“Baseball is 90% mental. The other half is physical.” -Yogi Berra, 13 Time World Series Champion
As implied by the above quote, attitude, as opposed to technical knowledge or physical talent, is what wins in the most intense competitive moments. Skill and talent may the determining factors between elite and inexperienced athletes, but if two comparable wrestlers are facing off, a slight edge in desire can overcome a world of knowledge or athleticism. The wrestling top position is one of the crucial manifestations of this determination. Even though it is not as reliable a source of tangible points as the other two positions, the top position is a battleground where the mental cold war of a wrestling match is fought.
Keeping in mind that thoughts lead to actions and actions lead to thoughts, it is important to ask, what behaviors reveal determinations, and what actions develop it?
Constant Grinding Pressure
The top position is extremely difficult. One reason is because it is optional, you can always just let the guy go and take him down, right? (The best college wrestlers ever didn’t seem think so) Another reason is because maintaining forward pressure is an enormous amount of work. These two factors tend to work together. Forward pressure starts to feel too difficult, the opponent reaches his or her feet, and are either released without a fight, or are invited to a scramble with a lazy mat return.
Kyle Dakes NCAA final with Derek St. John is a great example of using relentless forward pressure to dominate an extremely disciplined opponent. Dakes uses half nelsons, legs, claws, head levers, chops, and even more techniques to accomplish this ride, but the one principle that held the ride together was the willingness to drive forward consistently. By the end of the ride, Dake was in charge of essentially a 3-0 lead, and gained an invisible point when St. John was forced to take neutral in the third. Perhaps most importantly, he affected St. John’s ability to attack him by proving that he could not afford to be be taken down.
If you think of wrestling as a poker game, technique is the cards and conditioning is the chips, and in mat return situations both wrestlers have a lot of chips on the table. Getting to your feet against a determined opponent is a lot of work, and similarly, returning a tough opponent requires valuable energy. Mat return situations force wrestlers to into the crucial decision of whether to push more chips out unto the table, or simply submit match points. Once a wrestler decides he doesn’t have the energy to fight back to his feet or return an opponent who has, he has started down the road to quitting.
Since elite wrestlers often don’t have the technical skill to dominate each other from the top position, many high level matches are decided by mat returns, the points they prevent and the mental toll they inflict.
I would love to hear you thoughts and feedback. Please leave comments below.
Your in Wrestling,
-Coach Daryl Weber