April 15, 2017
After two days of non stop sparring and matches, the kids are sore and exhausted. Outside factors such as time change have gotten to them a little. In a change of pace, this morning they played a wrestling game. They were out into two teams of ten, and had a counterpart to attack. The rules of the game were simple. There are two goals. The goal is to grab another opponent and wrestle them down and drag them to your respective side of the mat. This is a very entertaining game as you have everyone working together to accomplish one goal, bring the entire opposite team to your side of the mat.
In light of the seriousness they experienced the past couple days, this was definitely a change in mental intensity, all the while still using wrestling related actions and activities to takedown your opponent and pull them across two mats to the goal. This is the first time in two days I have seen the kids truly smiling and having fun, while getting a good workout in.
What did I learn from this session. I understand now that there has to be some type of change in training. Doesn't always have to be go go go, technique and drilling at a hundred miles an hour. There definitely needs to be a change in training where you are still getting some type of work in but takes your mind off of the daily grind of fighting. Constant fighting can keep you in a specific mindset that doesn't allow you to breathe and think about your training for a second.
Whether they know it or not, this is a time of reflection, a time to release some tension and smile. This is important in wrestling and Europeans are masters at creating games and activities to take their athletes out of the mental grind of constant battling. This is an important part of training.
After our morning workout, we headed to the sauna and spent about an hour there. As described in an earlier entry, saunas sessions here are used as a cleansing experience, not necessarily a weight cutting activity. It's a process. Generally you sit in the sauna 10-15 minutes at a time and then exit to rinse off or cold plunge into cold water. You then repeat this process 3/4 times.
There are a number of different types of saunas, the one we use here is a dry stone sauna as opposed to a steam sauna. A kiln is burning wood at the bottom with rocks stacked above and around to firm kind of like a cone or pyramid. There is a bucket of water with a ladle to wet the rocks to create more heat. Sometimes smelling oils are poured onto the rocks to create a pleasing aroma in the sauna.
Overall was a good day, kids are smiling, feeling relaxed right now. They have made friends, followed and got followed on instagram by our counterparts, traded items that they will have for a lifetime and remember this trip by. I wish this trip was a little longer, but, hopefully it has served it's purpose for the goals that these kids have set for themselves.
April 14, 2017
Today was a humbling experience for the group. They wrestled 4/5 matches this morning and another 3/4 this afternoon. For the first time our guys wrestled an international wrestler and got to feel what that was like. The frustration I got today was, the Ukrainians don't really move their feet. This is interesting, something I already knew and if you watch international wrestling, you would notice it also.
Europeans do not move their feet. The less energy they can expend in order to explode to an opening is the philosophy. What they are really good at is hand fighting, getting you to feel uncomfortable with their hands, feeling and exposing bad position. Why is it we focus so much on foot work? I'm not saying its not important. Kids need to learn the proper technique to be able to penetrate, but there must be something to this philosophy. It's seen all throughout the World and Olympic Championships and international competition. The best in the world move very little.
This is something they have to figure out. They did some good things, they did some bad things. We got controlled in the hand fight, we got countered a lot, we got scored on off of our mistakes. A mix of patience and explosion is needed to succeed at this level. Either way, was learning experience. It's been two tough days, the kids are sore and tired. Couple more days and we head back home to share our experiences and show what we have learned.
April 13, 2017
We had our first training day today. The kids didn't know what to expect. Considering the time frame and the amount of practices we will be having, our trainer understands the importance of what we are trying to accomplish here in a short amount of time. Practices here are different than back home. Everything is controlled by the trainer, every motion, every drill, warm up, etc. Before every practice starts, the students lineup in height order, tallest to smallest. The trainer speaks briefly, I'm assuming instructing the students about the practice and then the warm up starts. As the kids are jogging, Vitali, our trainer, gives instructions as to what the kids are to do during the warm up, each follows instructions. The warm up may last about 10-15 min that leads into a series of partner stretches/games before the practice begins.
