Fargo, the annual a youth-wrestling extravaganza in North Dakota, also gets started this weekend. The largest wrestling tournament in the United States, Fargo features middle and high school aged wrestlers from around the country competing for the titles colloquially known as "Fargo All-American" and "Fargo national champion." For many coaches, athletes and parents it's the single biggest event outside of their folkstyle state tournament.
For some it's come to symbolize something much larger adding more stress to an event overwrought with needless drama and pointless valuations.
I never competed in Fargo and only attended a few times as a coach. The last time I was in Fargo wasn't even for wrestling. I was playing Trivial Pursuit for money during a 24-hour car ride from Philipsburg, Montana, to Chicago and had to stay overnight at the Holiday Inn. When it comes to wrestling in Fargo I have no emotional connection to the city and no meaningful connection to the event.
Maybe that emotional and physical distance from Fargo is why the tournament feels like the embodiment of what's gone awry in youth wrestling. Wrestling fans are now glued to the screen to see how wrestlers as young as 14 years old are competing at a tournament which will have absolutely no effect on the rest of their life (outside of prompting some to get a USA Wrestling tattoo on their shoulder in honor of their "All-American" achievement). Worse still the wrestlers themselves begin to mistakenly believe that Cadet and Junior National Championships at 14 or 15 or 16 will in some way ensure future success.
Hint: There is no correlation between high school success and Olympic success.
Look around the wrestling world and see that for every Fargo Megastar like David Taylor there are 10,000 participants who never made it to college and burned out of the sport completely -- many before their first day of college.
Humans assign value to plenty of dumb things (Beanie Babies, stamps, diamonds) but none seems as overgrown and ready to implode than the self-important gaze by which parents and coaches glare upon the youth sports. In wrestling that over-infatuation and skewed value is epitomized by what goes on inside the FARGODOME.
I applaud the efforts of our wrestling community to have a single, large event by which to evaluate youth wrestlers and celebrate the sport. But Fargo is not a celebration - it's a cutthroat competition for medals that very soon will mean nothing except the loss of formative years. Fargo means more to parents, scouts and the wrestlers than what it could ever create in return. Util to util Fargo has a terrible ROI.
Jake Herbert has been promoting his BASE wrestling system, which focuses on skill-building, fun activities for youth wrestlers, without discrediting the idea of competitionThe error is in thinking that with hyper-focus, a wrestler -- buoyed by family and coaches -- can become an elite athlete. Some might, but most pre-pubescent, over-worked 14-year-old boys won't become Jordan Burroughs or Cael Sanderson, and most won't become Jordan Oliver or Cyler Sanderson. Most will become former wrestler with weird stories to tell girls at the bar about how they have "actually been to North Dakota." They don't make it to the top of the pile and when they don't they leave -- the price they paid for failure too great.
The truth remains that despite the hero-worshipping and creation of the Fargo-Dreamscape, the vast majority of the youth wrestlers who venture to the tournament will end up outside of the sport, disenfranchised and burned out.
There are ways to keep Fargo on the schedule and our kids happy, but that will require parents, teachers and coaches to CALM THE HELL DOWN.
Over-competitiveness and hyper-specialization isn't a new trend -- American wrestlers having been burning out for decades, but never before has what lead to that burnout -- overexposure, high-stress, low-return on investment -- been more prevalent. Today's wrestler is living in his father's car being toted around, their life a miserable go-round: Practice ... cutting weight ... Super 32; Practice ... cutting weight .. Fargo; Practice ... cutting weight ... Pop and Flo; Practice ...
Life for a teenage wrestler is lived within a single opportunity and single expression. Kids -- that's what they are -- deserve the opportunity to be supported in doing more than just one sport. They deserve to be given a chance to negotiate what it is they like and dislike. Adult life is about being forced to absorb and process the absolute repetitive hell that is "day-in, day-out." Being a child or young adult means getting to avoid that quicksand and live an optimistic, healthy existence -- preferably with three meals a day and gallons of fresh drinking water -- and it's this generation of wrestling parent that can change the prevailing 24/7, "Win you live, lose you die" attitude of the community.
Sport specialization happens. You don't have to ask too many wrestlers over thirty what life was like as a child to see that vast separation between their experience and that of the modern youth wrestler. I started at 14 years old, wrestled ONLY in season and at the end of the day I smile more than I laugh, won more matches than I lost and made some lifelong friends. I also still work within the sport.
Youth sports should be about teaching determination and competition, but a variety of options allow for personal growth ... Play to winDon't get confused about this message. Competition is OK and something that can be taught through passion. I'm not a psychopath about winning, but I can see that I have a drive to succeed and have been known to take ping-pong games with 12-year-olds too seriously. Some of that passion through wrestling, but a lot of that came from the confidence my parents let me create by allowing me choose my path (even as early as fourth-grade baseball).
