I've recently finished my first book titled, Champions Find a Way: How to Become a Champion in Sport and in Life. It is a quick read jammed pack with great information on how you can achieve your goals in sport and life. I show you principles and techniques that I've used personally to become a champion. These principles have also helped my athletes have great success. Roy Nash, 7 x national champion and world team member. Brayden Nuffer, utah junior national team member. Dalton Mortensen, High School All American. These guys have all been able to get these strategies and now I'm passing on the opportunity to you. Check it out!
Wade Schalles is one of the hidden gems of US wrestling.
Why on earth he isnt coaching more at the upper level of collegiate wrestling is
beyond me. I just got done watching his Killer Cradles DVD series. Wade’s
knowledge is amazing and im very excited to put his ideas into my team’s
training. Here is some of what Wade had done: (from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wade_Schalles)
“Wade Schalles…is an American amateur wrestler, a
two-time NCAA National Championwho holds multiple records in the sport
including holding the Guinness Book of World Records title for most amateur
wrestling wins and pins, and is the creator of several of wrestling's most
notorious moves - including the Spladleand the Cement
This guy has been credited with inventing moves for heaven’s sake!
“Dan Gable called him, "the greatest pinner he's ever seen!" Currently he is in the Guinness
Book of World Records for having the most wins and pins of anyone who has ever competed.”
This DVD is about pinning and the principles that Wade shares work. Recently I had an athlete in our club
who was struggling; I mean getting totally obliterated by everyone he wrestled. I shared a couple of
small details from this DVD with my athlete and then he proceeded to pin his way
to three consecutive wins and a first place finish at a local spring tournament.
Having the knowledge to perform is the first part of success. I saw my athlete
turn a corner at that tournament and not only did he finally win some matches he
gained much needed confidence.
I promise you that there will be far fewer athletes out there learning and doing the techniques and
that Wade teaches than those that are. You have the great opportunity to start winning
more and become a champion.
All it takes is one DVD. For the cost of what many of you will pay on a couple of forgotten weekends
of movies, popcorn and pizza you could put the keys to pinning and winning into your hands.
I highly recommend this DVD for anyone looking for more pins and wants to become a champion.
Bruce Baumgartner is the most decorated American wrestler of all time. He dominated over a decade of competition winning 4 Olympic medals, 9 world medals, including two Olympic golds and 3 World Championships, 8 World Cup
championships, and 17 National championships.
When it comes to talking about ‘Best of All Time’ in American wrestling unfortunately for some reason Bruce often gets overlooked. In my mind he is the one and only choice hands down.
In a country that prides itself on one-hit Olympic wonders and some time world medalists Bruce deserves much more recognition than he often receives. He was never a flashy wrestler but he consistently represented himself and the
Unites States in world and Olympic competition. For years the US took for granted the medals that Bruce would bring home in the heavyweight division.
Baumgartner won his first Olympic medal (Gold 1984) at age 24 and his last at age 36 (Bronze 1996). Since his retirement from competition the US has struggled in bringing home medals in the Freestyle heavy weight division.
I only had one opportunity to watch Bruce Baumgartner live in action. I was fortunate enough to see him dominate Tom Erikson in the finals match of the 1995 national championships held in Las Vegas, Nevada. Erikson would later go on to become a Mixed Martial Arts champion.
Bruce was a force of nature and was the biggest human being I had ever seen. He was big and powerful. He exuded determination and acted and performed with a purpose.
The thing that stood out most to me about him wasn’t his obliteration of Erikson but that after he had finished winning his national title he continued training. He began vigorously jumping rope; he ran sprints up and down the arena floor. He had a look of steel on his face. His determination was incredible. He was preparing for the 1995 freestyle world championships which were going to be held in Atlanta, Georgia. Bruce went on to win the world championships that year as well.
His example stuck with me for years and it was one of the more influential things I’ve witnessed as a wrestler.
Resources: Bruce Baumgartner
“You don’t always have to be the best team to win the game.” Was a quote I heard recently that got me thinking; How many times do athletes with more skill or ability lose to opponents that they should not?