Our first session consisted of a lot of mat wrestling. Mat wrestling meaning wrestling actions on the mat, Par Terre, near side cradle position, front head position. Each partner would have two min to work on the position with resistance, kind of like sparring. The kids rotated through three different partners for each position. There isn't much instruction and explanation of details, pretty much, get into the position and figure it out. Coaches are giving instructions as this is going on correcting position and mistakes. It's kind of a more free type of practice where the students have the ability to figure out what works best for them, but, position is always corrected if it's not perfect. Every once in a while you will hear a coach raise his voice because position wasn't how it was supposed to be. Our second session was similar to the first, except the focus was neutral wrestling. There was a free drill for about 10-15 min, the instructions were to work on leg attacks. Each partner would go three attacks before the other partner would go. This was a pretty high paced activity and the kids really broke a sweat here. The then focused on positions like high crotch, single legs with one knee in the mat, snatch single positions, all sparring situations.
Both sessions ended with full contact goes, six goes for 2 min, changing partners every time. As I watched the kids, it is evident we lack positioning. One of the kids said to me, "it's crazy how they can see things coming faster than we do.". I said, I don't know if they can see it, but it's definitely something they are feeling. They are used to sparring situations more than drilling techniques. Their actual penetration shots aren't too good, but once they get to a leg, they are going to score if the other doesn't counter first. Countering, something we aren't too good at, knowing how to score in these positions, offensively and defensively is important in international wrestling. One of the other students said to me, they don't really get into a stance much. I asked them, "well, if you don't need control to score points, is there a purpose to actually be in a stance?".
There are a lot of things that these kids will figure out and learn. Things they may take back with them. My goal is that they take back a different mentality to their training. To figure out that some things are more important than other things, positioning, nutrition, life long friendships. It was a cool thing to hear that the athletes hung out together in the apartment playing UNO with the Ukrainians. This is what it's about. Tomorrow we are back at it again. Another tough day of training to get through. Time change is definitely catching up to the kids as they are finding it difficult to sleep when they are supposed to, but it's a sacrifice, a price to pay to experience something like this.
April 12, 2017
Well, it's been a long journey. We arrived in Ukraine at 3:30pm. Everyone was excited until we still had three hours to go to Kolomiya. We met up with our driver Yuma and proceeded to our final destination. The weather is a little bit cooler than back home, sun was still of out, but i the was somewhat cloudy. Overall it was OK, not much of a drastic change from the weather home.
We finally arrived to Kolomiya at about 7-7:30pm. We quickly dropped our luggage off in our respective rooms and went to eat down the street. We had a beet salad prepared waiting for us, with some rye and wheat toast. Not everyone was too excited above up the beet salad, only a couple of us enjoyed it. After, we were served some chicken with buckwheat. The kids didn't take to this too well either. Majority just ate the chicken.
One thing they will have to learn is to immerse themselves,vessels in this trip, which includes the food. There is such a big difference between taste in food. Everything,, honestly, everything made here is natural and comes straight from the farm, veggies, meat, grains, etc. A lot different than the processed food we get from home, along with the fast food we are used to settling for. There isn't one fast food restaurant here in Kolomiya, no McD's, Burger King, Wendy's, Chinese food, nothing. Ono the way in to Kolomiya the kids witnessed this first hand, almost every single Nike household or property we drove by had some type of garden or farming system, either in the front or the back of the house. Open land was full of rows of planted crops. Not even on the 3 hour drive from the airport did I see a fast food restaurant.
This is a big change for most of the kids. But again, if they want to fully experience the culture, it would do them justice to eat healthy, not just for the experience, for their own health and nutrition. So we ate quickly and headed off to a sauna to get the flight out of us. Whoa, did we need that. I made it a point to explain to them that a sauna shouldn't be used with the mentality to cut weight. This was a "Sauna Session", where you mentality relaxed, let the heat overcome their bodies, swear and clear out some impurities they have. It felt so good.
We talked a little inside the sauna and asked them a rhetorical question, something to think about and write down. What is it each of them want to get out of this trip? When is all said and done, and we land on Monday evening in Newark, how do you want to feel? Although these are things I asked them, every athlete should do this. Set goals with target date. Goals that are realistic, attainable with a little hard work, goals an athlete can look back on and hold themselves accountable for and answer the question have I accomplished what I set out to do, if not, why?
