Foley's Friday Mailbag: July 18, 2014

The Cadet World Championships wrap up this weekend in Slovakia and from where I've been sitting youth wrestling has never looked better. After the first three days of competition it's apparent that Greco-Roman, freestyle and female wrestling have a strong future. These kids can roll ...

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 competition
The 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 led 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 win
Don'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?
-- @Rob_SwagginU

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?
-- @ghwcoach?

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?
-- @NHoughSnee

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 Zembiec
The 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."


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donkeylips (1) about 4 years ago
I don't think I know of a person who likes to hear themselves speak more than Foley. You'd think a man of so many words might, just might, actually have something worth saying. Your diatribes are soooooo boring. How do you constantly find away of turning the interesting into the mundane? I beg Intermat to find a writer capable of writing this column who won't put us readers to sleep. At the very minimum, please only answer the questions asked. There is no need to lead off with any kind of opinion at the beginning of the article.
matman133 (2) about 4 years ago
Mr. DL,
One of the great thinks about living in America, is you always have a choice. I support your choice to write the comment you you did above. I support your choice to say or do anything you want, within the law. I support your right to have any opinion you want.
Now I'm going to ask you to support me, as I voice mine. How can you use words like diatribes, boring, and mundane, when a part of Mr. Foley's article today, was celebrating and remembering, a brave U S Marine, who literally laid down his life to afford you the opportunity to launch your diatribe.
Oh did I mention, you have still more choices, one is to do something else on Friday mornings.......Have a great day!!
vazquezre (1) about 4 years ago
I also support your right to respond. While my response has nothing to do with a US Marine, so please do not try to paint me in that light. I've served my country and have the utmost respect for our servicemen and service women. Don't try to turn what I was typing to Foley into some kind of anti-American rant (I hope you're better than that) That being said, while you may find this article....well, however you found it, I find Foley's unsolicited opinions boring and mundane. I'd prefer he stick to answering questions with as little opinion as possible. And while I don't have to read the Mailbag on Fridays, I am interested in some of the questions the readers send in. So thank you for your input, but it was unwarranted and a fairly pathetic attempt to vilify me. Have a great day as well!
TrevorKov9 (1) about 4 years ago
Also disagree I cant wait for Foley's articals every week something different and i really enjoy the person feel!!! Still also very informative and interesting. Like stated before no one is forcing you to read this artical but I for one sincerly enjoy these articals Foley don't change keep up the good work!!!
ja367501 (1) about 4 years ago

I disagree. I thought today's mailbag was thought-provoking. This past week I was a Midwest Nationals in Il. It didn't take a half an hour before I heard dads using the F word and cussing out their 12 year old sons. We have a serious issue with overzealous parents in our sport. One that must be brought up and discussed. Foley your article is the highlight of my Friday. THANK YOU!!!
Matcat8 (1) about 4 years ago
Thanks Mr. Donkeylips for gracing us with your presence. We realize it must have been difficult to squeeze enough time in between kicking the dog and the BDSM sites to put TR in his place. Foley you hear that? Don't go writing your opinions in an editorial free for all the internet to read. Ludicrous I say!
donkeylips (1) about 4 years ago
Matcat8, do people tell you that you're funny? You're full of zingers today. Go brush up on your hack comedy, we'll wait.
Phiferfuqua (1) about 4 years ago
Some of the smartest writing about our sport is found in this space every week. I don't always agree, but I'm always glad I took the time to read it.
DrNuveen (1) about 4 years ago
I beg to differ. I find Foley's stuff stimulating, with perspective and it allows me to feel involved with the sport, as age and time prevent me from any direct involvement. I most certainly do not have to agree with what I read.
Thanks for your good efforts and thoughtful insight. Keep up the good work.
BoHunter0210 (1) about 4 years ago
I also disagree with donkeylips. I enjoyed the read regarding youth wrestling and youth sports in general. I have witnessed it first hand that pushing a kid too much just makes them want to quit. Let it be the kids choice what he/she wants to do and then they will enjoy it.
ResiliteMarine (2) about 4 years ago
Ooh-Rah Major Zembiec!
dms52 (1) about 4 years ago
The Fargo analysis would hold weight if the goal of most HS wrestlers was an Olympic gold medal instead of a college scholarship (and college success). While there may not be a correlation between HS success and Olympic success, there most certainly is a correlation between Fargo success and college success.

A study conducted in 2009 "82.83% of Fargo eligible NCAA Division I All-Americans in the last five years COMPETED in Fargo." Success in Fargo may lead to a college scholarship (in cases worth over $200k) and can open up a wide variety of opportunities.

