The US World Team in front of a statue of King David the Builder, Tbilisi, Georgia. Picture courtesy US Women's Wrestling.
You can take wrestling places, but if you’re a coach heading to ex-Soviet Georgia for a world-class tournament, wrestling takes you. This month, BTS head girls coach Jacque Davis was taken to the 2016 UWW Cadet World Championships in Tbilisi, Georgia to help train and support the girls on the US World Team. Girls freestyle rounds began on September 15th, and the tournament ran through the 18th.
“This trip was an amazing learning experience for me.” Davis was selected for the trip through a USA Wrestling coaching pool, which coaches from across the country enter to accompany American wrestlers. She had previously accompanied top American girls to the Cadet Pan-Americans in Brazil, Mexico, and Duals in Canada. This was her first time traveling as far as the nation of Georgia.
“The learning didn't just happen while away in Georgia at the actual competition, it really started before that at the preparation camp.” At camp, she learned how to specialize training in preparation for a big competition, covering topics such as practice lengths, strategic practices to keep competitors in peak condition, sports psychology, and how to tailor plans for each athlete’s unique situation.
One of the biggest takeaways for Davis is that the athletes and coaches around the world are not so different from the Americans. “ Sometimes when you are a first timer, regardless of being an athlete or coach, you get nervous and you allow the environment to dictate your mindset; your readiness.”
Davis wasn’t immune to this effect, herself. “I didn't want to make a bad call, yell the wrong thing, have the wrong body language before their match and make them nervous or unsure. But as the first and second match passed, I realized that Worlds is just another tournament, and the girls competing there are just another set of competitors.”
Despite the far-off setting, it was still the same scoreboard, the same arrangement of referees and coaches, and the same sport.
“This realization was something huge to me because I suddenly became more confident in coming home and coaching our New York girls,” said Davis. “I became even more confident in their abilities to make the world team, leave the country, and come home with medals around their necks.”
Davis was too busy to really explore Georgia, but it left an impression nonetheless. “The architecture was amazing there, nothing was uniform, each building seemed like it was built at a different time period, different artist, different vision. The city itself had a beautiful river running through it with a tree-lined walkway along the side, something I thought was similar to the Seine River in Paris.” She will be more than happy to return to Tibilisi as a tourist, especially to finally ride the giant Ferris wheel overlooking the city.
An experienced traveler, Davis already knows how most plans go: “I always go by the mindset that I need to be prepared to be unprepared, be totally fine with having to wait a lot, and understand that I may have a plan A, B, and C, but that doesn't mean we will be using any of those...”
With the sense of humor necessary for a world traveler, Davis points out that some of her favorite moments were also “the things that kind of suck.” One was the confusion regarding living arrangements. Instead of going to the hotel where they had been planning to stay for months before the trip, the Americans were driven half an hour into the country at a giant resort by mistake. It seemed ideal, until they traveled to the “original” hotel where their competitors were staying. “I recognize the stars stop at 5,” Davis said, but “I truly believe this was the first 10 star hotel I had ever seen. It was gorgeous, brand new, beautiful views, working amenities, and no stray dog packs howling and trying to crawl through your windows at night.”
Local cabs also posed a fair share of problems. One driver was busy looking at his phone and crashed into a curb going at about 40 mph (or as they’d say, 60 km/h.) The next wasn’t much better: “We quickly hopped out and hopped in another cab (apologizing for ruining his car the whole time), only to then be taken the exact opposite direction we needed to go. We got dropped off at a chandelier store, a pancake house, and then finally our hotel.”
One of the more placid moments was the team-wide sulfur bath. “It took about 4 hours for the hotel to prepare the bath, and we all smelt like rotten eggs for the next 2 days, but it was really nice to just lounge, talk, and relax our muscles.” Davis suspects the placebo effect had something to do with the team feeling so good after that.
Of course, the local cuisine made it all worthwhile. “I had been trying the whole time to get this traditional dish called Khachapuri. It is basically a boat made out of bread, filled with cheese, with an egg cracked on top, and then baked.” Nobody could point her towards the Georgian classic until the very last day, when she found it in an airport restaurant. “I bought it, devoured it, and am still thinking about it. It was AMAZING!”
Even so far from home, Davis met a number of American coaches who proved to know their stuff and care about their kids, one being Ike Anderson, a former USA Greco Olympian. “He was an awesome guy, and I’m excited that I got the chance to meet and work with him.”
The girls also got to make connections with some of the top athletes on the planet, with their toughest challengers being the Japanese girls who claimed gold medals in eight out of 10 weight classes.
After all she’s seen, Davis has some solid advice for NYC kids who want to wrestle at the international level:
“If you want to become a US World Team Member, then remember that for every day that you decide you are going to do something that doesn't move you forward toward your dream, there is an individual who is out there who will do that.”
In order to get to the goal, Davis says, one needs to appreciate and respect the process.
“Believing in the coaching staff you have around you will make you a better athlete no matter what. Honestly, and I really believe this for a number of athletes in NYC, recognize that if you want to do it, you really, truly can...but it will not be easy.”