So I’m sitting here reflecting on my experience coaching at the Western PA BJJ Championships at Baldwin yesterday, and figured it was a great topic for a blog post.
To this point in my life, I’ve only coached at tournaments as a Wrestling Coach. A while back, we decided that I’d help out with the Kid’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu team though I (admittedly) had very little Jiu Jitsu experience. My knowledge on the sport consisted of training for a month in 2013, learning a few things from Coach Chaz, and competing in a tournament with basically just wrestling knowledge. Past that, I knew very little. But, Coach Travis needed an Assistant, and I’d worked with youth wrestlers for a while now, so it made sense to give it a try. Since then, a ton of students (and parents) have embraced our gym, learned a ton, and had a lot of fun. So much so that 8 of them decided to compete in a tournament this weekend.
Fast forward to today. 8 Kids show up at Baldwin High School to compete, and I have no idea what to expect. Most of these kids have been training less than 6 months, never competed before, and have very little knowledge on the sport in the scheme of things. They understand what the coaches have told them, but have never attended a Jiu Jitsu Event in their lives. They’re not even really sure what to expect. I wondered if our kids were prepared enough. I questioned (as any coach does) if myself, Coach Travis, Coach Chaz and Coach Josh had done everything in our power to prepare these kids for experience they were about to have. Then, I started thinking about what the kids had done leading up to this. Those kids that dedicated themselves to this for the last few months. Showed up for practice up to 5 times a week, and drilled as hard as you can expect a kid to drill. Those kids who sacrificed being out playing with their friends in exchange for hard work in a sweaty Gi. Were they ready? I’ll let the results speak for themselves.
I’m going to start with Jade. Our youngest (6) and perhaps most passionate competitor. The girl LOVES Jiu Jitsu, and she loves her teammates. She’s on the very young spectrum to be competing, but she said she wanted to give it a try, and decided to compete. Unfortunately, they didn’t have many competitors her age, weight, or experience level. So, they combined some brackets and put her with some older kids. Her first match, she gets paired up with an Orange Belt, 8 year old boy who outweighed her by at least 15 lbs. I think the final score was around 10-0, but I couldn’t be prouder of her effort. She listened to exactly what the coaches told her to do, and tried her absolute hardest to perform the techniques. The maturity and age of her competitor was a little bit too much for her. The important thing here was her will. She didn’t quit. She had to have known going in that she was a bit outmatched, but she threw everything she had at that kid, and it put a smile on my face.
Moving on to Jeremiah – this kid works his tail off in the practice room. He’s a tough kid with a great attitude for the Sport. He went out and battled extremely hard in his two matches. Ultimately, he fell a little short of a medal. But, the thing that impressed me the most about this kid happened while he wasn’t competing. He was paying attention to the matches throughout the day. Obviously supporting his teammates, but you could tell he was trying to understand and gain some knowledge from some of the other matches that happened through the day. Even in defeat, the kid was trying to learn and get better through watching and understanding what was going on. Growing up, I had a buddy named Adam Frey from Wrestling, and he taught me the importance of this. He would always sit there and watch matches and simulate from the sidelines as if it were him out on the mat competing. One time I asked him why he did this, and (paraphrasing) he told me it helped him get better through seeing things he didn’t know yet. It’s something that always stuck with me, and I still focus on matches in the same way. It was cool to see Jeremiah so intent on watching his teammates compete, and learning through watching. It reminded me of my old pal Adam, who has since passed away. I’m positive things are going to go better for Jeremiah in the future, and I know this was an excellent learning experience for him.
Then you’ve got Logan Koon. I was having a conversation with one of our adult competitors and he made a comment that went something like “What impressed me the most about a lot of these kids is they haven’t been training very long. 2-3 months isn’t a very long time to understand Jiu Jitsu or what’s going on out there.” Logan pretty much epitomizes that statement. He’s been at it for less than 3 months, and when given the opportunity to compete, jumped on it. He attended every single additional Saturday Session that we offered, and tried his hardest to put himself in a position to be successful. Obviously, he’s not going to understand or retain everything about Jiu Jitsu in 3 months, but he sure fought like hell at the competition. He ended up with a bronze medal after some hard fought battles. He listened to the coaches, tried (and succeeded) on a bunch of techniques, and left with some hardware. Pretty impressive after less than 50 Jiu Jitsu Practices.
Speaking of not having a lot of experience, and doing well – let’s move to Logan’s sister, Layla Koon. One of the most intelligent students we have. My favorite thing about her (and this is echoed by the other coaches as well) is her eagerness to learn and ask questions when she doesn’t know something. Growing up, my dad always encouraged me to ask questions and try to understand everything I did as best as I could. He told me a story that I’ll paraphrase – when he was in technical school, anytime he was stumped on a subject, he’d raise his hand and ask the question. He developed a reputation in class for being the guy who asked a million questions about everything. Finally, his teacher had enough, and replied to one of his questions with “I don’t know Rick, why is the (explicit) sky blue?” That seemingly irrelevant story taught me a valuable lesson whether my dad knows it or not. If you don’t know, ask. People may get annoyed, but I’m not going to let that stop me from getting better. Anyways, that’s Layla – at the end of every class we ask “Does anyone have any Jiu Jitsu related questions?” Cue Layla asking at least 3 or 4… and I love it. The girl wants to learn. And it transitioned from the practice room to the competition mats. She went out and dominated all but one opponent on her way to a Silver Medal. Less than 3 months of training, and she already has knowledge of someone who has been doing this far longer. It’s going to take her a long way in the sport.
