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Because much of the Friday Mailbag is dedicated to discussing how wrestling can progress from the provincial to the profitable, I think it's best to lead with some upbeat news. The World Team Trials are next weekend, and for the first time in the event's history, there is a top-of-the-line promotional advertisement that encourages fans to attend the event, or at least care about the outcome.
Geoffrey Riccio (RiccioProductions.com) has spent the last few years making highlight videos for wrestling, and though all are good, this one captures the drama of the event at a time when wrestling needs above-the-norm production value. What Riccio does that few others have is utilize HD video and graphics to package Olympic and world medalist into a 90-second video. Watchable, shareable, loveable. Riccio also understands his audience and puts the top freestylers in the world alongside images of Kyle Dake, David Taylor and Logan Stieber -- all three being assured to increase the imprint of the video. Though an imperfect weekend based on the distant geographic location, USA Wrestling should be commended for the expert marketing employed here. If there is a critique it's that the video wasn't out a month sooner, but in times of transition lag time for change can be greater than normal.
I'm thrilled with this video and hopeful that as USA Wrestling, NWCA and the wrestling community at-large sees the positive response to this type of marketing we will also realize that to survive our sport needs better presentation and marketing. Wrestling needs to make fans our top priority and to honor their needs we need to recommit ourselves to growth and constantly asking for and accepting bold new ideas.
Congrats to Geoffrey. I love this video and what its release could signify for the direction of the sport.
Q: Why are the World Team Trials being held in Stillwater? Yes I know they have lots of fans and will fill the place, but it does absolutely nothing to promote wrestling on a big time stage. The Midwest is dead. When will the powers at be realize you can't be in small media markets for major events? The Super Bowl isn't held in Stillwater for a reason. NYC, Philadelphia, or another huge East Coast city is where it should be held. Heck, have it in Bristol on ESPN's campus, maybe it would get on TV, especially this year of all years. So frustrated with the sport.
-- Tim J.
Foley: Hey! I live in Chicago and we happen to have plenty going on right now! #GoHAWKS.
You're right that Stillwater could be considered an underwhelming selection for a host city. Not to knock Oklahoma, but we can't keep having our sport's biggest events in the middle of wide-open prairies, or distant desert outpost built by gangsters in the pursuit of sin. (NOTE: This terribly composed sentence was not intended to knock on the hard work of those in Stillwater or to doubt the attendance or popularity of this weekend's event. It was a poor attempt at sarcastic humor (with a slight towards Vegas as well), written in a lazy manner that was deserving of backlash and critique. The larger point I was trying to make, but at which I failed miserably, was that I think going forward we need to ensure that our events occur closer to population centers where there is more national media and solid attendance. My apologies. I missed badly on this one and promise to do better the next time around. -- Tim)
Wrestling needs to improve our selection of tournament locations. However, even if USA Wrestling had wanted a venue change after the Olympic decision, it would have been impossible given the timeframe and existing contracts with vendors in Stillwater.
Moving forward you have to trust USA Wrestling (I'd still cut the cards) will start to seek out areas with higher population densities. There is some indication that progress is underway. The NWCA All-Star Classic, which for several years was held in front of small crowds in California and Arizona, made an enormous splash this season in Washington DC. Building off that momentum the NWCA is again hosting the event in Washington DC and this time hosting the event in George Mason's Patriot Center, a venue that can hold close to 10k people.
The NWCA could set the example for USA Wrestling to follow. Put your events in well-lit, well-traveled areas and there is a better chance that people will attend. Invest in marketing, trust your product and you'll be surprised with the outcome.
Q: I have heard of beach wrestling before but never knew it was a FILA-approved international sport. I think beach wrestling would make a great Olympic event for the sport of wrestling. It has simple rules, shorter matches, and is probably way more entertaining and interesting to non-wrestlers then a Greco-Roman match. I was wondering what your thoughts were on the future of beach wrestling, and the possible inclusion of it in the Olympics? (God willing there is Olympic wrestling.)
-- Jake M.
Foley: Anything is possible, including the addition of beach wrestling as an Olympic sport at some point in the future. The discipline will need time to grow and mature into a sport that several countries take seriously. Right now the wrestlers that are interested in traveling for events and training are doing so for the prize money and sponsorships in freestyle and Greco-Roman. To grow, beach wrestling will need to create larger incentives for athletes and become more marketable than its competitors. That, and it would need a strong advocate within the FILA Bureau.
As we know, the shortcoming with FILA's revamped Olympic proposal is that it remains the only sport out of alignment with the IOC's demands for gender inequality. Traditional African wrestling, the continental cousin of beach wrestling, gives us good insight into the universality of the form and its potential marketability worldwide. Beach wrestling, or some variation thereof, could become the female answer to Greco-Roman, especially since the IOC would grant more medal latitude for a sport that allowed high numbers of female participation.
Beach wrestling might have a very bright future if the FILA Bureau members can see that this is a marketable and gender-equitable solution to their current IOC problem.
Q: My question to you is, what official obstacles will I run into putting rash guards and singlets on youth and middle school wrestlers? Would the officials NOT let them wrestle? Will it take just one team moving forward for this to start grassroots style? As a progressive coach willing to push the envelope, what can be done to get this started?
-- Brad A.
Foley: Cost and fit. The parents probably won't mind that their 9-year-old isn't wearing a single piece of shiny spandex in front of a few hundred strangers, but you'll need to find a short that is sturdy, fits well, doesn't cause much snagging, and can be recycled year-to-year.