As we enter our first training day, which is supposed to be a Par Terre sparring session, I told them, how they approach training mentally is going to determine what they get out of this trip. They know what to expect tomorrow, they know what has to be done individually to be successful tomorrow. Approach it as business. Each have their own individual goals, tomorrow is the start of hopefully, the new journey of five wrestlers.
April 11, 2017
Not exactly sure what time it is. My iPad says it's 9:30pm. Flying over the Atlantic Ocean right now. Finished watching some crazy as movie called the girl on the train. Just did a walk through on the plane to see what the kids were doing. Danny and Marlee age playing uno. They have a goal of not going to sleep. Joey is knocked out behind me, Liv is watching a movie and doing fine. Shaina is watching her second movie. This is a long flight and can't do anything but think. Random thoughts run through my mind, wrestling, family, business, future. This I think about all the time. Was hard for me to leave the kids today, knowing I would miss their birthday on Saturday. Omar started crying and didn't want me to go. Oliviah cried a little. I've never missed their birthday done they have been born.
I think about what the purpose of this trip is. Each individual has to have a purpose for this trip. I try to think of what everyone's purpose should be, obviously to get better and gain some type of perspective into their own individual wrestling. This trip is more than just wrestling for me. It's about being in a new environment, trying to find oneself as a wrestler and individual, appreciating the luxuries we have back home, and being able to come back home with a new sense of one's self and their goals. This is not a trip to learn to wrestle. This is not a trip to learn a new move. This is a trip to immerse oneself into a culture of wrestling that we don't see every day. A trip that can teach someone how to approach training, competition, this sport and life in general.
There are major tournaments coming up for each one of these individuals. What are their goals? What do they want to accomplish? What is their individual purpose? Hopefully everyone is here because they want to be. That's the first step to fully experiencing what this trip can do for them, physically, mentally, emotionally, and technically. For me, my goal is simple, find a way to get through to the kids to show them this is the first step to accomplishing something great in their lives.
APRIL 11, 2017
It is an exciting thing to travel, especially overseas. Feelings of nervousness, excitement, anxiety, etc go through your mind. Sound familiar? Maybe like the feelings right before a wrestling match or tournament? As we get ready to leave and I think about the most important sacrifice i make to be able to do what I love. FAMILY.
My family has sacrificed a lot for me to be able to do what I love, to put smiles on others faces. At the same time I have sacrificed a lot of time away from them to be able to do this. Similarly, the athletes families that are experiencing this awesome opportunity, also sacrifice to help them carry out their dreams and the things they want to accomplish.
As I see the different families giving hugs as we head to the security check point, it becomes more evident the importance of the sacrifice families make. These parents have entrusted me with the lives of their children, who are traveling overseas to fulfill their wrestling goals. A huge sacrifice on their part. Wrestling, as well as any other sport, comes with huge sacrifices. Sacrifices we or our families may not understand. In the end, when it's all over, it's all we have.
I want to say thank you, first off to my family, Xiomara, Jazmin, Dijah, Malik, Omar Jr. and Oliviah for continuing to support me in what I do. It hasn't been easy but you guys have stuck this out with me for the past 14 years. I also want to thank the families of these children for trusting in me and allowing me the opportunity to share my experiences with your children. It's is a huge sacrifice on everyone's part and I am truly grateful and honored to be able to share my knowledge and passion with your children.
I will continue to blog about our experiences during this entire trip. I hope I am able to paint a clear picture through my writing so that you can also be here with us in spirit. We are currently, at JFK airport, gate 09, flying on Austria Airlines to Vienna, Austria. It has been a long time in the waiting for me to be able to head back to a camp that I started with an old friend, mentor and coach of mine. Aside from being able to expose the kids to what wrestling is like in a different part of the world, I do this for my friend and former coach. This is an extremely emotional time for me as I remember the last time we were together, it was at a debriefing after one Of our camps. I promise that I will not let you down and continue to keep the same ideas and philosophies we talked about on our previous trips together. Although your not physically with us this time, I know your watching over us. This one's for you RR.