My first ever experience coaching came when I was still a young athlete. I immediately knew it was something that I would eventually do even from a young age. I had been hurt in gym classes of all places, it was my sophomore year and like the gym class hero I was I hurt myself playing a game that is similar to kickball. I missed my freestyle season that year due to that injury because it was my shoulder. When I finally got back to wrestling the next thing I did was go to the J Robinson 14 day intensive camp in Edinboro PA. Overall the camp was a great experience, I got in perhaps the best shape of my life, I met some of my best friends at that camp (those stories will come later) and I got my first glimpse as life as a coach. I was only going to be a Junior in high school but there were a lot of younger wrestlers at this camp. Being from New Jersey I held a standard, I wanted to be one of the best kids in the camp at everything. Every run, every practice. I challenged the best kids I could, even if I lost I made it a point to improve the next time. I wrestled many future Division One wrestlers, I wrestled state champs, national qualifiers, and All Americans. But the most important lesson I took from this camp, the passion to teach others.
My First Coaching Job:
My first taste of coaching came after one practice when I was awarded the “positive”, the award given to the hardest worker in the practice, this was during the intensive session that day and my partner and I, an athlete from PA had pushed each other to the very brink and the coaches took notice, little did I know that one of my co-campers also took notice. A young man from Louisiana, this kid was one of the smallest kids in our wrestling group but had a heart he wore on his sleeve. His name was Nick Lirette. I’m not even sure if the kid knows who I am anymore, or even remembers this story but I do. He came up to me as I was getting ready to leave and asked me to drill some more after practice. Not one of the University of Minnesota athletes helping with the camp, not one of the coaches, little old me from New Jersey. I was baffled but honored, and I remember what he told me, “I want to be my schools first ever state champion, and to be the best I have to wrestle with the best.” Being honest, I wasn’t even the best kid in my dorm room,(my roommate was Stephan Glasglow a 3x NJ State finalist, 2x champ) let alone the camp, but I was excited to help him. We drilled a little bit, he asked me some questions about some takedowns, and then we sat and talked about our goals, our dreams, and then we left. I helped him a few more times that camp, we pushed each other in some morning runs, we had some fun live goes, and at the end of the camp we went our separate ways. Years later, as a sophomore in college at Penn State I saw a familiar name in a the dual meet results for UNC vs. NC State, Nick Lirette. The kid made it! He was a Division One starter, he won his State Championship he always dreamed of, and he was still out there fighting above his weight class metaphorically speaking. This is a simple story but it’s one of the many reasons why I coach now.
My Second Coaching Job:
Fast forward some years later to the next time I would help coach athletes around me, my Senior year of high school. I am the old guy on the team, both high school and club team. I worked hard to do all I could to achieve my dreams but along the way I took pride in helping my teammates achieve theirs too. Wrestling is not a team sport, at least not for some. But for me, it was always about the team, you are only as good as your teammates. I helped them and they helped me. I watched my teammates achieve their dreams, I watched their dreams be paused for a year, two years, but mostly, I learned what it meant to coach those around me. I learned what it would take to reach my younger teammates and be able to help them grow as people and athletes. Above all, I learned how much I loved it. At the end of my senior season, right before my post season I tore the tendons in my dominate hand’s thumb. I wrestled the rest of my season, including states and a national tournament with this injury. Never taping it, never complaining about it, and I never blamed a loss on it. Did it impact my matches? Sure, did I complain about that? Oh yeah 100%, but did I ever say it cost me a match, Hell no! What this did for me was a career and life changing thing. For one, I’m fairly certain it was the reason I was given my roster spot on the Penn State Wrestling team. Second, I had to have corrective surgery that took me off the mat for about 2 months. In this time, I wanted to run as far away from the practice room as possible, but I was convinced to come help, to come coach the younger guys in the room. To rattle off some of the accomplishments of these younger guys, we have State Champs, State runner ups, the highest placer in my high school’s history and future Penn Quaker Hunter Gandy, among other things. But most of all, these kids saw me take a bad situation and make the most of it. The reason I mention Hunter is because recently Hunter reached out to me, he is injured and can’t practice, but you know what he wants to do? Help coach. This is another reason why I coach.
My Third Coaching Job:
I’ll summarize this coaching job into a few words, my time at Penn State University. Haha, just kidding, let me expand on that. When I went to Penn State, one of the first things Coach Cael ever told my team in one of the first team meetings we had was “We don’t run much.” The Second thing he told my team was the rules and expectations of our team. We expect to compete hard, we expect to win National Champions, and we expect every member of the team to be a leader. Whether a freshman or a 5th year senior, you are expected to be a leader, to push those around you in whatever way you can. Now, I was not the best wrestling in the Penn State room, that is obvious, but I was a damn good runner. My first lesson in leadership came on one of my first ever Saturday morning runs, we ran out to a very large set of steps that may rival the Philly Art Museum and we did a very fun workout on those steps. We then had to run back to Rec Hall, as I was running back across campus I caught some of my teammates and passed them, one of these passes being more memorable then others. My teammate Garett Hammond was a starter and one of the first older wrestlers I interacted with. When I caught him I was struggling to pass him, naturally he was very competitive and didn’t want to lose to a skinny freshman. But, as we pulled into the last 200 meters of the run he screamed at me “Beat me to Rec!” and took off in a sprint. Not being one to back down to a challenge I naturally started sprinting with him. Context, Garett wrestled 165lbs, I wrestled 125lbs. We were neck and neck basically to the very doors of the building, to be honest I’m not sure if I won or lost, but we pushed each other to the very end. I learned what it meant to help my teammates, and to help them in any way possible. To be a leader amongst the team. This was my goal for the rest of my time at Penn State, I would never win a national title for Penn State. I would never even start, but I took pride in being the guy who would show up at 6am for a workout if guys needed to, and I took pride in the next reason for why I coach.
