Everyone who has ever been involved in wrestling can agree on one thing, IT IS TOUGH! At four years old, I was introduced to the sport. Wrestling room in our basement, older brothers using me as a practice dummy, and a Dad giving us weekly practices. I learned fast it was a tough sport. I wouldn’t know exactly how tough quite yet. Much greater challenges were still ahead.
Years flew by and soon I was a freshman competing for a varsity spot at the high school level. I was about to find out just how difficult the sport becomes. The team needed me at 135 pounds for the lineup. Losing the weight, while staying disciplined all year was a substantial mental barrier I had to overcome. Not to mention these were the most grueling practices I have ever been apart of. These practices consisted of early morning runs, weights, and hours of practice after school. There were nights where many of us were trying to control our weight before the next morning, which meant staying at the school hours after practice to work out even more. Countless times I found myself mentally and physically broken. The thought of four more years of this was daunting. This sport that I loved, despite its difficulties, was slowly breaking me. Each time I broke, a teammate, coach, brother or parent would put my pieces back together, fix me, and help me get back out there. This was the beginning of getting mentally tougher, little by little.
Fast forward a decade and I learn the mental toughness from another angle, as a parent and a coach. We have all seen the mom in the stands, shadow wrestling as her child is on the mat. The dad yelling out moves from across the gym, even though we all know the wrestlers can’t hear a word he yells. The coaches in the corner jumping around like they are walking on a frying pan. Yes, its all mentally challenging and exhausting on them as well. Not to mention the heartache coaches and parents feel when they have to console their own wrestler when they are mentally broken. This is when the coaches and parents have to step up and put their wrestlers back together. This is one of the most challenging things we discover as a parent and coach; how to get mentally tougher yourself and, most importantly, how to help your wrestlers become mentally tough enough to endure the hardships and challenges they may face.
Witnessing this sport as a fan, competitor, coach, and parent has led me believe the following is true for how to become mentally tough: get outside of your comfort zone. If you have wrestled, you’ll understand this. We have all felt like we were about to collapse in practice or needed the garbage can that is tucked away in the corner to throw up in. When you get to that point where you can’t go on, DO MORE. Do more sprints, do more pull ups, do more drills, do anything and push yourself to keep going. We don’t become mentally tough by sitting along the wall waiting for an ache. Your opponents can see through this and spot that weakness in you. Don’t stop when things get uncomfortable. You should always strive to be uncomfortable. This is where you have to push yourself harder. When you think you’re about to collapse, remind yourself of your goal, then step outside the comfort zone, and chase that goal.
Trust me, you won’t remember every win you ever had, but you will always remember when you pushed yourself outside your comfort zone and proved that your body could do more. Don’t let your thoughts hold you back. If you attack every practice harder than the one the day before, good things will come. I once lost a match because I was mentally broken. I was so angry that after the match I sprinted from the gym to the hallway where I was met by my older brothers. Who threatened that if I ever ran off the mat again after a loss, they would do more then mentally break me. They went on to tell me that I didn’t push myself beyond my comfort zone and fight like my body is capable of fighting. If I had truly fought, I would have crawled off the mat from physical exhaustion. I lost because I didn’t mentally push myself out of my comfort zone. I challenge you to find the very edge of your comfort zone. When you find that barrier, break it! Don’t just take a step beyond it, sprint hard outside of it. When you do find yourself broken from stepping beyond your comfort zone, a coach, parent, teammate, sibling, or friend will be right there to help put you back together. The takeaway here is, it is much easier to be put back together after breaking yourself in the process of striving for more, than it is to sell yourself short and live with the thought that you didn’t push yourself to reach your true potential.
Wrestling toughness, mental toughness, didn’t only set us up to push ourselves outside of the comfort zone in the sport, it has set us up to defeat and overcome the challenges we faced for the rest of our lives. My dad is a two time stage four blood cancer survivor. When I asked him how he had the strength to keep fighting, he simply said, “I was a wrestler. There is no fight I go into thinking I won’t win.” That Is Wrestler Mentality!
Wyatt Ziesman Assistant Coach Iowa Falls-Alden