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Leveling the Playing Field


I'll never forget my first trip to NCAAs to watch my husband, Richard Perry, and five of his teammates from Bloomsburg University compete. On the plane ride to Oklahoma, I was surrounded by wrestlers from another D1 program and their team managers. We began to talk and the team managers told me how excited they were for this vacation; they shared how each of the athletes and staff members were given a few hundred dollars for the week for meals and anything else they needed, how each athlete received their own hotel room. My mind was blown. Watching my husband wrestle for a small D1 program while in college, I was certainly proud, and at the same time, frustrated. As a fan, we hear about these well-funded and well-known wrestling programs with incredible alumni support rallying to get their athletes top of the line equipment, wrestling rooms, trainers, dietitians, sports therapists and whatever else their money can buy. Call it jealousy, or just wanting the best for your own guys, but when it comes to accessibility, the mat certainly isn't level.

Most wrestlers talented and fortunate enough to wrestle for a D1 program, especially within the smaller programs, would never bring this to anyone's attention; those athletes know how hard they've worked to get to where they are, and they won't for a second make an excuse as they work towards their goal of becoming an NCAA champion. Actually, I'm pretty certain collegiate wrestlers are incapable of making excuses; they just grind, taking what support and tools they have and making the most of them. But what if it was a level playing field? What if all college athletes, no matter the degree of alumni or financial support we're able to access a diet plan that actually catered to a wrestler's needs, or an agility and strength training program proven to get you the results you want? It would be a game-changer.

The unleveled playing field isn't just at the collegiate level - "this disadvantage, or lack of resources starts at the youth level and is seen in every hotbed wrestling state and room across the country. Some chalk it up to a lack of passion or drive - "there is this idea that if your child really was "great," they would earn these benefits, or as a parent, you would somehow afford them the rights to these services. Parents have gone as far as picking up extra shifts, or even a second job just to afford the personal trainers, the dietician, the mindset coaches. Dedication for sure, but think about the added pressure that places on our young athletes.

As a parent, I know if I can afford my child the best, that is what they will receive - "unfortunately, the best is just not always feasible. Take into account a pandemic which gripped our economy and put more families between a rock and a hard place financially. Oh, and let's not forget about families new to the sport who may not even know how effective a mindset coach could be, the extra personal training sessions your athlete will benefit from, or the effect having a dietitian will have on your athlete's performance. So how do we produce/shape/mold these young athletes to be the best versions of themselves on and off the mat without putting our kidneys up for sale? It seems an affordable solution is now in our grasps and will soon prove to be a game-changer.

Even wrestling at an elite D1 program such as Penn State, creator of the ATAC (Advanced Training Athletic Club) app, Bryan Heller, was well aware of these disadvantages and sought to do something about it, "The mission was inspired by the inequality in resources athletes have available based on socioeconomic stature. Athletes in affluent areas can afford specialty training (private lessons, strength and conditioning coaches, nutritionists, speed and agility coaches, etc.), while athletes in lower socioeconomic areas do not have the means to have those same resources available to them. Therefore the mission is generally, to provide all athletes with these same resources. Where I grew up and where I predominately spent my time as a coach is an area where kids can afford specialty training. I have seen countless athletes make significant athletic gains under fantastic specialty coaches (strength and conditioning coaches, private wrestling instruction, nutritionists, etc.). Those coaches do a great job, and their time is valuable, which means their services cost a lot of money. There are a lot of athletes who just don't have the finances available to afford those services." Take someone with raw strength and talent, grit engrained in their very fiber and a love for the sport of wrestling like no other - "I've witnessed first hand what this looks like, but I also know they need direction; they need guidance when it comes to diet and specific training.