Zach Geletei was our next competitor. Another one without much experience, but this kid is a scrapper. He’s the type of kid who understands how important aggression is when you’re doing Jiu Jitsu. Also a kid that didn’t miss many training opportunities. When we put an opportunity in front of him, he was more than likely going to be there. And I can’t count the times he showed up early for class and got workouts in with Coach Josh. The little things add up in this sport. For him, they added up to a Gold in NOGI, and a Bronze in Gi. The thing that impressed me the most about him was his Wrestling skills. Admittedly, we didn’t have a lot of time to go into Wrestling techniques with the kids. Most of the takedowns they learned from the coaching staff were Gi Trips, a few throws, and one hour worth of double leg takedowns. Apparently Zach was paying attention to it all, and acted like a sponge. His wrestling was pretty on par yesterday, and he dominated a lot of his matches with solid positioning, and a great base. Excited to see how his Jiu Jitsu journey plays out, because he’s got the right attitude and skillset for this.
Mason Sinagra has been at it for going on 5 months now I believe. He’s been a student of the month at Octane mainly because he’s a grinder. Just pure work ethic and determination. He also listens very well. However, I’m glad he chose not to listen to me in his last match. Forgive me if I’m forgetting some details, but I believe he was down by about 4 points. I was yelling in for him to try to get positioning and tie the match up and perhaps send it to Overtime. Mason had other ideas, and slapped an arm bar to win the match right there. We haven’t gone over that technique that much. Maybe 2 or 3 times. But, he retained it because he drilled it so hard when he had the opportunity. And, it led to match success. He left the tournament with a Bronze in Gi, and a Silver in NOGI. More importantly, I think he left with a chip on his shoulder. He’s going to continue to work towards Gold when he gets another opportunity.
Ryan Celaschi competed in both divisions. He’s testing for his Gray and White Belt this week, which means he’s been at this for just under 6 months now. However, he has an extensive Wrestling Background. For those of you that don’t know, Ryan placed 3rd in the State of Pennsylvania in Freestyle Wrestling last season competing for our Youth Wrestling School, Odyssey. Naturally as you all saw yesterday, wrestling crosses over very well to Jiu Jitsu. So, I expected a pretty good tournament from Ryan, and he lived up to those expectations. He ended up with a Silver in Gi, and 4th in NOGI. The Gi finals match is the one I want to focus on, and less on the results and more on the aftermath. The kid goes out and loses an Overtime heartbreaker for the Gold. Because Overtime ended tied, they gave the match to the competitor with the most submission attempts. Unfortunately, it went to the other kid. It’s different than the way we do things in Wrestling. There, we have no ties. You determine the match on the mat and go until someone scores the winning point. I was impressed with the way Ryan handled himself in defeat. Most kids would sulk, not understanding why they lost. Ryan kept his head high, shook the other kids hand, walked over and shook the coaches hand, and took it with grace. I’ve watched this kid for the last few years in Wrestling, and I’ve seen him get down on himself a fair share of times in defeat. In this instance, I was extremely proud of the way he handled himself and the way he took it like a man. Obviously, his on the mat performance was great, but it’s those little things that most people overlook that I like to focus on.
Trinity McIntyre competed in Gi Only, She’s also testing for Gray and White Belt this week. Another one that never misses class. Honestly one of the hardest workers we have, always sprinting when asked to jog, going as fast as she can on the agility drills (bear crawls, baby crawls, etc). After this weekend, her new nickname is Killer, for a few reasons. First, this girl jumped on her opponents from the very beginning. She’s got a mean streak in her that one can only have growing up around brothers. You can tell that she doesn’t take a back seat to them at home, and she doesn’t take a back seat to the boys in competition. I was shocked when she beat a boy 12-0 in 3 minutes in her first match. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been knowing this girl, but after the match I looked at Coach Travis with a look of “what just happened?” Domination. The other reason she’s now going to be known as Killer is what happened after her Final Match. She got caught in an armbar, and had to tap out giving her the Silver. We preach winning and losing with Grace, and we expect that to be the Standard. Trinity.. well, Trinity is a bit of a different breed. After the match, she stands up, shakes the kids hand, and then pushes him to kind of make the statement that “I’m not going to back down from anyone.” Obviously, we made her apologize, shake the referees hand while looking him in the eye, shake her competitor and his coaches hand to teach her a lesson that it’s unacceptable behavior. Reflecting on it though, I kind of like the fire this girl has. Obviously, pushing her opponent wasn’t the appropriate way to go about it. But, she showed me that she hates, repeat, hates, losing. It’s a mentality that one must have if they’re going to be great at anything in life. We’ll work on her with how she went about it, and she’ll probably owe me some pushups as a result. But, Killer had herself a heck of a day, and I couldn’t be more proud of her results.
Overall, Octane MMA Kid’s Program had a ridiculously successful day. Going in, if you were to tell me that 6 of 8 of our kids, who are all first time competitors, would leave with Medals in Gi, I’d have probably told you that you need to manage your expectations. Those kids proved me wrong in the best way. With limited knowledge and an urge for the unknown, these kids went out and put 110% into every one of their matches. We’ll talk about the wins for sure. And we’ll learn from the losses. But, the thing that I’m taking from this as a Coach is the effort. ONE HUNDRED AND TEN PERCENT. Every single one of them fought their butts off yesterday. Win or lose, I’m gleaming with pride today.
Thanks to all the parents, fans, coaches, families, and other Octane Team Members that came out yesterday. You all made this a very positive experience for these 8 kids. I cannot wait for my 2nd experience coaching at a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Tournament. Hopefully we’ll have many more competitors the 2nd time around, bring home twice as much hardware, and learn many more positive lessons that we can carry into our lives. Until then…