Unfortunately there are times when an athlete loses to an opponent that they should not lose to. Coaches often say “he falls apart mentally,” or “It’s all in his head”. It is often in fact, not all in his head. The reason that it is not all in the athlete’s head is because the coach hasn’t put it all in there. There are often pieces of the puzzle missing and coaches need to understand this and correct it.
Athletes often have more techniques than they know what to do with, in consequence they don’t do. They are often unsure of the logical next step of the match. This has been the downfall of many a potentially great athlete. Techniques are great but one size doesn’t always fit.
Conditioning is required however on its own it gets wasted and misused. If it
is undirected it can be a double edged sword. Athletes make mistakes of being
over aggressive and forcing offense. Coaches and athletes alike are
willing to work hard and push it physically. They often miss one of the most
important pieces of the competition puzzle, Problem Solving.
The number one skill that must be developed to be a successful wrestler is
problem solving. Too often coaches and athletes forget that the sport of
wrestling is one of physical problem solving. I have never had a coach that sat
me down and explained that to me. They never explained here is how the match
starts, here is what happens next, here is what happens after that, here is how
it can end, here are options for a, b, c.
Never. Not one. Most likely because no one explained it to them. In fact I
can almost guarantee it. I did have coaches that showed me their favorite
techniques, the techniques they knew, the best techniques of the day etc.
Obviously it served me pretty well over the years but it leaves that same
problem, how to solve new and dynamic problems that come at you at extreme
As I’ve coached my wrestling club athletes and others I’ve made efforts to
pick up where others left off or missed completely. I figure if we talk about
wrestling and the grappling arts in general as being 90% mental why don’t we
actually train that way? Why do we spend so much time improving our physical
attributes while our mind and problem solving muscles get the day off?
When athletes join my club they get exposed to next level thinking. I ask
questions and make them come up with solutions. We walk through slow motion
matches and scenarios. I show them how a match should play out under xyz
I help my athletes understand there is more to wrestling than just a
hodge-podge of techniques. For many of them it has brought great breakthroughs
in their development that they were unable to find elsewhere. We often talk
through situations and scenarios involving the score and how points were created
and then what is the best choice of position and the reasoning behind it. I’ve
had the good fortune to have trained under Olympic champions and they never
taught in the way that I’m describing.
What I ultimately want an athlete to achieve is a higher level of problem
solving. I want them to be able to look at the game differently from a 10,000
feet view. This helps them gain a greater appreciation of the skills they do
have while learning more about how they can personally have success. This is
ultimately how true confidence, or self trust, is developed. Athletes cannot
truly be confident without a greater perspective and understanding of what it is
they are to accomplish and how to do so.
Take a look at your current training and outlook towards competition and
determine how you can become a better problem solver. As you develop solutions
you will ultimately have more success as an athlete or coach. Start small by
taking the first 5-10 minutes of your technical training and devote it to coming
up with “What if…” questions and solutions. Some simple questions worth
If you’re taken down in the first period and ridden for the rest of it
without giving up near fall points what is the best option if given your choice
of position in the second period and why?
How would you comeback from a 3 point deficit starting the third period?
What would you do to counter a single leg?
What if you were up by 1 with 30 seconds left? How do you proceed?
These are simple questions and you may already have worked on a few or some
similar to them. As you get more comfortable you can start asking more detailed
and tougher questions like these:
What if you’re opponent has just taken you down and gained near fall and
you’re now down by 4 points. You have not scored from the feet but you were able
to control him on top from a reversal you scored in the second period. Where
would you most likely be able to score points next? How can you bring back the
points to even and either; win or put it into overtime?
What if you’ve just scored a takedown with 30 seconds left to tie the score.
Letting your opponent up would mean that he gains 1 point but if you take
him down you can win now. If you can ride for 30 seconds you can put it
into overtime and have a chance to win in overtime. What do you do? How will you do it? What are the potential risks and potential rewards? Which option gives you the
best chance of winning according to your own skill set?
