The ability to live in the now is important to any athlete, especially wrestlers. That’s why developing a match-day mentality that focuses on competing one match at a time can help optimize peak mental and physical performance.
"The only time that we can be effective is this very moment," notes Jack J. Lesyk, who is director of the Ohio Center for Sport Psychology and a performance psychologist for the Cleveland Cavaliers. But like other mental and physical skills, this must be practiced on a regular basis, he says. "When we act on the immediate situation in a specific, effective, intensive manner,” Lesyk says, “this mindset has the best chance of producing good performance.”
When focusing on performance, dwelling on the past or building anxiety about the future can undermine your effort, says Daryl Weber, owner of the Attack Style Wrestling system, a wrestling technique and training system for wrestlers and coaches. Weber led Virginia's Christiansburg High School to 9 straight Virginia state team titles as head coach from 2007–15 and was a two-time Iowa state high school champion and NCAA Division I national champion under Dan Gable at the University of Iowa.
"As a competitor, not having a solid match-day routine cost me some big matches," Weber recalls. "When I nailed it down, my confidence went through the roof."
For wrestlers, Weber says staying focused on match day involves:
- Not looking past opponents
- Moving on after a loss in individual tournaments
- Not dwelling on your opponent's game plan
- Not looking ahead in the bracket and anticipating potential matchups
"These are all things that can lead to underperformance from the athlete and dealing with these is a skill that needs to be developed through consistent practice and discipline," he adds.
Succeeding in wrestling means staying focused and concentrating on the task at hand and in this case that task is the next match. Coaches can help achieve this by putting wrestlers in positions they will encounter during a match, says Jeff Buxton, coach of the Lehigh Valley Wrestling Club and Buxton School of Wrestling. That includes developing a match-day warm-up routine.
“Make your warmup feel like your first match,” advises Buxton. “Do some live wrestling, think positive, and know what you are trying to accomplish. Doing this prepares your mind and body so that you are fully ready to compete when the whistle blows."
David Zabriskie, a former NCAA champion at Iowa State University, says wrestlers should prepare for each match the same way. "You don't want to do less than normal for an 'easier' opponent and you don't want to spend a lot of extra time warmup for a 'tough' opponent," he explains. "Consistency is the key."
Still, Zabriskie admits it can be tempting to look ahead and anticipate potential matchups. But focusing on the task at hand – the current match – is crucial to success. "If you were to look ahead there is no guarantee that you would even face a certain person,” he notes. “You are there to wrestle, not to predict how the bracket plays out. Leave that to the fans."
Brandon Precin, a Wrestling Mindset mental training coach and a three-time All-American from Northwestern University, points out there are no guarantees in wrestling – anyone can beat anyone on any given day. Knowing that was what taught him to focus only on the match in front of him.
"I could only control how I wrestle," recalls Precin. "If I wrestled as hard as I could through every position, the outcome would usually take care of itself."
Open communication from coach to athlete as well as from athlete to coach is an important part of the preparation process, says Buxton. "Discussing practices, routines, match preparation and knowing what’s going on in one’s life is important,” he says. “Knowing you are on the same page is an ingredient to success."
10 tips to developing a successful match day routine
Developing a successful match-day routine takes practice and perfection, but should include preparing for these aspects, says Daryl Weber:
- Develop a weigh-in routine
- Once weight is made, develop a diet plan and focus on what one eats after
- Create a warm up routine that starts 20-30 minutes before a match
- Strategy: Develop a strategy to relax during the long stretches between matches
- Visualize: Develop visualization strategies envisioning success before matches
- Flip the switch: Learning how to flip the switch right before the whistle is blown
- Focus: Prepare and learn how to maintain focus during the match
- Develop a post-match routine/cool down
- Repeat for tournaments
- Change and alter as needed until perfected