A coach, an innovator, an honoree
Early in his coaching career, Dave Bennett realized something was missing.
While coaching high school wrestlers with former standouts Dwayne and Darrell Keller, Bennett talked with the twins about the need to add a new tool.
"I said to them, it's too bad we didn't have the ability to execute the technique and show what it looked like," said Bennett, who had Darrell as an assistant coach at Riverview High School in Kenewick, Wash.
Bennett decided to do something about it.
The long-time wrestling coach started putting together instructional films in the early 1980s to educate wrestlers and coaches. From the success of the early videos, and with help from the Kellers, Bennett continued making more videos and also moved into helping produce television shows, developing a new passion that he combined with his coaching to create better ways to teach the sport of wrestling.
On May 26, Bennett was honored for that unique combination when he was selected the U.S. Olympic Committee's "Doc" Counsilman Science Award honoree. The Counsilman Award recognizes a coach who utilizes scientific techniques and equipment as an integral part of his or her coaching methods, or who has created innovative ways to use sports science.
"He was the point person for all of our video editing and breakdowns," said Kevin Jackson, the new head coach at Iowa State who also worked with Bennett when serving as national freestyle coach for USA Wrestling. "He put together for me some major PowerPoint presentations.
"He has technological skills way beyond what most coaches have."
Bennett retired from USA Wrestling in January, but remains active in some projects in the sport and still does some private coaching.
Jackson said Bennett combined both expertise in working with various video formats-which allowed him to make use of more film from Europe-and the ability to build working relationships that granted him access to that film. This was all in addition to the coaching skills he already possessed.
The combination of skills made Bennett a busy man in the sport. He served USA Wrestling as both national freestyle developmental coach and director of broadcasting.
Bennett aspired to find ways to use the technology to improve performance.
"He has a wealth of knowledge," Jackson said. "He had the ability to break down technical skills that he had seen from some of the best wrestlers we've had in the last 50 years.
"His greatest ability was to communicate what he had learned."
Video helped in that process.
"I was kind of led into a higher level of coaching by some of the individuals I had met and worked with earlier in my career as an athlete and a coach," said Bennett, who went 137-27 as a high school head coach in Washington state. "I met Bobby Douglass in high school and followed his career, which led me to the Sunkist Kids.
"It was an advantage for me to have the ability to put some of what I have learned down on video."
Bennett spread his video skills in different directions after taking over broadcasting for USA Wrestling in 1997. He produced dozens of television broadcasts and more than 50 instructional videotapes for international and college wrestling, including educational videos for officials.
The video skills were particularly helpful in areas of scouting and helping show elite athletes where they needed to make adjustments.
As a coach, Bennett worked with the Sunkist Kids and the Scorpions club to help develop many nationally ranked athletes. He coached U.S. teams on various international tours and worked on the developmental side of the national freestyle program, specializing in working with the younger athletes.
Throughout his lifetime in the sport, Bennett showed the knack to make the most of opportunities.
His debut to the sport came as being part of the first high school team when the program was introduced at Jamestown, N.D.
"I was on the first high school team the school ever had," Bennett said. "I was introduced to the sport in intramurals and PE classes before the team started."
Bennett did well enough to wrestle in college for Jamestown, an NAIA school, before transferring to Pacific University in Oregon.
"I was not that accomplished as a wrestler, more on the level of a conference place-winner, but I had the desire to learn and improve," said Bennett, who gained some opportunities to wrestle internationally as he transitioned into coaching the sport.
Bennett's versatility is what Jackson admired most when they worked together. Bennett could move the sport into a modern time by developing online coaching tools and databases of video or by organizing processes that made some of those same videos available for iPod downloads. But he could also go into the wrestling room and instruct the athletes on all levels.
"He crosses all age groups from grassroots kids to elite senior-level athletes," Jackson said. "He's one of the few who can really do that.
"As well as he can communicate with coaches on the highest international levels, he can also communicate with coaches on the grassroots level, helping give them the skills they need."
With more than 50 years experience, Bennett made his last full year with USA Wrestling a special one. In addition to being honored with the Counsilman Award, he had the satisfaction of watching Henry Cejudo, who he coached at the Olympic Training Center, win the Olympic gold medal in Beijing.
"It was the culmination of a four-year process to see if we could develop an athlete from an earlier age," he said.
Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Tom Robinson is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.
Additional words from the sidelines:
1. What made you want to get into coaching?
"I fell madly in love with wrestling as a sport. I realized it had a lot to offer individually as a sport. Coaching was my way to give back to the sport."
2. What has been your most fulfilling moment as a coach?
"I'd have to say one of the most fulfilling was watching Henry Cejudo win the gold medal in Beijing. It was the culmination of a four-year process to see if we could develop an athlete from an earlier age."
3. What do you enjoy most about being a coach?
"The interaction with the developmental age group where they need help and are open to the education process in order to improve."
4. Do you have a motto or them to live/coach by?
"I believe there are things an individual is going to do in life if he is going to be successful in athletics or otherwise. Hopefully, our methods show those things."