An Interview with Jake Herbert
by Sam Shames
After finishing up his storied college career at Northwestern in 2009 by winning his second NCAA title, the Dan Hodge Trophy, and the Big Ten Athlete of the Year award, Jake Herbert immediately turned his attention to freestyle wrestling, where we won a silver medal in the World Championships. Herbert dominated the 84kg weight class for the next several years, winning three U.S. Open championships and earning spots on two World Championships teams and at the 2012 London Olympics.
Herbert stopped competing after the 2012 Olympic games, but remained highly active in the wrestling community. In particular, he was a vocal advocate in the Save Olympic Wrestling movement and united with other top wrestling leaders to raise awareness and promote the sport. Herbert committed to growing wrestling at all levels and has been working with Andy Hrovat to develop the Base Wrestling System. Herbert returned to competition, has been training for the 2015 World Championships and 2016 Olympics, and is wrestling Ed Ruth in this week’s Flo Premier League.
We caught up with Jake to talk about his upcoming match with Ruth, the Base Wrestling System, his wrestling mentality, his thoughts on growing wrestling, and more.
Wrestling Stories: Thank you for taking time out of your training to speak to us. How did your workout go today as you prepare to wrestle Ruth?
Jake Herbert: I had just had a lift this morning and then the rest of the day off, so I just finished running a workout for a kids club. They had a great workout and are making fantastic progress using our Base Wrestling System. We are on week 13 of our program, and we went from no one being able to stand on one leg for 30 seconds to landing front flips tonight.
WS: Tell me about the philosophy behind the Base Wrestling System.
JH: There are three components to wrestling — physical development, technical development, and mental development — and you need to be elite in all three to be a high level wrestler. Our system focuses on developing these facets, and especially the physical and technical development, since seeing improvement in these two areas with improve your mental approach. We recognized that a lot of wrestlers’ technical moves are limited by physical ability, so by improving our athlete’s physical fitness they can also progress technically. As our wrestlers see their physical fitness and technical expertise improve, that sense of progress helps them learn to believe in themselves and develop the mental capacity to be a champion.
WS: How has Base Wrestling been received at the club?
JH: This is the first youth club to be exposed to the fully system, and the reception has been phenomenal. We have increased our participation and have almost 100% retention. The rate of progress is amazing, and it is going to be scary what these kids are doing.
WS: How did you first realize the potential of the Base Wrestling System and gather data to show it worked?
JH: I started going to wrestling clinics and showing technique. I also would work with Division I teams as a wrestling consultant, and one day I had this breakthrough when I asked the wrestlers to kick from a front bridge to a back bridge and back from a back bridge to a front bridge. While everyone could go from front to back, only about 30% of the wrestlers could go from back to front. Those 30% were the best wrestlers on the team, and that helped me realize how important physical development was. After that realization and a week of work with the team, 65% of the team was able to go from back bridge to front bridge.
Now we are starting to gather research more scientifically. We have a statistician doing data analysis and have discovered some incredible statistics. For example we learned that in 99% of college matches the winner gets more locks around his opponent’s legs. I think our data will change the way we take college statistics.
WS: That’s amazing. How did you first get started with Base Wrestling?
JH: I used to go to clinics and do the traditional thing where I would show moves and have kids drill them, but I realized that most kids couldn’t drill the moves because they weren’t physically fit enough. The fact is in youth wrestling the most athletic kid usually wins.
My partner, Andy Hrovat, lived in Russia for 11 months and saw their system. He wrote down everything they did and talked to their coaches. If you look at practice in Russia, every practice at every club across the country has a specific structure to it, while the US is all over the place. That’s the reason why Russia has won 45 of the last 50 World and Olympic Championships.
What we did is reverse engineer the Russian system but added science and technology and made it fun.
WS: Changing gears, what’s most important lesson you’ve learned from wrestling?
