USA Wrestling How to Build Resilie...

How to Build Resilient Wrestlers

By Matt Krumrie | April 27, 2017, 9:51 a.m. (ET)

Building resiliency is a life skill that will reward wrestlers on and off the mat, says Sally Roberts, a two-time World Bronze Medalist and founder of Wrestle Like A Girl, Inc., a non-profit organization working to empower, advocate, support, educate, and grow female wrestling at-large.

Roberts is resilient herself—a trait she developed throughout a successful wrestling career—and is currently working with the 44 states that currently do not have a sanctioned girls high school wrestling state championship and advocating for inclusion.

Roberts learned early in her career that a female wrestler may have to work harder, dig deeper, and overcome more challenges in a sport long dominated by males. Through resiliency and overcoming challenges, she was able to thrive, and now hopes other female wrestlers can do the same.

Resiliency, by definition, is the ability to bounce back from something difficult. And coaches, parents, teammates, and individuals all play a role in the ability of a young athlete to become resilient.

"When challenge comes at us, we must be willing to attack it head on," says Roberts. "And our coaches and parents have to support us in doing hard things even though we may fail at first."

There will be times when wrestlers are successful and satisfied through the thrill of winning.

"Other times, we may feel the sting of defeat, but it’s up to us to determine what the defeat means in our own careers and lives," says Roberts. "When defeat comes and we get back up, that is resilience. Coming back to the mat time and time again saying, 'I’m going to do better,’ or ‘I will be better,’ that is resilience. Quitting is not in the wrestler’s vocabulary, but resiliency is."

Olympic Gold medalist and two-time NCAA champion Kyle Snyder understands what it takes to be resilient, reaching the pinnacle of success in both international and collegiate wrestling through hard work, determination, and getting back up when knocked down. Snyder went undefeated as a high school wrestler, but was pinned as a freshman in the 2015 NCAA finals. Six months after that crushing defeat, Snyder, then 19, won Gold at the World Championships, becoming the youngest world champion in USA Wrestling history. Snyder has since won a 2016 Olympic Gold Medal, and 2016 and 2017 NCAA individual championships.

"There are so many moving parts in a training and competition environment that are out of the athlete's control," says Snyder. "Things don't always go your way, but you have to believe in the process. If you keep putting forth 100 percent effort and stick with a sound training plan, then the athlete will see improvement, which is the real reason we compete, to become the best we possibly can in our craft."

But no wrestler becomes resilient on their own, says Snyder. Surround yourself with the right training partners, he says. Surround yourself with the right coaches. Surround yourself with people who make the right choices and live the wrestler’s lifestyle off the mat. 

"These are the people that will help you build a great training process that will put you on a path for success," says Snyder.

Building resiliency, however, doesn't happen overnight. It takes time, and the willingness to fail first.

"This is not short-term plan, but rather something that can take years," says Snyder. "You will see failure many times more then you will see success. But you have to stick with your plan, believe in yourself, and always give 100% effort in every single thing you do. With this attitude, you will become the best you can be, not only on the wrestling mat, but also in life."

Coaches and parents need to explain what resilience is, which, is "essentially, the will to persist through hardship," says David Jacobson, Marketing Communications Manager for the Positive Coaching Alliance, a national non-profit that works to develop better athletes and better people through resources for youth and high school sports coaches, parents, administrators, and student-athletes. "To consciously cultivate resilience, coaches and parents must speak explicitly with youth athletes about the topic."

Once the definition of being resilient is understood, coaches and parents should point out areas where an athlete was resilient, or opportunities to become resilient. Was a wrestler down eight points late, but finally able to perfect a move they had been practicing to earn a pin? Did a wrestler fight back from an early deficit, only to lose in the closing seconds, through a takedown the edge of the mat? How did they react after that loss—did they sulk and let it affect them the next match, did they make excuses? Or did they learn and move on, getting back to practice and working harder? Did a wrestler learn how to mentally overcome weight management challenges to not only make weight, but realize that they do have the will power and mental strength to make it?

“Providing specific, truthful praise for the resilience itself, regardless of results, is critical to developing a resilient child,” says Jacobson.

Resilience is a crucial life task and there is no greater sport that teaches resiliency than wrestling, says Roberts, who offered these resiliency building tips:

1. Embrace the hardship: In wrestling, just as in life, the hard times will come. Embrace those hard times. "Face them head on because it is through the struggle we find our strength," says Roberts.

2. Become mentally strong: If you have a negative thought that creeps into your mind telling you that you can’t, prove your mind wrong. “I’m glad sprints are over… I could not have run even one more." That’s not true, says Roberts. "Our minds often quit before our bodies do, so run one more sprint to prove to yourself that you’re capable of whatever you set your mind to."

3. Keep a journal: Keep an athletic journal where you record both the accomplishments and challenges you faced in practice. Use the journal to reflect on how far you’ve come, to keep yourself honest in the work you have done, and as a record keeper of what you still need to improve. "Resiliency happens in all aspects of wrestling, mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually," says Roberts. "We are all tested in both sport and in life and as wrestlers, we know the secret ingredient to success—hard work, perseverance and resilience. Keep going in the tough times so you can sprint though the easy."

"In life, just as in sport, we may feel defeat, but that does not mean we are defeated," says Roberts. "We are only defeated when we no longer try and give up. However, once wrestlers’ minds and bodies get a taste of the struggle and learn to love it, they will never be defeated in life. They will always keep charging on because they have trained their hearts and minds, just like their muscles, to endure and go one more round.”

That’s what it means to be resilient and how to build resilient wrestlers.