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Wrestling with a deadline

Minnesota’s J Robinson explains the pressures of preparing a team to reach the ultimate goal

By J Robinson
As told to Kayci Woodley

In 29 seasons at the helm of the University of Minnesota’s wrestling program, J Robinson has captured three NCAA team titles and developed 14 individual national champions. After coming up short in the team race the past three years, the championship deadline is fast approaching for his senior Gophers.

The NCAA tournament is like your final exam. You’ve prepared all year or all semester for this test. Along with it comes pressure. When you have pressure, you’re usually in a great situation – you’ve put yourself in a position to do something extraordinary.

J Robinson, University of Minnesota

And when you can’t wrestle anymore, you want to impact others. As a coach, you can’t get what you want unless your guys get what they want. That’s the beauty of being a coach. You’re both invested to go to the same place, and that place is the NCAA tournament.

The seniors we have right now were freshmen when they placed second at the NCAA championships. With it being their first time in the event, they were pretty satisfied with a second-place finish. The next year they got third. Then, after finishing just 5 1/2 points shy of a championship last year, all 10 of our guys are reviewing what they did and saying, “Hey, if I score this point here, we could’ve won.”

Coming up just short helps our guys become a little more focused, doing all of the little things to make sure they don’t come up short again.

People are motivated by deadlines, and there’s a finality to what’s going to happen this year. The tournament is a culmination for individuals. As a coach, you’ve helped these individuals get to the pinnacle.

The quest as a wrestler is to be as good as you can be for four or five years. Even more important than the medals or the titles that you win is the person you become through the process of trying to reach that point. That will stay with you forever.