As you begin to add more detail and insert personal strengths and limitations
you begin to see the problem more clearly and a more realistic and attainable
solution begins to present itself. This is how real and lasting confidence is
developed and this is how champions are made. If you do this I can guarantee
that you’ll start having much more success than you are now.
I had just placed 3rd at the 1996 Espoir National Championships in Greco Roman Wrestling and was qualified to take part in the ‘Big Brother’ Program offered by the US Olympic Training Center. I arrived on the campus and had an electrifying charge come over me. I’d never experienced anything like it before. I can only define it as the Olympic Spirit.
Steve Fraser is someone who fully embodies this spirit of excitement, passion, and energy. While I was at my first OTC camp he talked a lot about “Expecting to Win” and being mentally tough. Who better to talk about mental toughness than the first ever Olympic Gold Medalist for the United States in Greco Roman wrestling.
In 1984 Steve stunned the world as he defeated the seemingly invincible Frank Andersson of Sweden who had already won 3 Greco Roman Wrestling world championships (1977, 79, 82). As an athlete Fraser won a gold medal at the 1983 Pan Am Games. Multiple national titles in Greco Roman and Freestyle Wrestling, was a 2x World Team Member and was also a 2xAll American for the University of Michigan.
Fraser’s athletic credentials certainly impress but what is even more impressive is his ability to pass on his success
to athletes under his watch. As the US National Team coach Fraser’s teams have; placed 3rd World championships in 2001 (the US’s best finish to that point) and won multiple world and Olympic individual medals and championships. The crowning moment of Steve’s coaching career was in 2007 when he lead the US squad to its first ever world championship title.
One of the most amazing things that Coach Fraser did was instill a sense of cockeyed optimism in his athletes. While
I was an OTC athlete I remember seeing outlandish and lofty goals in the wrestling room like; “Win Olympic Championships, 6 medalists and 2 champions”, “Win World Championships, with 7 medalists”. To Steve these weren’t just words on a wall they were dreams with deadlines, they were solid and compelling goals. His desire for the US to succeed often exceeded that of the athlete’s themselves.
Steve Fraser has had a hand in developing 23 World and/or Olympic medalists during his coaching career. Including one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history in which Rulon Gardner defeated the undefeated Alexander Karelin at the Sydney Australia Olympics in 2000. Karelin had been undefeated in competition for 16 years up to that point.
Over the years I’ve followed many a Facebook thread and forum
topic that talk about who is tougher in grappling, Jiu Jitsu and wrestling. Many
times these are interesting threads but most of them very one sided and written
by folks that think they know more than they do about the grappling arts.
Sometimes I laugh, sometimes I get frustrated, but mostly they make me
I often wonder why it is that so many guys out there blatantly
pass over opportunities to get better. I wonder why in the world a grappler or
BJJ fighter wouldn’t want a fully developed takedown game. I wonder why a
wrestler crossing over to grappling and MMA wouldn’t want a fully developed
ground game. Sometimes it just boggles my mind.
On top of that there are countless people who will only compete
in X organization or Y organization. As for me I want to compete in all of them
and win in all of them. At many events I’ve heard athletes complain about their
loss and how they would never fight in that org again. I can only assume had
they won they would decry the amazing benefits and awesome potential of that
I must confess at one point I used to hate a certain grappling
organization. I felt they were completely unorganized and their capacity to run
an event was questionable. For years I didn’t compete there. I chose to find
other events that were better organized.
Not participating because of losing was not part of that equation
even though I had both won and lost in that organization. In fact my general
mantra has been to compete under as many grappling flags as possible. I wanted
to find the groups that would best test my abilities and allow me the chance to
fight tough fighters and develop myself as an athlete.
I loved the now defunct FILA grappling organization because there
were so many countries represented. I also loved the fact that I could fight
against international level wrestlers, judoka, MMA and BJJ fighters all in one
tournament. I also loved that as a heavyweight I finally had more guys to
compete with. Being a heavyweight sometimes means there are fewer opponents
available to compete against, this is generally true in wrestling as well.
