|by Keith Manos firstname.lastname@example.org
Getting wrestlers ready to compete requires their preparation physically, mentally, and emotionally. Most of this preparation takes place in the practice room, but wise coaches should use every opportunity to help their wrestlers compete successfully.
Most young athletes have to be told that getting in shape means experiencing various levels of discomfort. No one likes to work to exhaustion, yet wrestling does require daily doses of fatigue. You may have discovered that working wrestlers too hard in practice discourages some kids, but working them too lightly leaves them physically unprepared for competitions. Is there a happy medium?
Wrestlers can find practice to be an enriching experience, regardless of its difficulty, if you . . .
(1) occasionally let team leaders run practice.
(2) provide examples of matches where their physical conditioning has resulted in victory.
(3) point out how tapping into physical reservoirs of energy produce power.
(4) monitor their effort and its value to learning and improvement.
(5) have them pretend that "Today is our last practice of the season. Make it your best!"
(6) use a variety of different drills.
Next, communicate effectively with individual wrestlers just prior to their matches. A veteran, Ohio Wrestling Hall of Fame member coach relates an interesting story about the power of mental preparation: Minutes before one of his less-talented wrestlers was to step onto the mat against a wrestler who had already placed in the state tournament, he lied to his wrestler and said the opponent was mediocre and deserved to be pinned. "The kid believed me without hesitation," he remembers, "and wrestled hard for six minutes trying to pin that other guy. After he won by a point, he apologized to me for not getting the pin. That's when I told him the truth and why I lied. Had he known the true caliber of his opponent he might have mentally prepared himself to lose, but when he believed the other guy was lousy he really felt he could win. Instead of getting killed out there by a more highly-skilled opponent, he earned three team points in a dual meet where every point counted."
A coach need not lie to prepare his wrestlers mentally for a competition, but he does have to use some psychology. One way to begin is to have your wrestlers model themselves after the most successful competitor in your area, in your league, or on your own team. How does he mentally prepare himself? How does he behave? What does he do? Champion wrestlers stay poised and under control even during the most stressful situations on the mat. They don't fear the crowd, the challenge, or the opponent. Modeling is one way anyone learns, and following the example of a wrestler who always expects the best results and remains positive can be very effective.
Discussions about mental preparation should also take place during practice. It's possible that some kids may not be excited about an upcoming match or its outcome. The coach needs to explain the special purpose of every meet - How does it differ from the others? How do the coaches expect the team to perform? Why is achievement especially important here? Without accepting a purpose or objective for a competition, the wrestlers may feel like they're on a treadmill, working up a sweat but going nowhere.
An essential element to mental preparation is to remove the tension associated with taking a risk. The coach can create problem scenarios in practice - "You're losing by three points, you're in the neutral position, and there are only twenty seconds to go in the final period. What do you do?" - and invite his wrestlers to solve them, encouraging them to be unafraid to take the risk that could result in victory.
Here are six tips every coach should employ to complete his athletes' mental preparation:
Emotions in any extreme only impair a wrestler's ability to eliminate distractions or to perform technical skills. The strongest emotion is fear, especially the fear of an uncertain outcome. Therefore, it is important for you to explain that every competition involves uncertainty. This shouldn't be feared. Instead, it should be enjoyed.
Winning in wrestling is especially exciting when it occurs against an opponent who possesses equal or greater ability. Your wrestlers can improve their emotional preparation if you assist them in administering a self-evaluation beforehand. Help them take pride and pleasure in their personal achievements and clarify their strong points.
The unfortunate reality is that most kids can list more of their weaknesses than their strengths, so the wise coach should comment on their winning qualities: "I like your hustle. That kind of effort will help you win this weekend" or "Your stand up is getting quicker. That's why you're leading the team in escapes over the last four matches" (Note that these statements are both affirmative and specific).
Before matches it is important to deal with their behavior (respectful and dignified) but avoid lecturing about their shortcomings. This only lessens your wrestlers' acceptance of their ability to succeed. Instead, emphasize their strengths and boost their emotional self-esteem. Encourage teammates to support each other, that the team as "family" helps everyone succeed.