Although there are many athletes who find very high levels of success from all demographics, those with specialty trainers, coaches and specific diet plans have a substantial and clear advantage. These advantages come down to money - "which athletes can afford these services; and accessibility- "even if these services are financially feasible, are they in close enough proximity that obtaining them won't burden an already busy athlete or family? "The annual fee for ATAC is less than what most strength and conditioning coaches charge per month, less than the upfront cost of hiring a nutritionist. It is less than the cost of a few private lessons, and less than having a mindset mentor," During the creation of the ATAC app, Heller didn't just take into consideration cost and accessibility for the average athlete, but he is in the process of working with Beat the Street's, a non-profit wrestling and mentoring organization targeting at-risk youth all over the country, "One of the goals of ATAC is to partner with Beat the Streets and/or similar organizations geared towards providing opportunities for disadvantaged youth. This is a way for us to get ATAC to those athletes who don't have the means to afford our services. The work that Beat The Streets and other similar organizations do for their athletes goes way beyond sport, and ATAC wants to be a part of those athlete's growth towards long-term success."

Wrestling since the age of 4, traveling all over the country to compete, not only does Bryan understand the disadvantages most wrestlers face, but he also sees the necessity for accountability to keep athletes engaged and motivated, thus providing a scoring system within the app, "we wrapped the whole app in an engaging game to get athletes to challenge themselves and compete against other athletes."

As a D1 collegiate wrestler with a pretty impressive resume, and club coach for the past 14 years, Heller produced multiple state placers in one of the toughest state tournaments in the sport of wrestling (New Jersey, sorry PA). It's no secret Heller knows exactly what it takes to achieve success on the mat, "The initial concept came about as I reflected on my competitive career, what I had done that helped me grow as an athlete, and what the best coaches in the country were doing to help their athletes grow. I wanted to build a comprehensive tool for athletes looking to reach their highest potential," Heller explained how different ATAC is from various other training apps we've seen, "ATAC specifically addresses athlete's deficiencies. Our activities have been named to primarily help where an athlete might be struggling. For instance, our mentality activities are titled "Calm Nerves," "Get Motivated," "Build Confidence," and "Get Focused." Some other aspects of the app include full stretching routines, agility workouts, sleep timers and recommendations, hydration assistance, reflection guidance and activities, as well as various interval workouts to improve different physiological aspects of an athlete's endurance system."

With an app catering specifically to wrestlers, including such in-depth looks at the various proponents for fierce competitors, it seems like a no-brainer this all-in-one tool may be of some use to help alleviate the financial burden specialty training may accrue. Even so, Bryan takes it one step further, offering not only the advice, but the actual workouts, diet plans and mantras from various senior-level athletes such as the greatest wrestler of all time (not up for debate), 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist and 7x World Medalist, Jordan Burroughs; 3x World Team Member and the most entertaining and athletic breakdancer I've ever seen, Reece Humphrey; one of the quickest and incredibly talented wrestlers, Olympian and 5x Pan Am Champion, Sarah Hildebrandt; well known Penn State 2x NCAA champion Vincenzo Joseph; National Team Member, 3x NCAA qualifier, 2x State Champion and Overcomer, Richard Perry. The list doesn't end there; Bryan is a certified nutritionist himself and sought the advice from well-respected strength and conditioning coaches, many high school, middle school and youth level athletes, coaches and parents.

At this point, I know what you're thinking; this article is essentially a marketing promotion. The truth is, it's not meant to be; When I sat down with Bryan Heller, and he began to explain exactly what this app was going to do and for whom it was designed to help, I felt as though that un-leveled playing field I mentioned before, was beginning to look a little more even. When he mentioned Beat the Streets and making these programs accessible for all youth, I knew this could be a complete game-changer. No longer will financial restraints or accessibility stop an athlete from achieving the best version of themselves. Sure, we have Instagram and YouTube with loads of informative videos from various wrestlers; there are plenty of affordable options to gain insight and learn technique with incredible companies such as Fanatic Wrestling and their training series, or free options such as the virtual FCA Truth & Technique Sessions offered on the FCA website this summer. But, this app will aim to keep athletes engaged, to help shape them to be healthier physically, emotionally and mentally. ATAC will help athletes cope with setbacks and injuries, overcome the fear of failure, push themselves on the mat and in the weight room, hold themselves accountable. Wrestlers are built differently, there is no doubt about that. With the help of the ATAC app, its accessibility and affordability, wrestlers from all socioeconomic backgrounds will have one less hurdle to overcome.

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