident athletes against the rest of the country, it appears they may be overstaffed.

Now I know a lot of what I’ve written shouldn’t be a palm-of-the-hand-to-the-forehead surprise for most, but maybe it might be for Colorado Springs.

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2 thoughts on “Regional Training Centers . . . a cause for concern.

  1. Bryan . . . I hope every other response I receive is of this kind but I’m afraid that won’t be the case. Too many people look for things to be upset about and focus in on one element of a 20,000 word article to make their point. While everything is never perfect or one size fitting all, the theme is USAWrestling is struggling mightily. They shouldn’t allow their coaches to pick sides AND the basic premise of RTC’s all be it noble, hurts our capabilities overseas.

    You were kind to respond; Wade

  2. Wow. I have the agree with you on every point.

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