If team members still appear troubled or upset, release this psychological burden by sharing it with them. Talk it out. Counter any negative feelings by giving them reasons to be excited about the upcoming competition and reviewing team (and possibly individual) goals.
Especially troubling for many wrestlers are the close matches. These are the one or two point matches that make even the best of us tense. It is, however, up to the coach to prepare wrestlers for these kinds of matches, and if he does an effective job they should triumph most of the time.
Here are my instructions to my wrestlers:
If I do shout it often is only to remind them of the score, the remaining time, or their proximity to the boundary. I want them focused on the opponent, not any yelling from the fans or me. I think this shift away from a dependency on me to guide them through each step of a match gives them confidence through any close match.
To be sure, very few wrestlers go undefeated. A story I've told my wrestlers involves the best race car driver in the world whose skills and performance are unequaled by his competitors. In the final race of the season he speeds by the other drivers, focused on his race and confident of victory. Suddenly, two 25-cent bolts snap in his engine causing oil to leak and the engine to sputter. He's forced to downshift into the pits and then watch his competitors drive toward the championship he should have won.
The lesson? Twenty-five cent bolts exist in everyone, and sometimes failure has little to do with our physical talents. It just happens. Kids have to understand that failure can only harm them if they let it, if they let it affect their psyche.
Everyone makes mistakes, but the better competitors don't make excuses. The very best wrestlers take responsibility for their losses, correct their mistakes, and move on. They don't blame others, nor do they dwell on the loss. More importantly, these athletes return to the wrestling room with an immediate incentive to improve their weak points. "It may sound strange," says Bob Richards, an Olympic gold medalist in the pole vault, "but many champions are made champions by setbacks. They are champions because they've been hurt. Their experience moved them, and pulled out this fighting spirit, making them what they are." "The child's philosophy is a true one," says author J.J. Proctor. "He does not despise the bubble because it burst; he immediately sets to work to blow another one."
For some people, achievement is accompanied by anxiety. A winning coach faces the pressure of staying successful, of repeating a championship, of setting new standards of excellence. Though victory can be exhilarating, success can present a fresh set of problems.
The most prominent difficulty is re-creating the achievement. After you have won the "big" match or even the state tournament, fans and/or administrators may expect these accomplishments every wrestling season. Some coaches then find themselves struggling not to lose rather than striving to win.
Another problem could be reacting to excessive praise. You revel in these compliments and ignore constructive criticism. That type of response is a mistake. The late Howard Ferguson, whose St. Edwards (OH) High School teams won seven national high school championships, offers the best advice: "Self-praise is for losers. Be a winner. Stand for something. Always have class and be humble. When you win, say nothing; when you lose, say less."
Success means goals were accomplished, but it does not mean that all mistakes have been eliminated. No match is wrestled perfectly. A discerning, analytical wrestler first reviews the elements that resulted in victory and then anticipates his next opportunity to repeat them. He is not satisfied with one winning season or one tournament title. A coach, in turn, should do the same and empower his wrestlers again with the strategies and skills that made success occur the first time. Legendary football coach Don Shula cautions us that "success isn't final. Past performance is forgotten in every new competition. It is harder to stay on top that it is to get there."
In conclusion, let these comments from state tournament wrestlers summarize the main points: "My coach taught me that if you mentally win a match, your body will follow. He's enthusiastic and full of spirit. I learned that if you put your mind to something you can accomplish it." "A good coach knows how to train a team not just physically but also mentally to prepare to be the best. All my coaches have made me smarter and a better athlete through excellent training. They have worked my talents."
About the Author...
|Keith Manos, a member of the Ohio Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame, was honored as Ohio's Wrestling Coach of the Year (1988) and Ohio's English Teacher of the Year (2000). He was the head coach of the Ohio All Star Wrestling Team (1983, 1991) and the USA All Star Wrestling Team (1989). During a 13 year coaching tenure, 29 of his wrestlers qualified to the state tournament where seven were finalists, three won individual titles, and 14 others placed. He has authored 8 books, including 101 Strategies for Coaching Winning Wrestling, 101 Wrestling Drills and Games, and 101 Ways to Motivate Athletes, all available at coacheschoice.com. In a 33 teaching career he has conducted workshops for teachers and coaches across the Midwest.