PLYMOUTH – There is a common thread that runs through Plymouth wrestling these days and that thread is named Smith.
Call out the name at practice and you will see at least 5 heads turn starting with first-year head coach Travis Smith. The second would be one of his assistant coaches, oldest son Gavin, and after that any of three members of the squad: senior son Dominic or freshmen Cayden or Wesley.
If you are at the junior high, daughter Angel would stop her work out on the mat to answer.
Wrestling is in the blood for the Smiths along with mixed martial arts fighting, something that the three oldest starting with Travis are involved with.
“I was born to fight, no doubt in my mind,” he said. “No matter what I was doing in my life this is where I wanted to be and I stuck with it and here I am.”
All the Smiths started wrestling at an early age. Caydn and Wesley along with sister Angel in kindergarten, Dominic in the second grade, and Gavin in the sixth grade.
In a family of wrestlers and mixed martial arts athletes, who gets the last dinner roll when everybody wants it?
“We ask Dad first,” said Dominic.
Dad’s love and passion for the sport are obvious and that has clearly been passed on to the rest of the family.
“I wrestled at home with them a lot,” said Travis. “It was kind of here is how I want them to approach wrestling, the mindset and the mentality. I was able to coach at the club and with coach (Bob) Read. He asked me to start a new club and it all came to fruition.”
Along with giving Dad the final say on the dinner roll, there is another thing the whole family agrees on. Having Dad as a coach is even better than they thought it would be.
That sentiment starts with Travis who is thankful for help from a fellow member of former coach Bob Read’s coaching staff.
“When I was a young coach I was hard. I didn’t understand why they didn’t get it,” said Travis. “I had a lot of people help me be a coaching Dad. Coach (Ryan) Rust was a huge influence on me to be their dad first and their coach second.”
“We had some ups and downs and I realized that I needed to be their dad first,” he said. “I was going to be the guy who said things that nobody else was going to say to them and I expected that they would all be tough wrestlers and they’ve exceeded my expectations.”
“I thought it was going to be him harping on me all the time. It hasn’t been that at all,” said Caydn. “There are times when he tells me what I’m doing wrong and then there are other times when he just says ‘good job’.”
“It helped me grow a lot as an athlete,” said Gavin of having his Dad as his coach. “Not everybody understood that the athletic ability wasn’t really there for me, and he (Dad) knew exactly what I was good at and what I needed. Having him in the corner coaching me brought my game to where it was and coach Read took it from there. Without him understanding me I wouldn’t have gotten where I did.”
Gavin now coaches with his father at PHS and is the coach of the Lincoln Jr. High program. Their relationship has also paid dividends for both in the coaching arena.
“Coaching is an interesting dynamic for us,” said Gavin with a smile. “He’s really hard on people and I like to get ahold of people and talk to them before or after he does and explain and be the mediator and let them know he’s not being mean he’s just intense.”
That same kind of family bond is what made sixth-grade sister Angel wrestle for her Dad and her brother.
“When I was young I used to watch the boys wrestle so I wanted to be included so it was something I started around kindergarten,” she said. “I always looked up to them and I saw how my dad treated them and bond with them. I wanted that too so I just started as kind of a family thing. It’s a gift to have that with my dad.”
Pressure is something all the wrestling Smiths feel, but it really isn’t applied by their father.
“Ever since I was a kid, everything has been trying to make my dad proud,” said senior Dominic. “I think there was a lot of pressure on me at the beginning of the season as a role model for my brothers and I’m the team captain now. I have to put on a good example for everybody on the team and make my dad proud too.”
“In certain aspects, I’ve felt some pressure but not when I am actually wrestling (in a match),” he said. “But in the room (practice) I feel I have to lead my team and there is some pressure there because I’m the coach’s kid. I put that on myself. He doesn’t.”
“It’s been tough at times,” said Caydn. “I’ve had some guys try to take my spot that are really good. It’s been a challenge. It’s hard to keep yourself in the right frame of mind for a wrestle-off because you don’t want to be the only one in your family not wrestling varsity.”
The bond of family has its own dividends on the mat as fellow freshman Wesley and Caydn have pushed each other in spite of being in different weight classes.
“We help each other out every day,” said Wesley. “We wrestle each other every day and I know what he does, he knows what I do and so we both have to think outside the box and try new stuff and it helps our game a lot.”
“Like Caydn said we’re both young and we have our dad and our brothers to look up to,” said Wesley. “I don’t really feel any pressure.”
Angel feels a little pressure but once again, none of it applied by “Coach Smith.”
“It’s been really tough going against other boys,” she said. “There are some things that I have to work on but it’s got its good points too.”
“The boys are physically ahead right now. Being the girl it’s kind of hard matching the way that they do things and their intensity,” said Angel. “It’s definitely been a lot of work.”
“It’s been everything and more than I thought it would be,” said Dom. “We’ve been waiting for the moment when me and my brothers are all wrestling together and my brother coaching with my dad, it’s everything we hoped it would be.”
Both Gavin and Dom have started training to follow in Dad’s footsteps a little further. Both would like to take a shot at Jiu-Jitsu and mixed martial arts when the pandemic is over and matches begin to open up again.
In the meantime, the Smith family is enjoying the ride right now.
“At home, I’ve been strict, I wanted them to build habits that carry over to adulthood,” said Travis. “I’ve never had to worry about any of them. There are times it’s been tough, but we’ve had a lot more good times than bad times.”
“I want them to win. Sometimes they don’t. It’s part of it. We’ve done the hard work, we’re in the tournament now it’s time for us to have some fun.”