JH: Dealing with failure by far. Wrestling taught me how to deal with losing and getting beat. It taught me that you could learn from every loss and from your failure and mistakes. I love that there is always more to learn and that you can always get better. I look at myself as a failed Olympic Gold medalist. But because my goal was so high, even though I failed I still achieved more than I ever could have imagine: I got to go to the White House, represent my country, and be in a Hollywood movie. Most of all, I learned through wrestling that if I put my mind to something I can do anything. That’s an amazing feeling and it can be learned on the mat.
WS: That’s a really powerful perspective that you’ve developed. How did that start?
JH: I’ve always had a positive perspective because you are what you think and the more you believe it and write it down the more it will happen. At the same time, you cells react negatively to negative thoughts. It started with my parents though. They were always supportive and they also put me in challenges where I was supposed to win. In youth wrestling and in high school, I would wrestle up weight classes at tournaments and with really tough guys in my high school room and so I got used to losing and using it as an opportunity to get better instead of feeling sorry for myself.
WS: How else did your parents support your wrestling career?
JH: They have been amazing. My dad was a Pennsylvania state champion and he actually didn’t let me start wrestling until I was 9 or 10. Instead he made me do Judo to get my balance. When I did start wrestling, my dad would take me to tournaments every weekend. He would say on Sunday that I could either go to church or go to wrestling, and I would always pick wrestling because that’s where my friends were. We would spend all day at tournaments on Sundays. In high school and college, my family would come watch me every weekend. I was lucky that my dad owned a construction company so he could take time off, and he only missed one match in college. My parents have always told me to follow my passion, but never pressured or pushed me.
WS: You’ve been extremely involved in growing wrestling at all levels, what do you think we should be doing to grow the sport?
JH: I want to impact 50,000 to 250,000 wrestlers in the next five years. I want to bring them into the sport and deliver them into the world because wrestlers make the best fill-in-the-blank. I believe that making more wrestlers makes a better world, and I think the most important thing we can do to grow the sport is making it fun.
Kids won’t learn something that isn’t fun, and today there is so much competition for attention and money. You can’t make wrestling about brutality, intensity, and domination at the youth level. If they don’t first like something, they won’t bleed for it later, and if a kid doesn’t like you as his coach, he won’t learn from you.
That’s why we came up with Double Leg Ninja. Kids like doing ninja training and doing acrobatics and seeing that improvement. Once you get them seeing improvement and seeing where the program takes them, then they won’t mind the hard work. That’s one of the reasons why our Attack Bandz have been so successful. It’s fun, it’s natural, and it’s an easy introduction to wrestling.
WS: You’ve also been extremely vocal about the role of stories in growing wrestling. How do you see this making a difference?
JH: What’s great about stories is that they teach people about the heroes of the sport. That’s where sites like Flowrestling have been huge because they raise awareness and give today’s youth wrestlers people to look up to. It’s also big because of the advertising creates money to be reinvested into the sport. Twitter is also great because it lets people interact with their heroes, gives everyone in the sport a voice, and let’s us know how many people are in our army.
On top of that, I think we need to combine the highlights of wrestling with the stories. The storylines will help people better appreciate the highlights and also draw in mothers and families to the sport. The storylines show how wrestling makes someone a better person.
WS: Probably the biggest thing that people are doing to grow wrestling right now is creating these new professional leagues. What is your take on these leagues?
JH: I think it’s great because it gives fans a chance to see match ups that you don’t otherwise get to see. What people don’t realize is that as an elite athlete I get to see these matches every day in the practice room at the OTC, and so to give the fans the same opportunity is fantastic.
WS: What are you most excited for about your match with Ed Ruth?
JH: I’m excited for the chance to tell him and the wrestling world that I’m back. Ed is the guy to beat right now at my weight, and so I would take any opportunity to wrestle him, but to do it around the NCAA championships and to get paid to do it is even better.
WS: What do you need to do to win this match?
JH: I’ve been using the Base Wrestling System to prepare, and I just need to trust in the system. I need to be healthy so I can feel good and move freely, so I can get to my positions.
WS: Thank you so much for speaking with us Jake and best of luck with your match.
JH: You’re welcome, and it was a pleasure.
Originally published at wrestlingstories.org.