Mental toughness is demanded to be successful in all sports and all walks of life.
But wrestling demands a special amount to be successful. Just ask anyone that even wrestled in a gym class.
But what is mental toughness and how do you achieve it?
As a wrestler and more so as a coach I contemplated this for years.
As a competitor, The higher the ranks I competed in, I was realistic and knew I wasn’t going to be the most athletic guy. But I did come to the point where I knew I could be the most mentally tough. And use it to my advantage.
As a coach, I was on a quest to make it teachable.
As a coach and most fans, it is easy to look at a wrestler and recognize the ones with the best technique. It is even easier to look at guys and see who has more speed and strength.
There is video after video and book after book about how to improve technical skills, speed, and strength.
But how exactly do you build mental toughness and how can you measure it?
I have many thoughts on this and have developed some tactics to measure and teach mental toughness, but I keep coming back to 4 traits time and again.
Wrestling Mindset 1 – The Ability To Stay Positive
Notice I didn’t say “happy” or “excited”.
Individuals that keep their mind in a positive frame when things are not going their way excel at whatever they do.
Situational Wrestling Examples:
In a wrestling match, you get taken down. Do you put your head down or look for the immediate escape or reversal?
If you don’t feel the best after weigh-ins do you use it as an excuse to underperform? Or do you focus on the task at hand and use it as a test of how tough you can be?
You are going through tough times at home or in your relationship. Do you feel sorry for yourself and have a poor practice or do you stay focused on your goals?
You are going to have to wrestle off a tough teammate next year to make the starting spot. Does this motivate you to work harder or do you pout and even think about or use it as an excuse to quit?
If you have your goals set on something worthwhile you must know there are going to be setbacks.
You need to deal with them as they come along and embrace them as a way you can improve your mental toughness.
Anyone that has achieved a significant goal has dealt with adversity and had to stay on course.
The great ones plowed through adversity by staying positive at all times.
Wrestling Mindset 2- Humbleness
A humble person is someone who at the most basic level, doesn’t think he or she is more important than anyone else.
There is nothing self-deprecating or unconfident about it. It doesn’t mean that a world champion should assume his bus driver is as good a wrestler like him.
It means the world champion doesn’t think his achievements make him a better person than others or more important.
Humility is about knowing your limitations as much as it is about knowing your strengths.
It means having a clear perspective of the strengths and limitations of other people.
Back to mental toughness.
Building mental toughness is a humbling experience. Wrestling is an individual sport, so defeat falls on the individual.
Some of wrestling’s most important moments occur when a wrestler falls short. Being beaten in a wrestling match is personal and undeniable.
There is nowhere to hide on the mat.
For a humble person who knows their limitations and yearns for improvement, this makes wrestling very attractive.
For an egotistical person, more interested in inflating their reputation than improving themselves, wrestling’s constant reality checks are disturbing.
Most coaches have had a brush with a tremendous athlete who tried to wrestle and couldn’t handle the first time they took a real beating.
A good coach needs to be aware of experienced wrestlers whose lack of humility has put a ceiling on their improvement.
Why is it that some wrestlers never figure out how to push their limits?
Some are simply not used to working hard.
Even in some of your best guys, it is worth considering that they may be terrified of the vulnerability of a complete effort.
Like a general who cannot win a battle because he will not commit his forces completely. Athletes with tremendous egos will withhold a complete effort. So they never have to face a complete defeat.
Why is this behavior absurd? Because we are all works in progress and can only be improved, never completed.
Wrestling Mindset 3 – Consistency
Consistency, Do You Have the Slight Edge?
My good friend Jim Harshaw reffed the book “The Slight Edge”. The book covers what it takes to be successful, in anything.
The themes that we talk about with our wrestlers are throughout the book.
The author, Jeff Olsen, does a great job of describing the significance of minor things that, if done consistently, will lead to great accomplishments.
The basic premise of “The Slight Edge” is that great things happen by doing many small positive things consistently.
Things that you don’t see immediate results from, so many people just don’t do them. Not because they are too hard they just don’t get immediate satisfaction from them.
He likes to say “if you don’t do these things it won’t kill you, so people choose not to do them.”
Mental Toughness requires
Showing up regularly: Think about the guys that just show up regularly and pass up less committed by more talented guys all the time.
Give yourself time: Too many people do the right thing for short periods and after not seeing the immediate results go back to their old ways.
Coach Gable preached. “If you want to change something it takes 30 straight days of executing that new habit or mentality before you can expect it to even have a chance of taking hold
Wrestling Mindset 4 – Ability To Work Outside Your Comfort Zone
Coaches are always racking their brains to find ways to pack more development into the limited time they have at practice.
Motivational speeches, skill drills, live situations, strength, and conditioning. These are some of the strategies coaches are analyzing to get the most out of their athletes.
No matter how well planned out these are they will fall short if you can’t get your wrestlers to…
Work outside their comfort zone.
You should be trying to get them to do this as often and as long as you can every workout.
What do you mean, outside your comfort zone?
This is the point where your mind and body say you can’t go any harder. You can’t focus any longer.
This is when you need to take control of your emotions, thoughts, and actions to continue working.
Every time you break this barrier you become a little stronger, you expand your “comfort zone”.
The work you put in while outside your comfort zone is worth 10 times the work done inside it.
Toward the end of practice when wrestling a tough opponent and not feeling like you can’t go any longer, but you muster up the strength to score with a hard fought double leg.
That double leg is like drilling a double leg 1000 times under optimal conditions (estimate, but you get the point).
If an athlete can do this on a regular basis their “comfort zone” is expanding. This means they are constantly getting stronger, quicker, better technique ect…
Every time you break through these barriers your confidence increases as well.
The battles you win inside your head when you want to quit are what builds confidence. They build the burning passion it takes to win close matches.
How Do I Build This Mental Toughness?
The ultimate goal is for each athlete to develop this instinct internally.
Athletes that can do this on their own accelerate their physical and mental development.
Most athletes need help and encouragement when learning to push through these barriers. But having the coach or parent push them is like training wheels on a bike. The end-game is to take the training wheels off. Get the athlete to embrace this mentality, so they can do it on their own.
This is a learned skill.
At first, an athlete may push themselves outside their comfort zone for just a second. And this may feel like it’s the end of the world to them.
They may even experience a sense of panic. But the more they break out of your comfort zone the more they can control their emotions.
When they gain control over this feeling of panic. They will begin to learn to function at a high level in a state of complete exhaustion.
Not many learn to work at this level.
But it is where an athlete will truly separate themselves.
Understanding this is not easy and takes a tremendous amount of physical and mental commitment.
If you truly wish to be the best, this is where you must learn to live. In the minds of the great competitors, this is where the real fun happens.