My Coaching RetirementA life in sport comes to an end
Today marks the 10th year anniversary of the opening ceremonies for 2008 Olympic Games. I can still vividly remember walking through the tunnel of the arena surrounded by my wrestling friends and all the other members of Team USA. Entering that arena was just one of the many highlights from my Olympic experience and was the culmination of all my years training.
When the Olympics ended I felt in my heart that there was still things in the sport that I wanted to accomplish. My post Olympic journey as a wrestler included moving to Colorado Springs to become a resident athlete at the Olympic Training Center, as well as living for a whole year in Vladikavkaz, Russia to learn the Russian training system. My time spent in Russia was the absolute highlight of my wrestling career, when I left, I took with me knowledge and experience no other American has ever had.
In 2011 when I returned home from Russia I decided to retire as an athlete and start my coaching career. I had given everything I had to the sport and in return the sport had given me all that I needed as an athlete, so my decision to retire was a natural one. Immediately, Zeke Jones brought me on to help him coach the USA National Team, until his departure in 2015 I was his top volunteer and right hand man. Working with the US National Team was just a volunteer position so I decided to move back to Ann Arbor, MI to find a job. At this time Regional Training Centers (RTCs) were in their infancy but I decided that I wanted to devote my time and energy to help the young men at the Cliff Keen Wrestling Club (CKWC) pursue their own world and Olympic dreams. Thanks to the support of the CKWC in 2012 I became the first RTC coach in the country, a position that I have held ever since.
What drew me to the opportunity to coach at an RTC was the chance to run the program in the same manner in which the Russians were training. During my first full year of coaching I helped Kellen Russell win the US Open Championship and become the first and only unseeded wrestler to accomplish that feat. It didn’t take long after Kellen’s accomplishment for job offers to start coming in from around the country. When I moved back to Ann Arbor I did so with the purpose of making it my home for the rest of my life, so even though my first offer was to double my salary I turned it down to stay in the city I love.
After I turned down my first job offer, I did so without even asking the CKWC for a raise. I knew they were on a tight budget and all I wanted was the opportunity to run the program based on the Russian model and for their support as I started a career as an entrepreneur. When I started my coaching career I knew I had a limited time left in the sport and coaching at a world class level really takes its toll. For this reason my goal outside of coaching was to start a business in the sport that I could support my future with.
The first company I started was Double Leg Ninja with the help of Jake Herbert and Steven Fisher. Double Leg Ninja was a custom wrestling apparel distributor for Cliff Keen Athletic. At the time we were the first company shipping direct to consumer on all custom orders. As time went on everyone involved with the business started to go their own way since our profit margins were too small to scale the way we wanted. Starting Double Leg Ninja was a great learning experience, it taught me how to structure and operate a business.
The year that Jake, Steven and I started Double Leg Ninja USA Wrestling approached me to become the Executive Director of USA Wrestling Michigan. I negotiated with USA Wrestling and in the end Jake and I became Co-Executive Directors. It was through our contract negotiations that BASE Wrestling was formed. In the contract it was stated that we would get paid by recruiting new members and retaining the current members from year to year. Since we were independent contractors we retained all of our intellectual property rights for when we left the organization. This experience was a real eye opener for me, it was here I first learned that you can’t force people to change if it is not their own idea. So after a year Jake and I parted ways with USA Wrestling Michigan and developed BASE Wrestling into the nations only training system for every age group.
Although the company has never fully developed due to our lack of computer programing skills, I am proud to say that I have been able to pilot the program at every level of the sport. Each team that I have worked with has seen improvements in their participation, retention and performance. The Barwis Methods youth team, Napoleon Community Junior High and High School teams and the University of Saskatchewan all have used the coaches education and training programs that I have provided them. My goal was to help others with the tools that I acquired during my wrestling career, I believe that I was successful in this endeavor.
Each year that I coached for the CKWC I learned more about the system I created and how to better help the athletes in the program. The CKWC is a non profit that supports athletes training for the world and Olympic Championships, over the years they have provided me many athletes to train. Ultimately the athletes are what made my job as a coach be filled with purpose. I took great pride in teaching each athlete how to train and approach the sport so they could use their skills to accomplish the goals that they set out to achieve. I have trained US Open champions, world and Olympic team members and European medalists. I couldn’t be more grateful to these athletes for trusting me to lead them during this part of their wrestling career.
Last year I started a new chapter in my life after I was married. When I left Russia I knew it was time to retire as an athlete, after the first year of my marriage I now know it is time for me to retire as a coach. I can say this with pride and am confident that I have done everything I needed to do as a coach. My goal was to continue coaching through the 2020 Olympic Games, but after much thought I have decided to sacrifice the last two years of coaching to provide for what I now value more than wrestling can ever give at this point in my life. It is still uncertain to what I will do but I am currently exploring some great opportunities. In case anyone has any concerns based on my past nobody has to question whether or not I will be successful in what I pursue, it will just be a matter of time.
I want to thank USA Wrestling, the Slovenia Wrestling Federation, the Serbian Wrestling Federation, the Cliff Keen Wrestling Club, the New York Athletic Club, Cliff Keen Athletic and Asics America for supporting me through my career as a coach and allowing me to represent each organization. I want to thank the University of Michigan Wrestling staff for allowing me to run the CKWC and work together to make the Michigan Regional Training one of the best places to train in the country. I want to thank my family for supporting me through my entire wrestling career as an athlete and coach, without their support I would not have been able to do half of what I did. Lastly and most important I want to thank all the athletes that trusted me with their training and development, I hope each of you grew as much out of our relationship as I have.
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