While I do not advocate carting your child all over the country every weekend of the year, I do feel Fargo is one event that all high aspiring wrestlers should attend and take seriously.
dms52 (1) about 4 years ago
The Fargo analysis would hold weight if the goal of most HS wrestlers was an Olympic gold medal instead of a college scholarship (and college success). While there may not be a correlation between HS success and Olympic success, there most certainly is a correlation between Fargo success and college success.

A study conducted in 2009 showed that "82.83% of Fargo eligible NCAA Division I All-Americans in the last five years COMPETED in Fargo." Success in Fargo may lead to a college scholarship (in some cases worth over $200k) and can open up a wide variety of opportunities.

While I do not advocate carting your child all over the country every weekend of the year, I do feel Fargo is one event that all high aspiring wrestlers should attend and take seriously.
trfoley (1) about 4 years ago
Thanks for your response and the statistic you shared. Interesting insight.

I don't know that participation at Fargo correlates to earning a college scholarship. I think it's more coincidence than causality. When I was coaching we stopped heading over to Fargo because it was too time consuming and very little actually gets done in terms of recruiting. Lots of shoes for sale, but a mess in terms of evaluating talent.

Certainly Fargo champions are talented wrestlers and there a plenty of studs who will make college lineups, but at what cost? Very few wrestlers are getting ANY money to attend college, much less full scholarships. By the time most parents are done forcing the issue they've invested 10's of thousands of dollars into a dream that their son may, or may not, want for themselves.

Fargo is not an evil tournament, but it has turned into something more than it was intended. No 15-year-old needs to be told that he should be emotionally devastated for not winning a Cadet Fargo title. Aren't summers better spent on the beach with the family, or working to make some extra money?

These national tournaments should be stepping stone events in a lifetime of learning about the sport and yourself, not life-defining goals that create negativity re: the sport in the minds of our athletes.

Thanks again,
Nick M (1) about 4 years ago
I enjoy the Mailbag. I enjoy it so much that I have submitted questions, and to my surprise they were good questions too! They were put on the Mailbag and answered. Keep up the great work.

jbradleyr (1) about 4 years ago
Disastrous. A 1200 word opener, and much of it is unsubstantiated drivel.

"Competition is OK and something that can be taught through passion." What the hell does this even mean?

"Maybe that emotional and physical distance from Fargo is why the tournament feels like the embodiment of what's gone awry in youth wrestling." So you're admitting that your 1200 word rant may just be based on your lack of connection to the event?

And you post 37 minutes of video as a "Multimedia Halftime". 37 minutes!!
wres (2) about 4 years ago
You do know you don't have to watch the videos to read the rest of the column, right? It's easy, just scroll down and don't click on the little triangle. Let me know if you need any more help.
trfoley (1) about 4 years ago
Thanks for writing.

I do lack a significant personal connection, but I have attended the event a few times and have dealt with the cloud of interest for a few decades.

The 1200 word opener was longer than normal. If i'd had more time maybe I could have made it shorter. After subjecting you to the drivel it was only fair to give you a longer halftime. :)

Be well.
tbclarkson88 (1) about 4 years ago
Great Mailbag, Foley. Thanks

Corey (1) about 4 years ago
Chrisb593 (1) about 4 years ago
Who needs Fargo.. Come to California and watch all the raider fans Michael Vick there kids like pit bulls every weekend and hey love the dads telling there 15 year old sons what losers they are cause they didn't perform as well as they think they should have. Foley got it right, I bet all that disagree are raider fans as well .
dms52 (1) about 4 years ago
Not sure of your beef with Fargo?

How can you applaud the Cadet World championships then bash Fargo as they are events pulling from a comparable age group (Spenser Lee was in 8th grade last year when he competed at Worlds)? In fact, isn't having your kid attend Cadet Worlds much more extreme than having them go to Fargo? Also, in one breath you state Greco and Freestyle have a strong future based on Cadet Worlds then in another you claim there is zero correlation between high school and Olympic success?
trfoley (1) about 4 years ago
The World Championships are extremely select and not 1/100th the showcase of Fargo. Spenser Lee is an individual situation with a kid from the USA that I don't know anything about. This event, and my comments, were discussing the worldwide quality of wrestling. This event is intense in the moment, but pretty laid back overall.

