Developing Mental Toughness
It’s no secret that wrestler are among the toughest athletes and planet earth, both mentally and physically. Notice the key terms in that first sentence, “Mentally and physically.” Being physically tough is pretty easy for a wrestler, most of them already are, or they wouldn’t be wrestling at all. Mental toughness on the other hand, isn’t always present, even among those that are extremely tough physically. Ever seen a kid that was just a hammer on the mat but one call doesn’t go his way or he drops a close match, or even just gets hammered one time and he loses his mind? Mental toughness can be learned and instilled with the willingness of the wrestler, and guidance of the coach.
Predator or Prey?
I’m sure we’ve all heard cliché stories or speeches about predator and prey analogies that do almost nothing for some wrestlers that may not have that readily available switch, but I try to give them a nice visual here. Animals widely considered prey biologically have eyes farther spaced out than normal to increase peripheral vision so they can keep an eye on things around them. Animals considered part of the predator breed have narrower eye spacing so they only focus on what’s in front of them. So what does this mean? How does this relate to our athletes? The first step to developing your mental toughness is to set your sights on what’s in front of you. Don’t worry about the noise, distractions, and naysayers just your goal and the steps it takes to reach it. Become the predator, eyes always forward. If it isn’t benefitting your process, then it isn’t worth your effort to give it the time of day, so focus on only what’s important. We’ll touch on this later, so keep it in the back of your mind.
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So the first question naturally is what is “Chunking” and why is it important? When I reference chunking I’m referring to a micromanagement process to learning or drilling moves. Want to have a really good head inside single leg? Chunk it down, perfect the entry, drill the perfect entry over and over until you can’t get it wrong, then move on to then, add on snatching the leg and drill that. Then, focus on the takedown itself and the dominant position you want to end up in, and just drill that. Finally, chain it all together and drill it into a perfect sequence. Doing this with moves that already are you’re a-game, or that you would like to be, is a great way to increase muscle memory, which in turn will help your finishing rate, and boost your confidence in your shot.
When is it okay to give up?
In case you were wondering, that was a hypothetical question, to which the answer is ABSOLUTELY NEVER! That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t move on to something else if it’s clear what we’re doing isn’t working, but even if you’re in a tough spot, never give up, never just roll over. It may not seem like it, but even in the worst possible moments you’re building mental toughness. You’re in practice or a match, your opponent or teammate is just hammering you, and despite your best effort, you can’t really get into a rhythm. EMBRACE BEING THE NAIL! That isn’t to say get used to it or get comfortable with it, but embrace it. Learn what he is doing, fight not to give up more points, fight to not get pinned, eventually you get better at your offense or defense and can hand out some beatings of your own. Be ready for that time. Even when you’re getting smashed on, not getting pinned or scored on in a lesser position shows strength of heart, and builds on that mental toughness we want so bad.
Is it okay to be comfortable?
This question is a little trickier than the last. Yes, if you are up in a match with short time it is okay to hold on to your position and solidify your win. There is nothing wrong with not wanting to compromise victory. What we don’t want to happen is a wrestler being comfortable with winning all of their matches by such a close margin, don’t just win, dominate, don’t just score, score as much as possible. Predators attempt to dominate their prey at all times, it isn’t very dominating if all your matches have a two point victory margin now is it? You should always look to be aggressive and score at any opening you get, never settle, if there is time on the clock there is time to score. Strive to be better in every match, strive to separate yourself from the rest of the pack.
Building the Mental Fortress
The biggest goal for a predator mindset is to become a mental fortress. This means that you aren’t getting sidetracked, you aren’t letting other people’s opinions or negativity sway your goal-oriented direction. One day you’re the nail in practice like we referenced earlier, one bad day doesn’t break a champion just like one good day doesn’t make one. The effort is consistent regardless of the outcome. You’ll get the outcome you want more often when the consistency of effort is there. You cannot have consistent effort when you let every little negative remark or statistic not in your favor get in your way of progression. The mental fortress doesn’t care about stats or rankings, it doesn’t care about yesterday or tomorrow, and it sure as hell doesn’t care about your own internal voice making excuses. The mental fortress cares about today, the present moment, right now, what are you doing to make yourself that much better today? Focus on your effort every day. The biggest concerns of the predator are “What do I want” and “What do I need to do to get me there” everything else is irrelevant.
As a human being you were born to be a predator, now do what is necessary to become the Apex predator.
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