There are a few qualities that are necessary for mental toughness, but are hardly ever mentioned in the same breath. A positive attitude is one example. It isn’t possible to represent mental toughness while complaining. Another example is consistency. Would you consider a person whose performance and attitude were constantly influenced by external factors to be mentally tough? These qualities are probably shortchanged because we tend to think of mental toughness as being revealed only in moments of heroism, which is very unfortunate because it leads us to see it as something rare and innate as opposed to something that can be built methodically by practically anyone. How? By focusing on the aforementioned characteristics on a daily basis. There is no way to practice throwing a Super Bowl winning pass, or jumping on a grenade, but you can develop the qualities that make these actions possible. Examples include positivity, consistency, and the subject of this blog post, humility.
I should point out that humility is a simple thing. A humble person is someone who at the most basic level, doesn’t think he or she is more important than anyone else, but 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 as him, it means that that the world champion doesn’t think his achievements make him generally better or more important. Humility is about knowing your limitations as well as you know your strengths, and 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 solely on the individual. Additionally, wrestling’s most important moments occur when its athletes have been pushed to the extreme of their mental and physical limits. In short, being beaten in a wrestling match is both personal and undeniable. If you have no teammates, and were forced to compete at the extremes of your abilities, being beaten leaves nowhere to hide. For a person who knows their limitations and yearns for improvement, this is what makes wrestling very attractive. For an egotistical person, who is 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, but coaches also need 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, but in the case of experienced wrestlers it is worth considering that they may be scared 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.