Fargo! The crown jewel of our nation’s national high school tournaments. A huge undertaking for all involved. I've watched girls prepping, planning, excitement stirring...it's the biggest (figuratively and by actual size) tournament of the year for high school athletes who continue on to freestyle and greco. For a small percentage, it's triumph and success, and for others, it's heartbreak and disappointment. The first year I coached Fargo, I had just competed three and a half months prior at the 2016 Olympic Trials. Switching gears on my perspective was a challenge. I had just spent a career completely focusing on myself and my own training. You don't always remember the similar struggles of your youth, especially when you spend years conditioning yourself to a mindset always focused on moving forward and improving. However it was exciting to support young athletes through this huge event, as I had just done the same.
When you arrive at the national tournament, the seasoned Fargo coaches stand out. They know the stats of the wrestlers, who’s beaten who, and why so-and-so shouldn't lose to so-and-so. It was hard to bring myself to the same state of mind. I knew the stats were important to these athletes, but as a coach with my long athletic career perspective, I saw it as an advantage to be unfamiliar with everyone's record. I was able to stay grounded in the moment along with my athlete, and I believe they appreciated the redirection of focus. The more the coach is focused on what should have happened, the less they are focused on the process for the athlete. It is immensely important for the coach to stay in the moment. It’s a false notion that you need to tell your athlete everything about their next opponent. Give them key points on offense and defense, then allow them to put their focus back to their warm up, back to their process.
My advice for coaches: help your athletes understand the importance of properly preparing for a big tournament, and how those skills will transfer into every aspect of life. Teach them how to move forward quickly, win or lose. It's important to not ride the high highs, or the low lows. It is easy to get caught up in all encompassing magnitude of the Junior and Cadet Nationals. It’s important to bring yourself back to the ground, so you're athletes can also see that it's not the end-all-be-all.
Some of these young athletes will continue on and have college careers, some will decide to go even further and test out an international career, and some will be done after their senior year. When I competed at Fargo, I thought this tournament would decide my future. I thought it would give me the perspective of what level I was on, and how I could move forward with my career as a wrestler. Fighting through mostly disappointing performances at Fargo became the true test of how my career would be shaped. I was the one who continued even when I wasn't on the top of the podium.
The lesson for the athlete: use the experience, excitement, victories, and heartbreaks to fuel your next move. Never allow one tournament to shape the choices you make, or the path you take. Wrestling is a sport about not only inches, but centimeters. Success at Fargo can create opportunities, but only you can take full advantage of what is presented.