My Fourth Coaching Job:
My next coaching job, and really the one that fully cemented in my eyes and the eyes of many that know me that I was meant to be a coach. Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics Summer Camps. If you ask any of my former Penn State teammates they will tell you that I did not peak in the season, I peaked at Summer Camp. Of all the places for a Penn State wrestler to find their calling most don’t anticipate it to be the camps where kids show up for a week to wrestle and learn some technique. But that was my story. My first ever camp I showed up for I cemented myself again as the guy that would do anything asked of me. Stay in the dorms to chaperone? No problem! Wake up early to go on runs with the kids, sign me up (some days). Need some one to mop? I got you Coach Casey. Whatever needed done at camps I was happy to help, but most of all, I loved helping teach the campers. Whether Bo Nickal used me as the throwing dummy, or Shakur Rasheed had me wrestle campers during his teaching sessions, I was done for whatever made it the most fun. The impact you have on the kids, even as a wrestler that never started is immeasurable. I was once the camper asking Penn State wrestlers for help after sessions, now the cycle was complete. Whether it was moves in practice, wrestling the kids in live, or staying after to explain techniques I enjoyed all aspects of helping at those camps. At one point I had a kid ask me to explain a move over my starter teammate because “I like the way you explain technique.” In my teammate’s defense he doesn’t strike most people as super approachable. But at Camps is when I learned that I was never meant to wrestler forever, I was built to teach, built to lead kids to achieve dreams and goals I never could’ve, not because that’s my goal but because I now understand what it takes to be excellent. Seeing kids come through those camps who are the future of the sport today, some of them I even wrestled late in my college career, some of them have become starters for Penn State, is what drives me to be all I can be now, this is another reason why I coach.
My current coaching job:
Now, if you’ve made it this far, thank you so much! I know you’re probably thinking “When is this going to end I need to get back to watching the technique videos!” But I assure you this last paragraph will be worth the wait. My current coaching job is perhaps my favorite coaching job ever, because it is actually me as a coach now. Training athletes of all ages, sizes, and backgrounds. I get to help the next generation of athletes achieve their dreams, some have achieved some already. I have coached my first State Champs, a young buck named Luke who is always wearing Iowa stuff to mess with me, I have coached State Runner ups, All Americans etc. Now, I don’t take credit for these kids other than to say I helped in my own way, they wrestled the matches, half of them can’t even hear me during the matches! But I am damn proud of any kids that walk through my door, even if for one practice. For me as a coach, it is never about my club, it’s never about me, it’s 1000% always always about the kids. I never want my kids to feel like the club is their identity. I never tellr them, “remember who you represent” I strictly till them to Score Points, Have fun, and be a champion. I want these kids to love the sport, to have the success they dream of, and to become the best versions of themselves every single day. I’ve had some of the greatest coaches in the history of the sport, I’ve had some really bad ones, I’ve had everything in between. The commonality between the best ones I’ve had, selflessness. Coach Cael Sanderson will always talk about the work the guys put in, the credit going to them, their teammates etc. The same goes for other sports, people credit Bill Belichick, but they call it the Patriot Way, The Miracle on Ice, they credit Herb Brooks of course, but he made the team buy in and play for each other. My goal as a coach is not to be the next Cael Sanderson, or the wrestling version of Bill Belichick, hell, I don’t even want to coach college haha. I want to make athletes better students, wrestlers, and overall people. I want to help the next generation of coaches. I want to teach parents to be better helpers to their athletes, I want to inspire others in the way I have been inspired. Most of all, I want the best for each and every athlete I am blessed to have the opportunity to coach, whether that is five kids, 100 kids, or 1,000 kids. The glorious thing about sports is seeing how it can change the lives of many. I love the NFL Draft because it is amazing to see families lives literally change forever. I wanted to coach because I love it, I wanted to coach because the kids inspire me to be the best I can be every day. My athletes keep me moving, give me practices to look forward to, accomplishments to celebrate, lessons to learn with them. I coach because I have been coached, I coach because I have been inspire. I coach because I love wrestling, and finally, I coach for those who will come after me. Among all the reasons, I coach for those who impacted my career that have passed on. Richard Sparks, Aaron Wilcox, Josh Walker, and finally one of my favorite coaches ever, Vern Zellner. I coach to change the world for a few, who will change the world for many. This is Why I Coach.
Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed this, I enjoyed writing it and I look forward to putting out more content to help others see who I am as a coach, to improve their mental game and to be better each and every day. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, I cherish any opporutnity given. All the best.