By: Mike Chapman
Originally Published in: Wrestling Tough
Provided by: Human Kinetics
Many world-class athletes have used visualization in their preparation. As a young boy in Waterloo, Iowa, Dan Gable discovered that the power of visualization could help him develop his future goals and faith in himself. In his backyard, Gable used to grip a baseball bat and swing at imaginary pitches for hours on end, pretending that he was Mickey Mantle or Roger Maris, the two greatest home run hitters of the era. In his basement, he shot takedown after takedown against imaginary foes, dreaming of being a state wrestling champion for Waterloo West High School.
"I won the state title a thousand times in my basement before I ever won it for real," said Gable. "Visualization was very important for me as I was growing and maturing as a wrestler."
But he also used visualization in a completely different way, one that enabled him to keep working out even after he was nearly spent.
"When I'd get tired and want to stop, I'd wonder what my next opponent was doing," said Gable. "I wondered if he was still working out. I tried to visualize him. When I could see him working out, I'd start pushing myself. When I could see him in the shower, I'd push myself harder."
Visualization was also a huge part of the Brands formula for success. Tom and Terry would talk late into the night about their hopes, dreams, and plans.
"The results were predetermined," said Tom. "I could see them, very vividly, in color. It's not cloudy at all. It multiplies, over and over and over. The same results-winning.
"It all comes back to willing yourself into winning," he said. "You go from level to level by brainwashing yourself into it. Some people say brainwashing is a negative term but it's not to me. It's a positive way of thinking what you have to think in order to win.
"From my point of view, it's very important to talk about the Olympics and world championships at every level, even early on. You go to so many kids' tournaments and people are talking about some kid who is 82-0 or something, but it's useless unless they have a vision to do something with it beyond just winning kids' tournaments. These tournaments are just a stepping-stone for climbing the highest mountain."
John Smith agrees that talking about post-college opportunities is an important aspect of wrestling for those who dare to dream big. "It's part of our program to talk about the Olympics and world championships, that's for sure," said Smith. "We had three members of our program in the 2004 Olympics, on the freestyle team, and we're very proud of that. Guys like Eric Guerrero, Jamill Kelly, and Daniel Cormier can fulfill their dreams right here in Stillwater. As a coach, I feel very fortunate to be playing some kind of a role in that, for them."
In the book The Handbook of Inner Sports: The Mental Aspects of Athletics, author James Zabriskie makes the case that sport is really a dance with the gods, humankind's way of expressing oneself in the universal scheme. He also recognizes the value of visualization and of developing the goal in one's mind before setting out to achieve it.
"We are what our heads tell us we are," he wrote. "One is one's thinking. And whatever we think, we believe".
Visualization, then, is a way of reinforcing one's belief over and over. It is drilling the mind to believe what one wants it to believe. When Gable was in the backyard working against imaginary pitchers for hours on end, week after week, summer after summer, he was developing his own mind into believing that he could become a superstar. He could be a Mickey Mantle, even if he had to change sports to do it.
He encouraged his athletes to use the same principle and to visualize themselves scoring the winning moves and climbing the victory stand.
Lee Kemp is another champion who feels visualization is a powerful tool for a wrestler to have at his or her disposal: "Your visualization goes beyond just believing. Believing is great, don't get me wrong. But visualizing something takes it to a higher level and unleashes unbelievable power".
In 1980, Arnold Schwarzenegger said he developed "a method of inspiration" early in his career through the process of visualization: "I discovered that the most effective motivator for growth and change was being able to visualize my goals and to see myself exactly as I wished to be. In the gym, next to the bathroom mirror in my apartment, and even in my car, I taped up photos and statements to keep me constantly aware of what I needed to do in order to reach my goals. I used this method to become a champion bodybuilder, and I use it now in training, as well as furthering my career in acting, in running the production company that promotes the Mr. Olympia contest, and in my business and real estate pursuits."
Wade Schalles, listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the wrestler with the most pins (659) in a career, also used visualization techniques with tremendous success. "My junior year in high school, I didn't even make it to the state tournament. But before my senior year, I visualized myself standing on the winner's platform a thousand times, at least. I made it to state and faced a three-time state champion in the finals. But I had not only visualized myself on the winning stand, but I visualized myself pinning my foe in the finals."
Schalles did score his pin and wound up the season as the undefeated state champion for Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School in Pennsylvania. He went on to win two NCAA championships for Clarion University and claim the world university title. He won national titles not only in collegiate wrestling but also in freestyle, Greco-Roman, judo, and sambo. But he is best known for his incredible pinning records. At the famous Tbilisi Tournament in Russia, he pinned six international stars in a row, including two world champions!
And it all started with his visualization techniques, which he used all through his career.
"You can never get someplace physically until you've been there mentally," he said. But he quickly added a few words of caution: "That certainly doesn't mean you're going to be sure and get to the Olympic finals, no matter how many times you've dreamed it. The visualization is just the ticket that puts you on the train. There are many other ingredients that will figure in."