Usually at Grappler’s Quest and NAGA there aren’t a lot of
heavyweight guys so the brackets are smaller. Although I have to approach those
events with more of a ‘dual meet’ mentality I am grateful for the opportunity to
compete in them although they are often not as fulfilling as having a full
bracket of opponents. In the event that there are fewer opponents at my weight I
compete in the Absolute division which also gives another dimension.
For me the whole point of competing is gaining more exposure to
the sport of grappling and allowing oneself the opportunity to see, do and
experience more grappling. The opportunity to test oneself is the real benefit.
I struggle with the way that many schools and athletes approach
competition. They hide themselves from risk and they fear losing more than they
desire true development. Many instructors won’t allow their students to compete
unless they know their student(s) will win. This is often solely fueled by the
instructor’s fear of losing business more than the concern about whether his
athlete(s) are prepared to compete. In every single grappling and BJJ tournament
I can think of there are multiple age, weight and skill divisions that allow
each competitor the opportunity to compete against someone of their own skill
level. If an instructor is holding you back from that what is he really teaching
you and more importantly what is he not teaching that he’s so afraid of you
Contrast that with wrestling tournaments where an athlete can go
up against a state or national champion in the first round whether they are
ready or not. When I began competing at the Open or Senior division at the US
Nationals at the age of 18 I didn’t have the luxury of competing against people
of my own age, weight and skill. I drew Mike VanArsdale, NCAA champion, US
National Team in Freestyle and former MMA fighter, the first round! That would
be the BJJ equivalent of being a high level blue belt and drawing Jeff Glover
for your first match!
I had absolutely no chance of winning but that wasn’t the point.
The point was that I was laying the foundation for future wins by losing then. I
was making that first step of confronting one of the best guys in the country
and learning that there was a higher level that I needed to
One of the things that I love most about grappling is that
athletes can have a chance to develop and grow on a much more conservative pace
if they need or want to. I hope more athletes will take advantage of the great
opportunities to compete. There are so many now that you can start at just
about any level for which you are ready.
Competition after all is merely a source of feedback about your
training and preparations. It shows you how you handle real time pressures and
stresses. It shows you where your technical strengths and weaknesses are
residing. It shows you your strategic strengths and weaknesses.
Most athletes and coaches get so worked up over the winning and
losing part of competition that they miss the forest for the trees. Take a more
holistic look at your grappling experience and start giving tournaments and
yourself a chance.
As I scroll through my LinkedIn and Facebook accounts I often
come across exceptional athletes who performed and excelled at the world level.
Many times these athletes are working in fields other than wrestling. As I am
one of those types of athletes (at least in Grappling/BJJ) I can understand the
desire to have a life outside of sport.
What I wonder is have these athletes ever been approached to be
coaches within the USAW system? For example, Lee Kemp, 3 time world champion (4
x medalist) 4 x World cup champion, he is still in the wrestling world but why
isn’t he coaching within the USAW system? What about 2 x world medalist Joe
Williams? Bruce Baumgartner? John Smith? I know Baumgartner and Smith are
coaching at the colleges but why not in the USAW system?
If I were someone in charge at USAW the first people I would hire
would be; 1- US Athletes who had won 2 or more medals in world or Olympic
competition 2- Foreign Athletes who had won 2 or more medals in world or
Olympic competition. Since Russia and other eastern bloc countries have several
of those in their system it couldn’t be that hard to hire some of them could
it? There’s gotta be someone out there with multiple medal wins willing to come
here and help out.
At one point Sergei Belaglozov was at the OTC in Colorado
Springs. While he was there the “establishment” really didn’t capitalize on his
knowledge or abilities. I wish I would have been more open in my own personal
approach. I should’ve begged him to train me, sadly I was a wanna-be Greco guy
looking right past a golden opportunity.
At the 2012 Olympics only those athletes that had their personal
coaches on hand at the Olympics actually won medals. Adam Wheeler had Ivan
Ivanov, Coleman Scott had John Smith, Jake Varner had Cael Sanderson, Jordan
Burroughs had Mark Manning. I’m not sure if anyone else saw this as a very
important part of the success of these athletes but I found it fascinating.
