By Craig Sesker | Sept. 19, 2017, 5:13 p.m. (ET)

 

Each month, Team USA Awards presented by Dow celebrates outstanding achievements of U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes. Freestyle wrestler Kyle Snyder won Male Athlete of the Month for August 2017, during which he won his second world title. In Snyder’s Diamond Club feature, presented by Dow, he explains how mental toughness has guided his path to success.

 

Kyle Snyder stands on the podium after winning the men's 97 kg. world title at the World Wrestling Championships on Aug. 26, 2017 in Paris.

When Kyle Snyder stepped on the mat for the world championships last month in Paris, it was easy to see why he’s one of the best freestyle wrestlers on the planet.

He’s strong, powerful and explosive, he has excellent technique, and his conditioning is superb.

But what truly sets apart the wrestler who now owns an Olympic gold medal and two world titles at age 21?

His mental approach.

“I love wrestling,” he said. “I want to compete and perform to the best of my ability in every single match. The outcome isn’t for me to think about. It’s for God to plan. I just have to make the decisions in the moment. That’s what I’m called to do.”

Snyder possesses a maturity, intelligence, confidence and comprehension far beyond his years.

He needed every one of those traits to beat the guy regarded as the best pound-for-pound wrestler on the planet. One year after striking Olympic gold in Rio, Snyder knocked off Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champion Abdulrashid Sadulaev of Russia in the world finals at 97 kg. on Aug. 26.

“That was the match I was least nervous for because I was so excited,” he said. “I grew up dreaming about wrestling the best wrestlers in the world. It couldn’t have been a more hyped-up situation with the team title on the line.”

Snyder rallied for an epic 6-5 win over Sadulaev in a match that also gave the U.S. its first world freestyle team title since 1995, the year Snyder was born.

“It felt really great to win obviously, but I would’ve been happy with that performance even if I would’ve lost because I wrestled really well,” Snyder said. “I put every ounce of energy I had into that match.”

Prior to the worlds, Snyder and U.S. national coach Bill Zadick did extensive video study of Sadulaev. Nicknamed “the Russian Tank,” Sadulaev moved up a weight class this year after previously competing at 86 kg.

“I knew what he was good at and I was definitely prepared to wrestle him,” Snyder said. “He has a fireman’s carry and a gut wrench, but he never really had an opportunity for either. I was ready.”

Snyder’s mental toughness was evident when he rallied in the match’s final minute to break Sadulaev and win the match.

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“I felt him get tired and saw him taking his time to get back to the center,” Snyder said. “I was tired too, but I started my sprint early with a minute to go.

“I had to mentally stay in the match no matter what.”

Snyder’s rapid development has been accelerated by being around older teammates at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He passed up his senior year of high school to live and train at the OTC.

He won a junior world title at age 17 before becoming the youngest senior world champion in American history at age 19. He then became the youngest American to win an Olympic title in wrestling in 2016 at age 20.

He has roomed at the OTC with Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs, who won his fourth world title in Paris. Both wrestlers have a strong faith.

“Jordan’s such a great guy who handles himself very well,” Snyder said. “He believes in himself and thinks he’s the best, which he is. Just being around him has helped me tremendously. We’ve talked about life and a lot of other things besides wrestling.”

Snyder has won two NCAA titles at Ohio State and still has a year of eligibility left.

“Kyle is the perfect combination of skill and belief,” Burroughs said. “He desires the battle. The wrestling is the gift for Kyle, not the winning. Kyle doesn’t believe in physical limitations. He thinks he’s superhuman, and after watching him over the last three years, he just might be.”

Ohio State coach Tom Ryan admires Snyder’s mental approach.

“Kyle has a deep desire to focus on producing his best effort,” Ryan said. “He’s process driven. He pursues positive thoughts and deletes negative ones. His focus is less on winning than on producing the best version of himself he can.”

American John Smith won two Olympic gold medals and four world titles from 1987-92. Snyder wants to surpass what the legendary Smith did.

“I like doing things people haven’t done,” Snyder. “It’s something that drives me.”

For Snyder, his final college season with the Buckeyes is right around the corner, along with an opportunity to pursue another world title in 2018.

“Once you reach one goal, you need to set another one,” he said. “My goal is to be the best wrestler who has ever lived.”

Craig Sesker is a sportswriter based out of Colorado Springs, Colorado. He has covered three Olympic Games. He is a freelance contributor toTeamUSA.orgon behalf ofRed Line Editorial, Inc.