Fargo isn't the only cause of wrestling's high-turnover problem, but it is a result of priorities and poor leadership by coaches and parents.
There will always be savants who excel at the sport, and kids who love wrestling so much that they have to get their beatings six days a week, but we all know that the vast majority of our little guys are neither. They're just dudes (and dudettes, though that's a separate culture) who don't want to disappoint Mom and Dad and who think that they (mostly) like some part of the sport of wrestling.
So please, this week, give the poor kids a break. Cheer them on, support them and should the need arise allow them go on to do something else active, healthy and fun. The beauty of wrestling is that anyone might become a champion, but that not everyone can.
Your kid included.
To your questions ...
Q: Failed drugs tests in MMA … How much do managers/coaches/partners know when athletes are using drugs? Should a guy like Greg Jackson be held accountable at all for Ali B. failed test vs. Mighty Mouse?
Foley: I once interviewed an unnamed, very well-known MMA fighter who said that he believed 90 percent of fighters were on some type of performance enhancing drug. According to him the fighter would typically use them to help in training and then get off in enough time to pass the drug tests.
For a long time that system was working, but now the commissions and the UFC (kinda) are cracking down. Were it up to Uncle Dana, fighters would probably all be on juice to improve their "KNOCKOUT!!!!!" potential, but as it stands he can't ask that of his contracted employees. He's a bright guy and probably sees how drugs almost killed baseball and would do the same to the UFC.
The trainers are one-hundred percent aware of their fighters' in-the-gym activities, or at least should be. Did Jackson know about Ali B? It's possible, but he has a lot of fighters on his roster and Ali had a lot of people jabbering in his ear. There is a cloud of confusion that comes over operations like Jacksons and to make him responsible might be ill-advised.
Athletes will always cheat to get ahead and while I think it's preposterous not to test them more often, it's also an expensive proposition. Without blanket procedures for who gets tested when the entire thing becomes a gamble, though in Ali's case I think it was a scheduled test.
Who will hold him accountable are the young fighters coming up. Do they want to be in a camp with a bunch of guys that have peed hot in the past? Are they comfortable in being surrounded by a culture of cheating? Jackson needs to get involved from a business perspective and see that it's bad for the brand to have his title contenders get their butt kicked AND test positive for drugs.
Q: Will there be line bracketing at Fargo this year? How will the seeding or bracket placement be done with so many competitors?
Foley: Yes. The old system has been replaced by a simple bracket system that you see at the NCAA tournament. The top wrestlers will be separated as best as possible, though nothing can be guaranteed.
Stuart Scott Motivates
Athlete of the Week: Mighty Mouse Kacy Catanzaro
Wealth Gap: Wrestling can relate and Billy Baldwin reference!
Link: John Bardis, The Wrestling CEO
Q: What's your feeling on the state of wrestling in the American West? Grand Canyon turmoil, Pac-12 rebuilding, Wyoming, UVU?
Foley: I'm hopeful.
The recent firing of the Grand Canyon staff is tumultuous, but that program is being prepped for Division I and that means it will attract talent. No matter the reasons for the dismissal of the coaches there is opportunity, and with the right replacement Grand Canyon can keep up their recent successes.
The Pac-12 is still reeling from a lack of depth, but with the news that Fresno State is closer than ever to re-adding their program and Zeke Jones moving to Tempe there is reason to stay optimistic. Conference growth is never an easy or quick fix. Cal-Poly should improve this season with guys coming out of redshirt and the Stanford Cardinal will place wrestlers at the NCAA tournament (Jason Borelli is proving to be one of the best coaches in the country).
So why not? Let's go ahead and be hopeful. It's the American way.
Doug ZembiecThe Washington Post reported this week that Marine Maj. Doug Zembiec's 2007 death in Iraq was while fighting on behalf of the CIA. Nicknamed "The Lion of the Fallujah" Zembiec starter his military career ate the Naval Academy where he was a two-time NCAA All-American wrestler.
The story is worth reading in full, but here are a few quotes that speak to his force as a commander and man. He was without questions a warrior and remarkable in his perseverance and courage.
"I was with him in Fallujah," the Marine continued. "And if we had to go back in there, I'd follow him in with a spoon."
"The radio operator on Zembiec's death, 'Five wounded and one martyred.'"
-- Wall Street Journal
Final quote from Zembiec, given at his funeral
"Be a man of principle. Fight for what you believe in. Keep your word. Live with integrity. Be brave. Believe in something bigger than yourself. Serve your country. Teach. Mentor. Give something back to society. Lead from the front. Conquer your fears. Be a good friend. Be humble and be self-confident. Appreciate your friends and family. Be a leader and not a follower. Be valorous on the field of battle. And take responsibility for your actions. Never forget those that were killed. And never let rest those that killed them."