By: John Klessinger, Head Wrestling Coach - South River HS (MD)
I have spent a significant part of the last 18 years answering the question - how do you develop mental toughness? I have read close to a thousand books on psychology, personal development, and mindset during this time. Learning about the brain and performance is my passion, along with coaching wrestling and physical training. With this all being said, I don't feel I am an expert. There is still so much out there that I need to discover. Most recently, I have been exploring books and information far different than mainstream methods. However, for the sake of this article, I will stick with practices that have helped my team and me over the years.
I listen to many interviews and podcasts from high-level athletes, performance coaches, and wrestlers (coaches and competitors). I think we can learn a lot about the mindset of an individual by listening to them talk about their performance. I have said this before but feel it is an excellent method to learn how people superior in their field think. The best time is to listen is when they are unedited and honest. Think Spencer Lee after the NCAA final match last year. "Excuses are for wussies." Right there is Lee's mindset. We can learn from that one simple statement. Not what he said but his beliefs. He believes in not making excuses and those that make them lack mental toughness. Or A.J. Ferrari. Looking at the content, aside from the comical display and 600-pound deadlift, you can tell he is open and enjoys wrestling. He wrestles like he is having fun, which translates to a higher level of mental toughness few have. He wrestles to win with no apparent fear of losing.
The list below is not new information or strategies. However, I may present them in a different way than what you have seen or heard. Through working with thousands of people, I have developed my own structure of sharing this type of information which may sound unique or original.
If you want to be mentally tough, hang out with mentally tough people. There you will see the difference between them and others. Mentally tough people are not the norm. These days they are the exception. Hanging out with mentally tough people brings you up. They make you better. They bring a different perspective to something challenging. At the 2017 Campbell Wrestling Camp, Cary Kolat told the campers some advice that has stuck with me ever since. First, he said, "be the last person to complain." When others are complaining about a challenging workout or the cold, resist complaining. Just the fact of not complaining when others are increases mental toughness. Next, he told the story of pumping gas in the frigid cold. He used it as a strategy to develop toughness when he was younger. The next time it is cold, take off your gloves and press and hold the gas handle. Don't put the lever that automatically pumps the gas. Instead, hold the handle and know it is one small step to increase your mental toughness.