This week, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to one of the most successful coaches Saucon Valley has ever seen. That man is Chad Shirk. His wrestling team has been able to rack up 4 consecutive Colonial League Championships, multiple District Championships in the individual tournament, and this past year won the Team District Championship and went on to place 2nd in the State Championships.
This success didn’t just happen overnight and for Coach Shirk and it wasn’t always easy. By Saucon Valley and Lehigh Valley standards, Coach was viewed as an outsider. To put it quite simply, nobody really knew who he was. He wasn’t from the area. People in the community didn’t know much about him and there were more questions than excitement regarding his hiring. He knew all this, and during his interview for the job, he let them know that if he could not get the program to where he wanted it to be in 4 years, they can get rid of him. In his fourth season, Saucon went on to win their first District Championship!
During the interview with Coach, four things really stood out:
Outwork Them All
A few years ago, I was reading something about one of the greatest wrestling coaches of all-time Dan Gable. One of his former wrestlers Lincoln McIlravy, who happened to be a 3 time NCAA Champion, talked about the Gable training method. He summed it up in a few words: OUTWORK THEM ALL! This exact philosophy is at the backbone of the Saucon Valley wrestling programs success. I spent a few years working on Coach Shirks staff and I can tell you one thing, there is not one coach in the league, district, and potentially state that puts in as much time with the kids as Coach Shirk and his coaching staff. They have made it their mission to outwork and outhustle the opponent every opportunity they can get.
Aha Moment Regarding Training
In 2007, the wrestling program was shut down due to a serious skin condition. The wrestling team could train but they could not have any physical contact. As the season progressed, and they were finally cleared to compete, the coaches had to make a decision: Do we send our kids to one of the toughest tournaments in the country, or do we keep them back because of the lack of wrestling? They decided to send them and what happened was truly amazing. SEVEN kids came home with medals. The athletes looked fresh, they wrestling with a tremendous amount of energy, and they were hungry to finally get a chance to compete. Coach Shirk used this as a learning experience. In order for these kids to wrestle to their full potential, they needed to be fresh. They needed to have a little “pop” in their movements. They needed to be hungry to compete at each and every opportunity.
A Shift In The Sport of Wrestling
Gone are the days of sauna suits and starvation diets. The sport of wrestling is much more regulated than it has been in years past. Kids cannot drop multiple weight classes over a short span. The rules require it to be a gradual weight cut. There is obviously some ways around this, but for the most sport, it has been good for the health of the athletes.
A healthier athlete also means a stronger athlete. The sport of wrestling has become much more athletic over the course of the past 10-15 years. Kids are training in ways that they never have before. Tumbling, gymnastics, body weight exercises, strength training, speed, agility, and anything else you could think of, these kids are doing it. The result is a much more skilled wrestler. They are physically capable of doing things that the sport has never seen. It is an exciting shift and one that I really enjoy watching!
Surround Yourself With Great People
In Jim Collins books How The Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In, he talked about something important regarding success in business and in my opinion, is the same when assembling a coaching staff. You have to look at the key positions in your program (Youth coaches, Junior High Coaches, Assistant Coaches, Wrestling Club, etc.) and fill those key positions with positive, like-minded people who buy into your vision as a coach. Coach Shirk has that at Saucon. Not only does he have arguably the best high school staff in the state, he has a great Junior High coaching staff, and a tremendous youth coaching staff. At a small school like Saucon, you have to put in the time to build up the program at the youth level. From there, it has a “trickle up” effect. In theory, the more successful youth wrestlers you have, the greater the likelihood those kids will wrestle in Junior High and eventually in High School. You are going to lose some kids here and there but the more kids you get participating at the lower levels, the better off you will be at the upper levels. This takes a lot of time and energy, but like we talked about early, Coach Shirk is willing to outwork the competition in order for his athletes to succeed.
Saucon Valley has a rich tradition in the sport of wrestling. When you walk into the wrestling room, you see the names of wrestlers who have been champions dating back to the sixties. In that same wrestling room, you see kids working hard every day in the hopes that one day, they can join those list of champions and have their names up on that wall. I am confident that as long as Coach Shirk is in charge, his teams will continue to add to the legacy that is Saucon Valley Wrestling.
Chris is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist and member of the National Strength & Conditioning Association. He has recently served as a high school football and wrestling coach. Chris loves swinging kettlebells around, watching football and reading books!