We’re always proud when Team Easton steps onto the big stage for competition, and this year’s Kids Pan American Nation Championships was no exception. The kids not only represented the best of Easton Training Center, but they showed what happens when you combine dedication, passion, experience and expertise.
From the dedication of the kids to the comp team’s strategy for improvement, with coaches bringing what they see at local competitions back to the training room with notes, this year’s PANS makes for one of the most prepared travel comp experiences Easton’s kids competition team has had. The team won nine medals overall, including six bronze, two silver and one gold.
The 22 competitors from Easton’s Competition Team traveled to Florida this July, led by the Director of Easton’s Kids Program, Coach Jordan Shipmen, Easton Arvada’s Professor Mikkel, Longmont’s Coach River and Coach Tyra, Coach Alicia and Professor Sebastian from Centennial, and Littleton’s General Manager, Professor Nick Maverick, and Kid’s Department Head, Coach Emma.
For those not familiar with the youth Jiu Jitsu scene, Kids PANS is hands down the largest and most competitive tournament for kids in the world. There is no higher level for kids. With three days of nonstop tournaments and up to eight-hour days, the kids competed against the best from all over the world. Competitors get matched up with people from other teams in the same age division and weight bracket as them, and teammates only face each other if they both make it to Finals.
Some competitors, like Ben Boatman and Rowdy Pritt, were returning for round two while others like Zoey Wannemuehler and Vesper Ortega prepped for their first Kids PANS adventure.
For 7-year old Vesper Ortega, PANS was perfect for getting to use all the new techniques she learned throughout the year, including using them to win her first two matches.
Though the experience also brought challenges, like during the championship match when her opponent showed strong guard-passes, Vesper still won second place in her division and a silver medal!
“I was very nervous at first but it turned out to be so much fun,” Vesper says. “And I made new Jiu Jitsu friends from Hawaii, Texas and California!”
Zoey Wannemuehler, 13, also won second place in her division. Her favorite part of PANS was after she lost the finals match – as she walked back off the mat, everyone was still cheering as loud as they could for her despite the loss.
“That was a very empowering moment for me,” Zoe tells us.
Even when you put in a ton of work preparing for PANS, like Zoe – training BJJ at least 10 hours a week, weight training with a personal trainer every other day, and eating healthy to fuel up – you can still have doubts going in.
After losing her first match at Nationals a few weeks prior, Zoe didn’t feel very confident. She also missed two weeks of training due to going on the Teen Trek with Laughing Coyote Project.
The most challenging part of the experience for Zoe was the anticipation, being in the bull pen and awaiting her match. Despite having recently competed at Nationals, Zoe is still new to competition at this level and, alone without her teammates, her nerves really got to her.
Yet, Zoe’s hard work paid off, and her experience turned out even better than she expected!
“My experience was probably the best one I’ve ever had at a competition,” says Zoe. “The feeling I had getting on the podium at PANS is a feeling no one will ever take away from me.”
She also plans to continue all of the things she was doing in preparation for PANS as she sets her sights on old next year.
Zoe’s perspective on winning and losing is something we admire because of how hard it can be to gain that perspective. You can know you put hundreds of hours in and still feel lacking because you had that one loss.
“Those aspects are part of the journey,” says Coach Jordan. “It’s part of the path, and the path can’t always be sunny. The path will come with obstacles – and that’s what makes the victory so sweet.’
For Ben, 12, the most challenging part of the process came down to the amount of pressure he put on himself to win, but that pressure also gave him the confidence to strive for bigger and tougher goals with each win.
While nerves never fully go away, being a returning champ makes things a little bit easier. Ben won the gold medal in his division last year and got promoted to gray belt on the podium.
Ben tells us that this year, he wanted to demolish everyone he faced and made sure to train until he was confident he could do it. That dedication didn’t fail him! Ben earned a gold medal and won his division for the second year in a row.
His favorite part of PANS was the coalescence of the entire process: the experience it gave him on the mats, traveling, and having the support of his teammates to help him come out on top in his bracket.
“Last year, I was not as prepared as I was this year,” Ben reflects, “and it was also very nerve wracking. This year was a little easier – I put my airpods in and from that moment on, it was Go time.”