The distinction I see is that 99-percent of the wrestlers in Slovakia aren't being whipped by their parents (Turkey aside). Also, as a "World Championship" the event does hold some significance in re: to their overall career trajectory (Norwegian champion tonight will see SIGNIFICANT increase in support) and has an effect on the National Federation.

For many of the participants the World Championships is a way to experience a foreign culture and wrestle with a variety of nations and styles. That doesn't seem to be the case with Fargo, in my opinion.
vacoach (1) about 4 years ago
I am a high school coach in Virginia and have long wondered if I am the only other person that thought the Fargo ROI was quite poor.
My brothers went to Fargo multiple times. We came from a large family with very limited money. To make the trip to Fargo was a tremendous burden in both money and time. Each visit brought limited to moderate success. They did well when the draw favored or more poorly when they drew the likes of Kyle Ott off the bat. I have had a negative connotation with the experience ever since.
I currently do not emphasize the Fargo route to any of my wrestlers. Do I believe "summer wrestling makes winter champions"? It sure helps but at what cost? I have begun to take the approach to steer those so desiring on my team to pursue the Fargo path..just don't go to Fargo. I am all about the training but just can't justify the ROI.
Thanks for you thoughts.
Nick M (1) about 4 years ago
I run a summer folkstlye dual tournament the last weekend of July. I have 16 teams from 8 states. I would enjoy having your team next summer. For more info:
hcraig4 (1) about 4 years ago
I always enjoy the Friday mailbag. I think you are right on target. I've seen junior high kids get screamed at for not winning by a large enough margin. These seasons just get longer and longer, how long can a kid keep cutting weight?

dgravens (2) about 4 years ago
The message I got from the Fargo post and the John Oliver Halftime Multimedia piece was, "You can't win, so don't try". I think the youth of this country is just fine. They are the smartest and least violent generation ever. But, they are not pushed too hard and telling them that the game is rigged is not an honest or helpful position to take. Some parents and coaches push too hard. So? Some parents and coaches don't push hard enough. One kid may react positively to a stimulus that another kid may shrink from. Treat people as individuals and realize that we are all imperfect and all imperfectable. Working hard and living with integrity is the best path to a happy and productive life.
Superduck23 (1) about 3 and a half years ago
Mr Foley,
Although I did compete at the Junior Olympics and I loved the experience (they were at the UNI dome when I went) I fear you are correct in your critique of youth wrestling in America.

We have fetishized youth sports and wrongly believe that by 'professionalizing' our young athletes and having them compete, train, workout in imitation of adult athletes that this will give them a comparative advantage at a later date.

This notion is wrong and I agree with you it leads to burnout. Our best wrestlers at the international level were rarely 'schoolboy superstars' and the focus on competition leads to burnout, injury, and a dearth of athleticism that is needed to win Olympic gold.
Superduck23 (1) about 3 and a half years ago
I'm watching Cadet World's live (thanks Lauden from Il Matmen!).
It doesn't look like the same sport.
First the kids look like kids, they aren't all jacked up and mini men.
Second, their position, technique etc have almost no resemblance to what is going on in ND.
It is obvious to me these young men have a lot of room to mature and increase their technique whereas at Fargo a lot of the kids are nearly finished products with the ceiling that implies.
lucas165 (1) about 3 and a half years ago
Well written article Mr. Foley
lucas165 (1) about 3 and a half years ago
not well, great
joe2 (1) about 3 and a half years ago
Foley great article. My Take. I was a standout bball player. Politics and (my attitude forced) me to get cut. The wrestling coach as soon as he found out had me on the team. He came to and got me out of class and said be in the romm at 3:15. I said you have to ask my dad. He said already called him be in the room at 3:15. I hated every minute. It takes a different breed. It did however give me a new prospective on the sport and to this day follow this site and watch and follow my local high school team. Parents your kids either have it or don't but that will become evident as with any sport. Great article.
wadabuka (1) about 3 and a half years ago
Your column has been something that I have looked forward to reading every week. You always seem to put a lot of thought and craft into your points and wether I agree or disagree, I always get your point....until now. You couldn't have been more wrong about your assessment of Fargo and further more succeeded in trying to lessen my already modest achievements in my wrestling career.
It is my belief, through my own personal discoveries and countless conversations with present an former wrestlers, that we do it because of a personal desire and the call to answer a challenge. Whether I won or lost I stepped up to the task and gave it all that was in my being. Not for glory, not for praise and certainly not for popularity, we know how desolate a wrestlers world is. I did it for me, and the majority of kids who have put it on the line all year are doing it for themselves and deserve a little more consideration and respect from you. I am disappointed to say the least.