Malmo, Sweden -- Avery Steldt and Hanna Errthum, two women’s freestyle wrestlers training under Coach Lucas Steldt, just returned from a nine-day training camp in Malmo, Sweden. With sights set on World and Olympic medals, international training is inextricably part of the developmental process.
Both wrestlers are in the cadet age group and train full time in the Olympic discipline of freestyle. Coach Steldt explained that Combat Wrestling Club Training Facility, located in Blue River Wisconsin, is hyper-focused on women’s freestyle and men’s Greco-Roman.
While in Sweden the group trained at The Elite Training Center, a sports complex dedicated to youth sports in Malmo. The general schedule looked like morning and afternoon mat practices, and then some additional strength and conditioning work. Hanna described their approach to training in the camps as blocks—coaches would show a technique, they drill the technique and then they go live from that same position.
Up to this point in their annual process, the training has been technical. “When we’re overseas right now we are over here strategically to wrestle certain people for certain reasons,” said Coach Steldt. “We don’t come in here with any pre-diagnosed like, we’re coming to work on our stuff, we’re coming to work on their stuff . . . so we’re over here for a strict purpose but it’s really for us to acclimate to them and be more chameleon, kind of fit in with what they’re doing and taking back what we know so we’re prepared later on in the Worlds.”
In addition to technical takeaways, the group is focused on acclimating to the foreign style and exposure to older athletes. “Cadets to Juniors is two different worlds,” said Coach Steldt. “We try to find places where we’re younger and under the gun and have to be force acclimated to that style. It’s really important for the girls to understand that they can’t use all the things that used to work. It’s more of a mentality of being able to follow through and having a little more intensity and being more mature.”
Avery touched on part of that maturity process. “When you come over here their lifestyle is way different. Everything is wrestling, and it’s just so different the way they are,” she said. “It’s amazing. They’re very, very good.”
Although less talkative away from the mats, the girls communicate well and flourish in their connections on the mats. “They get to build relationships with people from around the world,” said Coach Steldt. “The one thing with women’s freestyle that crosses over to Greco in the U.S. is that there’s a movement that goes much beyond the sport. These girls are part of a worldwide movement. Every woman they talk to is on the same movement and so when you walk into a camp and there’s a girl from Canada, France, Ecuador, or Spain, they’re all there for the same reason and they’re all there to help each other. Everyone is trying to build each other up. In that community, they’re [the girls] good at building. It’s a huge deal to put yourself out there and not put any limitations on yourself. So, I know the girls are quiet but they’re really, in the athletic world, very outgoing.”
Their year-long training plan weaves together international opportunities with preparation for domestic competition. “Right about now right at this juncture of say January/February, we are now going to transition into more of a tactical like live, cardio, and getting into the right weight class . . . we want the girls at a specific weight a month out from World Team Trials, so we spend six weeks out from World Team Trials at that weight class competing.”
The girl’s domestic competition schedule this spring includes the National High School Recruiting Showcase Qualifier in Milwaukee, the Naional High School Showcase in Vegas (if qualified), the Journeyman Classic, and then World Team Trials in May. “I want them wrestling a lot of domestic stuff the last six weeks going into World Team Trials because the American style is completely different than the foreign style,” said Coach Steldt. “I want the girls used to the international style as much as possible and then I want them domestically acclimated before World Team Trials. If we do make a World or Pan Am team we’re prepared for the foreign touch when we’re on that circle.”
To afford the type of flexibility necessary for their training, these young women have to be stellar students. Avery attends school full-time online, and Hanna works closely with high school teachers at Mount Horeb to ensure she’s up to date. “My best students are my best athletes,” said Coach Steldt. He said Avery is always head and shared that Hanna maintains a standout GPA. Although the same age, they are a year apart academically. Hanna will graduate early next winter, giving her an additional semester to be focused full-time on wrestling and any training opportunities that come up.
The camp was supposed to conclude with the Klippan Open, a staple on the United World Wrestling schedule that USA Wrestling typically sends a delegation overseas for. However, with last-minute changes in Covid protocols, the competition was canceled, and this small group of Avery, Hanna, and Coach Steldt were the only Americans training women’s freestyle in Sweden this February. This type of touch-and-go adjustment for the athletes might be unique to the current health situation, but it’s all part of the learning curve for athletes training and competing across the world. “You have to go with the flow,” said Hanna. And Avery doubled down saying it’s key to “stay calm,” and, “say yes to every opportunity.”