Our other returning competitor, Rowdy, 12, tells us that the best part was seeing himself improve. Last year, Rowdy experienced a tough loss in his second match. This year he reeled off three wins before coming up just short in his fourth match.
“I did twice as good in my opinion,” says Rowdy, who won third place with Bronze. “The most challenging part was accepting the loss.”
Learning from experience
This year’s success can be attributed largely to the lessons learned from last year’s PANS experience and the lengths the team and its coaches went in preparation for this year.
Still, you can’t prepare for everything.
Last year, there were no restrictions on who could be on the competition floor, making it easy for coaches to operate with multiple competitors. This year, the IBJJF implemented a last-minute rule change – only black belts with IBJJF memberships or coaches with companion passes could go down to the floor with the competitor. The switch-up left the team in need of a quick strategy reshuffle, but, working together as one team, the coaches ultimately made it work.
Of the things that could be predicted, the team made huge strides to improve the travel and competition experience for both our kids and their parents.
Last year, we weren’t able to work out a hotel booking, leading to the team dispersed throughout Kissimmee, FL. This made it tough to experience the weekend together and feel like one unit. We came away from Kids PANS 2022 wishing the team had spent more time together.
This year, with a new appreciation for the logistical difficulties a trip this big can present, planning for the PANS trip started at the beginning of the year. The team stayed within the Storey Lake Neighborhood community, which helped with organizing team activities.
Having everyone so close centralized not just activities but the heart of the trip. The proximity fostered an even stronger team atmosphere and took the morale to the next level.
It wasn’t just logistically easier, but the community energy helped elevate the team’s experience. With everyone so close, it made it easy for the coaches to hype the team!
“Coach Emma was especially instrumental in this trip feeling like a team trip,” says Jordan. “She’s the coach that always leads group warm-up for Easton at every local tournament, who always gets them to feel like one team.”
At the end of PANS this year, over 52 people showed up for the team dinner!
Preparation for PANS as a competitor also starts at the beginning of the year–if not earlier. Kids who have aspirations to compete at PANS, or even in local tournaments, are encouraged to join the competition program with specialized practices focused on getting them in their best competition form.
To make our competition practice accessible along the Front Range, Easton’s kids comp team meets on both the North and South sides – Centennial and Boulder. The curriculum’s content comes directly from what our competition coaches note at local tournaments and what they see in our students, putting it all together in one centralized doc.
“Based on those notes,” says Jordan, “we come up with exercises, drills, techniques scenarios – everything we need to do to improve the skills in those notes. Then at the next tournament, we do it again.”
The process reveals common themes around what they need to focus on, and the team does this all year leading up to PANS. Some schools also put together their own version of fight camp, or a “let’s-get-read-for-PANS camp,” like Coach River in Longmont who put together a six-week PANS prep camp.
Coach River worked on things with the camp’s attendees that he found helpful from his own comp experience. Part of the prep included traveling to American Nationals in Vegas with a few of the kids’ competitors for some hard competition rounds just a couple of weeks before PANS!
What does success look like
In the long-term growth of any competitor, results don’t matter as much as the experience.
“The biggest success of the event is that we went there,” says Jordan, “that our students have been aiming at this for quite some time, and the growth that occurred because they chose to aim at something difficult. How good everybody got [in the preparation for pans]!”
Learning from mistakes and adversity is an important part of the experience. Sometimes, competitors can find success at a local level but then only win one match at PANS. That’s ok – PANS is hard. It’s the cream of the crop and the top of the top.
However, competing at a national and international level requires not just dedication and training, but resilience and humility.
In the end, hardware feels great but it’s the work and process itself that are the gold – how good at Jiu Jitsu everyone got, how much more they’ve matured and how much better leaders, sportsmen and people they’ve become.
“Above all,” says Jordan, “we’re most proud of our kids. The reputation they’re building for Easton in terms of how well they conduct themselves is all over the place. I hear people talk about how well-behaved and respectful they are everywhere we go.”
The reputation of our kids stands as a huge testament to every kids coach at every Easton location. Kids are going to copy what we do. We’re so grateful for the quality of our coaches leading from the front who they get to emulate!