There are a number of ways to change rules, but I'd start with empirical evidence to counter those who truly believe Jacob wrestled the Angel in a singlet. The singlet is NOT THE TRADITIONAL OUTFIT OF WRESTLING, and by starting with evidence that combats the power-half of nostalgia you can open up some minds to change.
Overall, I'd recommend you approach this like you would any proposal. Acknowledge the arguments against the rash guard and shorts combo then dismiss them point-by-point. Next, create and present a list of problems with singlets (lower participations rates, lack of marketability, etc.) and show how the "modest, cost-efficient and technically superior" rash guards and fight shorts have short-term and long-term benefits. Now you start to win your audience.
The atom-bomb approach would be to encourage and support your youth wrestlers who don't want to wear the singlets to simply refuse. Such insubordination might move your case into the school board where you would find a much friendlier set of bureaucrats who could see past the traditionalism and note that not every 7-13 year-old boy and girl MIGHT not feel cozy in a single sheet of spandex.
The singlet is dead.
Senegalese Wrestling has been making a stir in the popular media this week. Check out the trailer for this documentary on the style.
Q: You still don't think that Rafael Nadal would make a great wrestler? Did you see his match today? Since your previous answer was basically "no, because he grew up in Spain," what if Nadal's parents had moved to Pennsylvania (or Moscow) when he was 2 years old? If not Nadal, what non-combat sport athlete do you think would be a better candidate for Olympic gold under the "what if his/her parents had moved to PA/Moscow when he/she was two years old?"
-- Ronald M.
Foley: You love tennis.
I can admit that you have a point -- the great athletes in one sport, given the time and coaching at an early age, would have been equally as talented in another sport. That's an argument for innate athleticism and mental outlook as the main drivers for any athlete's success. I can buy that. However, I think there is some variance within that model.
My uncle was a national champion tennis player in college and at one point was the top-ranked amateur player in the world. He played his whole life, went to Bollettieri's Academy and as mentioned won championships at every level. After dropping the sport and starting a family he did what most men in their late 30s do and picked up the 9-iron. Boom. Guy is a savant, and after a few years was close to being eligible for qualification to play in the U.S. Open.
Does that mean he could've also been a good wrestler? Maybe, but maybe not. From up close what I can tell you about my uncle is that he's able to maintain hyper-focus without rattling or questioning his position. He plays forward, never with regret or shame for where his ball now lies. This is a skill that makes him awesome under long durations of self-applied pressure -- situations that occur all the time on the tennis courts and on the golf course. Golfers are balancing the technique of their swing against the consequence of a poor performance on every hole. My uncle, and the great tennis and golf players, don't focus on the negative or dwell on past letdowns.
Nadal does this as well. He is more confident and more sure than most of his opponents. He plays going forward. He has a certainty to every motion he makes, which is similar to pre-cheating scandal Tiger Woods. He makes the remarkable happen because to him it's not remarkable, just the course of the game.
Wrestling is a sport that requires a wholly different set of emotional and mental skills. Good wrestlers are long-term focused, but short-term insecure. Don't believe me? Look at the language used in almost every popular wrestling trope. Wrestlers thrive off insecurity. We need to feel like we are the underdog, the one with something about to be taken. We measure all of our actions in terms of emotional aesthetics and breaking our opponents. Ours is a direct measure of will against the strength and balance of an opponent, not simply the execution of a game plan or technique. Wrestling requires that its athletes have a driving insecurity that leads them onto the mat to prove something. Wrestling's definition is that of a struggle, and that is indicative not just of what happens on the mat, but in the emotional characteristics of its participants.
Nadal would've been a great wrestler for many reasons, but I don't think the tennis outlook is directly applicable to the wrestler's mindset, and that the difference between the two would limit Nadal's success on the mat.
Q: I am a high school coach, and you and others have been talking about getting rid of the singlet, which I do think would help get some kids initially interested in the sport. However, another piece of wrestling equipment that I think is an even bigger problem is the headgear. Of my 35 to 40 kids, I might have 3-4 wear it during practice (and it's just because their ears are banged up). Since most kids don't wear it unless they are required, and it slows matches down with it coming off and sometimes even becomes potentially harmful when it gets around the eyes or throat, do you think there is a chance we could ever get rid of the required wearing of headgear during matches, and make it optional ? Sorta like the freestyle guys. If so, who do we contact?
-- Mike C.
Foley: I'd contact your most trusted deity, because only the act of a god could get the American parent to back down from preventing a perceived health risk in high school athletics (with the exception of safety in football, where is makes perfect sense to allow your child to throw themselves headlong into each other at a full sprint, thereby turning their delicate, developing minds into gray mush). There is NO CHANCE that a Snowplow Parent is allowing their child to develop cauliflower ear. How would that affect their college applications? Potential careers?
Oy, the more I think about it, this has less than a zero-percent chance to work. There is literally a better chance of Tim Tebow leading the New England Patriots to an undefeated season, than there is a chance that parents would allow their kids to compete without a headgear.
I like your outlook, and appreciate that you've joined the movement to change, but let's focus on the singlets first and choose our battles carefully!
RANT OF THE WEEK!
(Note: Not really a RANT)
Q: Your 'tag-tucking' story is fascinating.
Troy Letters did it throughout Lehigh and though I don't know if he did in in high school I always just kinda thought it was HIS "thing!"
In his last season at Lehigh, Troy wrestled-off against Mike Galante in the finals of the team's wrestle-offs. At the start of the second period, Troy chose down, and Mike tucked Troy's tag in on one of the re-starts. Troy spun around, furious that HIS move had been used against him. A moment later he reversed Galante and threw him around the mat a bit for the dominant W.