Making new friends

Posted on Apr 19, 2016 in Bulgaria

Our first stop for today was freestyle wrestling practice. We started with a long warm up that included far more and more advanced gymnastics than our kids are used to but they were game, as always, and joined right in. Peter Del Gallo and Zack Elowitch looked like they had been doing Bulgarian warm ups their whole life when they each snapped off a cartwheel to a back flip without hesitation.

After a strong warm up we moved to a series of drill matches or play wrestling with our wrestlers switching partners among the Bulgarian team. It was interesting to watch the wrestlers feel each other out. Some went harder than expected out of the gate and others were very laid back. But everyone from our team had really solid partners to work with.

Coach Peter and Coach Mike discuss technique with today's clinician and World Champion as well as Coach Pavil, the coach of our host team.

Coach Peter and Coach Mike discuss technique with today’s clinician and World Champion as well as Coach Pavil, the coach of our host team.

After the drill matches we were treated to a technique session from a former Bulgarian world champion. He showed a 4 pt fireman’s carry variation and a turn that combines capturing the ankle with an arm bar. He pulled us in repeatedly to discuss the finer points of the technique. Michael Delev and a Bulgarian wrestler with good English helped translate.

We wrapped up the practice with 30 minutes of live 2-minute scrimmages against Bulgarian wrestlers. The kids wrestled hard and had a bunch of success along with plenty of learning moments.

The highlight of the practice came at the end when our wrestlers started giving their training partners the team t-shirts we brought. Kids  and coaches started talking in small groups, learning about each other and trading gear. The initial nervousness had melted away after competition and we all started to connect through our common bond of wrestling.

After lunch we toured the Old City. Plovdiv is the longest continually inhabited city in Europe and has an incredibly rich history. We saw many roman ruins including a stadium built to hold 30,000 people and host Olympic-style games. We learned about the Ottoman rule of Bulgaria and how it influenced everything from architecture to religion. We climbed to the city’s citadel and took in the ancient ruins there along with a gorgeous 360 degree view of the city and its surrounding hills. Our tour finished with Plovdiv’s most famous site – the Roman amphitheater – home in ancient times to plays, performances, wrestling matches and gladitorial contests. The theater, originally built to hold 6,000 people, is still used weekly during the summers today to host performances. It was built so well, and the natural acoustics are so good, you can hear a quarter drop on the stage from the top row!

We made a fast turnaround after the tour and hustled to Greco Roman practice. As soon as we walked in the room had a different feel as wrestlers started trading gear and talking with kids they had trained with earlier in the day. The language barrier, while significant, didn’t seem to slow anyone down. Many of the Bulgarian kids speak some English and a few speak good English. Plus, we have been asking a lot of Peter and Michael Delev to help us translate.

Once again we started with an extended warm up. The Bulgarians work many of their skills, strength and athleticism training into their warm up and spend a significant amount of time building this foundation at the beginning of practice. The wrestlers paired up by weight and much of the warm-up was done with Casco Bay Elite wrestlers paired off with Bulgarian partners.

After the warm-up the wrestlers had one drill match and then we moved on to one hour of live 2-minute scrimmages between our wrestlers and members of the Vasil Levski team. Their wrestlers seemed more comfortable in Greco positions and situations but our wrestlers showed a lot of grit and scored with a bunch of solid throws and turns.

IMG_1866We wrapped everything up with more socializing and plans to practice again later in the week. When we return to the Vasil Levski wrestling room after two days traveling to other cities to train with other club teams we think there will be a bit of a homecoming feeling.



Note: Sorry for the lack of photos. Our photographers have been doing a great job but we ran into some compatibility problems. We hope to have a slide show of the first part of our trip posted tomorrow.