Day after day, practice after practice, coaches in all sports consistently preach to their athletes about the importance of believing in themselves, and building the confidence needed to achieve success.
In wrestling, high school and college coaches are constantly looking for a mental edge for their athletes, hoping to find a way to motivate, push, and get the wrestler to believe they will achieve their goals.
But wrestlers aren’t the only ones who need mental motivation and training. Coaches too, in fact, also need mental training, and to learn how to focus on the mental aspects of coaching to become better coaches.
“Mental obstacles impact every proactive person on the planet,” says Dr. Coyte Cooper, a high performance specialist on a mission to empower leaders, professionals, students, and organizations around the world to perform to their highest potential.
“When you set big enough aspirations, there will always be mental barriers to overcome. Coaches have negative thoughts, limiting beliefs, and counterproductive emotions just like athletes do. When coaches don’t deal with these effectively, it carries down to the athletes on their team. The best coaches in the world are incredible at modeling the mental strategies that they want their athletes to embrace.”
To do that, coaches should embrace a growth mindset, says Cooper, an All-American wrestler at Indiana University and author of 10 habits of high performers and impact makers. This involves creating a growth system that allows them to value growth above anything else.
“When this happens, it rewires the way that the brain sees things and eliminates fear,” says Cooper. “When you value growth, you approach everything as an opportunity to grow and close the gap on your goals. This mindset is conducive to high performance in all areas of life.”
For coaches to embrace this, they should do the same things they would ask athletes to do on a consistent basis, says Cooper, starting with these two strategies:
1. Create a morning routine: Rather than coast into days, coaches can cultivate a morning growth routine where they read books about performance to start their days. “This is a like a warm-up to make sure you are performing to potential throughout the day,” says Cooper.
2. Set BIG goals and write them down: Do this every morning after reading. Beyond this, there are a wide range of activities coaches can implement to elevate their efforts (revisiting values, visualization, and meditation). Once coaches develop this routine and model at a high level, they will have the authenticity to pass them down to their athletes.
One key mental skill all coaches must practice is self-awareness, says Mike Clayton, Manager of the National Coaches Education Program for USA Wrestling.
“Finding ways to ‘respond’ to situations rather than ‘reacting’ in the moment can help preserve confidence that both your athletes and administrators have in you as the coach,” says Clayton, a former Division I head assistant coach (Army West Point) and Division III head coach (Stevens Institute of Technology), who also runs Session 6 Wrestling, where he helps wrestlers and coaches reach their goals on the mat and in life. “Responding often takes time to process what has happened and allows us to investigate possible responses. Reacting means the exact opposite and usually doesn’t allow us to make the best decisions available.”
When Clayton felt the most pressure as a coach, he would take 15 minutes a day to find an isolated quit spot to just sit and think. No paper and pencil, no phone, no computer, just himself, all alone, in a quiet setting.
“That 15 minutes helps me remember what my daily objectives are and to make sure they get my focus and priority,” says Clayton. “It also helps me deal better with stress, conflict, and the other obstacles that coaching will bring. The obstacles are going to come, how you react to them is what makes or breaks you as a coach.”
Another great tool is breathing to control your energy, says Clayton.
“We can use breathing to calm ourselves or to hype ourselves up for a practice or event,” says Clayton. “By learning these skills ourselves, we can share the skills without athletes so that they can optimize their mindset before stepping on a mat in competition or in practice.”
Matt Lindland focused on the mental aspect of being a competitor throughout his wrestling career, which saw him win a 2000 Olympic silver medal and a 2001 world silver medal before embarking on a successful career as an MMA fighter. Now, as coach of the USA Wrestling National Greco-Roman team, Lindland believes he has improved as a coach by incorporating mental training into his regime.
Lindland worked with the team from Wrestling Mindset, a wrestling specific, systematic program designed to help wrestlers and coaches improve their mental mindset on and off the mat. After the training, Lindland stated that improving on the mental aspect of being a coach helps him “get to know my athletes better and understand how to communicate with them before and after matches, and in training.”
Mike Moor (Mindset Mike), is a former Division I wrestler turned FBI investigator who now works for Wrestling Mindset, where he works with wrestlers, wrestling coaches, and UFC fighters to help them excel through improved mental focus and training.
“Mental training can help coaches learn how to improve communication with athletes, stay motivated during a long season, which helps them keep athletes motivated, and ultimately, maximize their potential as a coach, which can in turn maximize the potential of their athletes,” says Moor.
The reality is, every wrestling coach has times when he or she begins to question his or her ability to produce successful, championship-based programs, says Dr. Bill Welker EdD. Welker is a former Pennsylvania state high school champion who competed at the University of Pittsburgh. Welker coached wrestling at the youth, middle school, and high school levels for three decades and authored the book The Sparrow’s Spirit: A Champion Wrestler’s Lifetime Reflections on Prayer and Perseverance.
Below are Welker’s tips to prevent the “mental-meltdown” of wrestling coaches:
1. Maintain good physical health and a healthy lifestyle: Good physical health helps one feel better about oneself and helps one feel energized and willing to promote the importance of mental toughness.
2. Learn to prioritize: Do not become overwhelmed at practice. Instead place emphasis on those aspects of practice that are most successful in producing winning programs.
3 Find a mentor: When you sense mental blocks during the season, consult with an experienced coaching mentor who can assist in getting you mentally on track again.
4. Focus on strengths: Focus on the strength and successes of your program and build on them.
5. Set realistic goals: Do not have “unrealistically” high goals for your team. “You will only become mentally frustrated, and so will your team members,” says Welker. “Such unreasonable goals will lead to failure.” So set realistic goals and be flexible with them, for both yourself and other coaches, and the team.
6. Leave your coaching concerns in the practice room: Dwelling on coaching problems all day-long will definitely promote “negative” thinking. “It is wise to have a hobby or avocation that will take your mind off practice problems, and will revitalize a positive mental mindset in the practice room,” says Welker.
Good coaches are always looking for an edge. Use these mental training tips to gain a mental edge over other coaches, and to find success as a coach, on and off the mat.