Competitive Spirit

By Clinton Koedam for The Predicament

The longer we have all coached, the more we probably recognize the demands placed on athletes of all sports. Even though there are limitations for contact time with athletes within all sports, it seems like there are more and more opportunities the year around for athletes to improve themselves. I have never been, and never will be, a fan of sports specialization. There is simply too much research out there showing that multi-sport athletes are more well-rounded to perform on the mat, field, or whatever they are in to. Kids are simply busier as they head from track practice to freestyle in the spring or from the weight room to morning open mat and then to the baseball game that night.
Since the SBL football team was fortunate enough to play deep into the post season, I found myself with a crew of guys that have been hammering away in football since the beginning of August. They came home from the UNI Dome late on a Thursday night knowing that the official start of wrestling was coming the following Monday. The football guys took a few days off to recuperate a bit as well as hand in pads and wrap up all the things the football coach needed them to do. When the guys did make it to the room towards the end of week 1, I was racking my mind on how I can get them to dive into wrestling even though they had very little time between seasons.
I am not too proud to be willing to jump on the back of the fall success and talked about carrying the torch that fall sports lit. Our volleyball and cross country teams also played/ran in state events. I really thought that was the ticket to helping them mentally and physically prepare for another grueling three months of training. I have a deep respect for football and cross country but the mental, physical, and time demands of wrestling overshadow them. I found myself swimming upstream a bit on the whole carry the torch idea.
I then moved into plan B and spoke to them about how much of a honor it was to not have a break between sports. There are so few kids that are impacted by the overlap, that I thought they would puff their chests out a bit if I made them feel like they were a special fraternity of kids who don’t get the time off. We took a small step forward, but now where I felt they needed to be knowing that we were going to compete in just a few more practices.
We were about half way through a practice when it hit me. It isn’t about carrying a torch or feeling honorable, it is about having a competitive spirit within themselves. Practice wasn’t going all that well and I didn’t feel like the kids were competing in the way the sport of wrestling was designed. They were really being too nice to each other and allowing success to come to their drilling partner without the excursion of effort I would like to see. It just seemed to make sense to stop practice, have them sit down and chat about what it means to be competitive.
I laid it out there pretty simple. All sports in one way or another pit on man against another. Whether it be blocking someone on the line, racing against them, or trying to score a takedown, sports require a large amount of competitiveness to give the sport the credit it is due. In order to be successful, they simply had to dig a little deeper and find a way to compete because that is what it is all about. Win or lose, you have to compete.
I broke it down into several different areas, many relating to things outside of the wrestling world. If I am eating lunch with my buddies, I am going to try and finish my lunch first. If lifting weights with an equally strong partner, throw an extra 5 lbs on each side to outdo him. If walking to your car after practice, get to your car first. If studying for a test, study 15 more minutes to earn a better grade. When heading to practice, be the first one to enter the room. The list of examples goes on and on.
I then talked specifically about wrestling practice. Compete by being the first group started on a drill. Compete by moving your feet just a little quicker than the guy next to you. Find a way to handfight just a little harder than your partner. Again, the list of ways to compete can go on and on. The point was to compete at all you do not just during live.
Competing is a way of life and a cognitive thing we should do to better ourselves. I didn’t talk about winning or gold medals. I made it simple that you are either competing or you are not. There is no grey area. When feeling tired, sore, or a little burned out, find the competitive spirit that drives you as an athlete. Tap into the rush you get from any sport you participate in and apply that to wrestling. A true competitor isn’t someone who flips the switch come match time. Someone with a competitive spirit is always competing. Those of you with brothers of a similar age may know what I am talking about at an even deeper level!
Help your guys find a way to compete in the room, outside the room, walking to their car, or eating lunch. Your job is to help them see they are always a competitor and there are many ways to improve and develop the habit.