BLOOMINGTON — University of Northern Iowa wrestling coach Doug Schwab, the guest speaker Saturday during the 16th annual Midwest Nationals Tournament at Shirk Center, has a request for his listeners.
"Ask a lot of questions," he said. "I like questions."
If you want to know how to win state and NCAA titles en route to becoming an Olympian like Schwab, be prepared for a long answer.
The short answer is try to find a coach — maybe even one based in Cedar Falls, Iowa — who truly believes and cares about his athletes.
"That’s not something that you can fake," said Schwab, whose philosophy of wrestling got the ultimate endorsement in March when senior Drew Foster became UNI's first NCAA champion since 2000.
Foster, who went 28-5 at 184 pounds, was an unlikely winner, having never won an Iowa state title in high school. Then he posted a lackluster 15-18 record as a Panther freshman.
"He didn’t get it right away," said Schwab, who's had 11 All-Americans in his nine years at UNI. "You can see from his record, it didn’t come easy."
Seven teams had an NCAA champion this year so Foster put UNI in elite company.
"It gave the other guys a deeper belief that they can do it," Schwab said. "No matter where a guy starts, they can become great through work, belief and sticktoitiveness."
Schwab, 41, wasn't too shabby himself. He won the 1999 NCAA title at 141 pounds for Iowa where he was a three-time All-American. He went on to compete in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
"It was an absolutely incredible experience," Schwab said of the Olympics. "It was something I’ll never forget."
Another thing Schwab won't forget is his first year at UNI when he was looking for guys to buy into his system and there stood senior Brett Robbins of Bloomington. Now a Panther assistant coach, Robbins accepted the new coach's plan and went on to post a 19-5 record.
“He’s been consistent in his effort, energy, focus and belief in the program from day one and it’s only grown," Schwab said. "He does a great job for us. The attitude and energy he brings every day, it helps lift everyone."
At Saturday's tournament, where action begins for more than 1,000 wrestlers at 9 a.m. (weigh-ins and registration are from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday at Shirk Center), Schwab hopes to lift his listeners.
“I’m going to talk about what wrestling has done for me and the people it’s put me around,” he said. “I’ll try to impart on anyone that wants to get into the sport, that it’s going to be tough.
"There are going to be a lot of times where you’re not going to get what you want as far as awards or being a state champion or national champion, but what the sport leaves you with, the lasting impact is something you can take with you the rest of your life and will make you a better person."
Schwab's young sons, Hayden and Hendrix, are getting into wrestling. He hopes they learn it's a sport of delayed gratification and many obstacles can derail dreams.
"Something unforeseen can happen, but how you go about it and the work that you do daily and the belief that you have in yourself and how you treat people, those things are lasting," Schwab says. "You have control of that.
"I really try to impart to our guys that we’re going to give more than we’re going to get. I think there’s too much in the world now where ‘what am I going to get out of this?'"
As Schwab sees it, wrestlers aren't given anything.
"You’re going to have to go earn and take something if you want to get to a certain level," he said. "I think that’s great."
Schwab gets a kick out of watching his seniors enter the workforce.
"They are challenged, but they can raise their level," he said. "I think sometimes people aren’t challenged at all. In wrestling, that is absolutely not the case."
No, in wrestling, even the guest speakers get challenged with questions, but it turns out, that's actually encouraged.