Wrestling is keeping its spot in the Olympics, for now. In 2024
it will be up for another vote. This is a great thing for the sport of wrestling
at least until the next official vote. According the article on www.themat.com
wrestling won by the narrowest of margins with 49 out of 95 votes to keep wrestling as
an Olympic sport. That is 51% of the vote. That means 49% of voters did NOT want wrestling to stay.
I am not so happy that wrestling won by a mere 2% of the totalvotes. A win is a win;
however this absolutely has to be the biggest wakeup call in history.
FILA and its member nations specifically USA wrestling cannot
keep going on in business-as-usual fashion. This year it took extreme external
motivation for either entity to get out of the organizational and promotional
inertia that they have continually found themselves in.
I see 2024 as a looming new deadline that will either keep
wrestling hobbling along in survival mode or it can spur the sport and its
organizers on to great heights. I hope that they will choose to improve
wrestling’s image and further develop its promotion. Only time will tell. Keep
your fingers crossed.
How Will You Live Your Life Differently Now?
My brother in law Chad Isaksen recently lost his battle with Leukemia. He
died Sunday September 1, 2013 at about 10:30 AM MST at his home in Saratoga
Springs, Utah. Chad was a military man having served two tours in Afghanistan as
an US Army helicopter pilot. He also served as a US Army helicopter flight
instructor in Tennessee. Chad is survived by his lovely wife Tara and his four
children; Caleb, Tanner, Kinley and Ainsley. Chad was only 31 years old when his
body gave up the fight that his spirit would never surrender.
His courage in the face of death was outstanding and very becoming of a US
Soldier. Not that he would define himself that way. He was much more than that.
He was a loving husband and father, a great son and brother, a faithful Mormon
missionary and so much more.
Chad’s death was preceded by that of his younger brother Seth on July 4th
2005. Seth passed very quickly and suddenly from an accident that caused him to
slip into a coma, he died within 24 hours.
The Isaksen’s have now suffered the loss of their two youngest children. What
a change of events from most families in which the youngest typically bury the
At the 2013 FILA Grappling World Team Trials I dedicated my win to Chad. I
have never done that and I had never planned on doing that. It just seemed like
the right thing to say at that time. (Watch the interview here)
As I prepared for the 2013 FILA Grappling World Championships in London,
Ontario, Canada I wanted to win for Chad. Just as my training was hitting a
higher gear I sustained an injury that sidelined my training and which could
have kept me from competing at all. This was in the beginning of May. The
tournament was in the middle of June. Some nights in training I couldn’t move
without being in pain. I had no strength. I couldn’t lift weights like I wanted
to. I couldn’t drill or do much of anything like I had planned.
I fought the best I could throughout the world tournament winning matches
against tough and seasoned opponents. In the finals match my injury was a major
factor which kept me from being fully competitive against my finals opponent. I
was fortunate to even have gotten into the finals under the circumstances.
However good fortune gave way to a superior force and I lost a close 2-0
After the finals match I sprawled out on the arena floor and wept for my
brother in law and his affliction. I think on some level I hoped that maybe if I
could win that world championship in Chad’s honor it would help his chances of
winning his battle with leukemia. Of course I knew there was no direct
correlation but it made me feel like on some small level I could give a piece of
me to Chad. I couldn’t help but feel guilty for not being able to pull off that
win for him.
During Chad’s battle with leukemia I couldn’t help but think; “How happy
am I with the life I’m currently living? Is this really what I want to
experience out of life? If Chad dies from this how will it affect my wife and
how will I live my life differently because of it?”
I think we all ask ourselves these questions at some point in our lives but
for me these are questions that are worth answering now. I’ve come to see very
vividly how fleeting life can be. Chad was a strong vibrant soldier capable of
taking on the world and within less than a few weeks he was reduced to a
struggling chemotherapy patient. All of his previous physical powers swiftly
left him. There was nothing he could do to stop that. It was hard for us to
watch him decline like that.
