Mentality: Building an Identity

In this blog I will go over a few key aspects of the mental approach in wrestling. Mentality is such a broad concept, and can be discussed a lot, so I want to narrow it down to some smaller components to focus on. The key components of mentality are: mentality during training, mentality leading up to competition, mentality during competition, and mentality right after competition. For me, as a competitor in a fighting sport, I’ve learned a great deal on how important mentality really is. I believe it is the area that separates the most elite athletes.

The mentality in training has two important themes, which I believe are crucial to understand. The first theme is that a wrestler must be ready to fight someone, and that can be a scary feeling if he/she doesn’t control the emotions to approach it. The second is that the sport is an art in itself; a continual learning takes place. A wrestler should approach each day with an eagerness to learn and develop one’s own craft. Both must be present at the same moment in order to get optimal growth out of training. Every moment a wrestler steps into training, he should have a warrior mentality. He/she must be willing to fight for every point scored, and go after each position with fearlessness and confidence. Some of the specifics I’m currently working on with my mentally in training are: 1) An unaffected emotional state after giving up a takedown or losing a live wrestling position. 2) Focusing on the current position I am in during practice, and trying new techniques from that position. 3) Welcoming the griminess, and scrambles from any position. 4) Passion to solve “the problem” in a position I am struggling with. 5) Volume attacks; creating a high pace with multiple high and low level shots during a period of each minute in a wrestling go, 6) being mentally “prepared” to feel exhausted and wrestle in that state, and lastly 7) Fighting the urge to get frustrated in any position of discomfort. Some of these are easier than others for me, but these specific approaches will prepare my mental focus during and after competition matches. 

The mentality leading up to competition can shape how a person performs. A wrestler must have the self-belief in their abilities and preparation with training. Like Dr. Capodaglio mentioned back in his blog about training adaptation and weight management; this is a process of preparing the body/muscle memory and the mental fortitude that allows a wrestler the confidence to go out and compete at their fullest. From my experience, I like to review video and look for tendencies that my opponent shows in a few different matches. Every match is different, so it is difficult to game plan for exact positions in a match. But I look for some positions my opponent is most frequently in during a match, and where he/she may lose a position. Then I prepare for what an opponent gives by simulating a few of the key scouting positions with a training partner in practice. The more conscious reps in a certain position the more comfortable and better a wrestler will react when put in that position during a match. Also, overthinking an opponent is no good either; keeping a “rough plan” of what a match could look like is important. Visualizing stressful situations mentally before a competition will prepare the mind for what lies ahead. For example if you know the guy is going to club you hard and try to make you exhausted, visualize that exact scenario in your mind a few times per week leading up to the competition.

The day before and day of a match can be the most stressful. I have been a competitive athlete from a young age, and I used to get so nervous especially the day before a competition. The thing that can be the most scary is the fear of failure, and the thoughts of what people will think, or if you let someone down. These thoughts can derail an athlete with nerves before and during competition. The ways I have combatted this type of thinking, is my belief that no matter the outcome, my effort in a match is my grading point. I shouldn’t be scared to lay everything down on the line even if I lose. I will go out and fight every position, and truly have confidence in my own talent. My value is found in performing for an “audience of one”. Colossians 3:23-24 has been very important to instill in my mindset so that the there is no failures if I am working heartily for the Lord, and not for people’s acceptance/admiration. My belief that God is always in control has also helped me relax in the biggest of moments. Romans 8:28 and Joshua 1:9 are two key verses I have memorized, and repeat in my head when nerves start to kick in. Lastly, talking out my emotions to a trusted coach and/or friend is very relieving; it allows me to get everything out and calm my emotions. When I step on the mat, I must attack and look to score throughout the entirety of a match if I am going to wrestle at my best and stay laser focused. Emotions come and go; a high level athlete must understand how to control and use his emotions to focus on performing at his/her best. During the match, the ultimate focus needs to be on winning every current position they are in. Furthermore, that is why the mentality-training piece is pivotal for an athlete to consistently work on during each practice. He/she must be willing to put maximum effort in each position and focus solely on every second throughout a 6-7 minute match.

Lastly, post performance is also a crucial time for a strong mentality and reflection. The easiest thought a wrestler could think is to dwell on a mistake/s in a match and beat themselves up about it.  As someone trying to perfect the sport, it is nearly impossible to have a perfect match, there will be mistakes made. A wrestler should evaluate each match, especially a loss as learning. It may be something small like making a mistake in a specific position, or something bigger like poor leg defense. The most important thing to do is a post evaluation of the specifics and discuss with a coach. Every athlete is different in the time they need after a match to be able focus on how they can improve from it. Letting go of a bad performance or crucial mistake in a match can only come from within the person; it takes time and focus on the present moment. An athlete should understand, through maturity, that the sport is not life and death. Don’t get too high after big wins and also don’t get to low after major loses is key for steady growth. I’ve experienced being on top of the podium at NCAAs and finishing 3rd three times; each one of my performances I wouldn’t change. In learning who I am as a wrestler and person (my legacy) and holding true to my core values, I attack each day with a purpose.