Luckily the US Army enabled Chad and his family to move back to Utah to
pursue treatments at the LDS hospital in Salt Lake City. This at least gave
those of us who loved him the opportunity to be with him and support him and his
family in their fight for Chad’s life. We had many great times with Chad while
he was here. We shared campouts, family dinners, and more time to visit with
Chad and his family.
We hear a lot about ‘quality time’ these days but I’m not so sure that
quality makes up for quantity in some cases. Just being in the presence of those
you love can make such a difference even if there is little ‘quality’ about it.
Being together means so much more when that option is no longer a possibility.
Tonight (September 7, 2013) was Chad’s viewing. He looked so unlike himself;
he laid there a spiritless shell surrounded by loved ones. Even though it was
another moment in saying goodbye it was one of peace and hope. Tomorrow morning
will be our final goodbye as we lay Chad in the earth.
I already miss him. My wife misses him greatly. Our children miss him. We
will always remember him as wildly vibrant and full of life, always ready for
new adventure and challenges. We hold a strong faith and hope that one day we
will all return to live with Chad and God again in our heavenly home.
This hope notwithstanding I can’t help but feel a screaming drive inside to
reach higher in my own life. There is no time to waste sitting on the fence in
life. There is no time to waste in not pursuing your greater purpose and your
higher goals in life. I keep asking myself “How will I live my life differently?
How can I better strive to attain my goals?” I keep thinking to myself “I want
more! I want to do more and be more in my life than what I’m doing and being
I will always remember the faces of Seth and Chad as they lay in their
coffins and I will always hear the screaming drive in my head and my heart to
live more now, if not for myself then for those whose time was cut short. I hope
to live the rest of my life in such a way that it pleases God and those who have
gone before and that I can become a man of great renown and become someone who
does great things and helps others do great things. I hope to live in such a way
that my family feels compelled to honor the Ruiz name. Be it long or short this
is the road I must follow.
If you want to become great at anything you’ve got to pay attention to detail and you’ve got to give your best effort. I am constantly talking to my club athletes about Craftsmanship in their approach to wrestling.
I encourage my athletes to slow down and get the techniques down correctly before they try to do them too quickly or powerfully. Sometimes a few of them get frustrated as I continually stop them mid technique and have them start from the beginning and do it again correctly. This is something that not all coaches do and it is something that not all athletes appreciate. The ones that come to understand I am trying to help them end up doing better and improve faster.
A craftsman takes time and pays attention to little nuances that can make or break their work. As athletes and coaches many times it is easier to do things faster and harder because we get a feeling of accomplishment and
exhaustion at the end of workouts. While wearing down the body to then let it build back up is part of training it is not and cannot be the only gauge of progress for an athlete, especially within the grappling arts.
More progress can be made by taking the time to get things right. It may take more time and more mental effort but in the end your technique and body will function at a much higher level. I often say “Slow it down and get it right. You can always add speed and power later.” This philosophy has helped my athletes and I become more technical and have more success in competition. Take a look at your own training and determine how you can become a “craftsman” in your sport.
This is what fine craftsmanship looks like at the Armstrong mansion in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah. Look at the detail and high level of intricacy on this stair case. This staircase didn’t just appear and it didn’t just become a beautiful detailed staircase by “working harder” or “sucking it up”.
Developing this kind of quality takes a tremendous amount of thought, creativity and patience. Carpenters and builders take time to “measure twice and cut once”. Architects draft and redraft until the structure is exactly what they envision it to be in their minds. There were considerations about the structural integrity, the type of materials and the design theme all the way down to the oak leaves and their intricate creation.
Your approach to sport and your approach to life must be no different. If you want to experience the thrills of winning, travelling and competing on the biggest stages it takes more than just training hard. It takes more than just wishing.
Getting to the next level for a high school wrestler usually means competing in college and attaining a scholarship. What better way to pay for schooling than through your athletic effort? This kind of success and opportunity must be thought out like the staircase of a craftsman. I teach my athletes how to look at their athletic career and life in this way because decisions made now by a young athlete can change and improve their life forever. Make the effort to plan your life and your sporting career so that you can someday look back on it all and be proud of the work that you’ve done and what you’ve accomplished.