Mark Schwab spent 23 years as a college wrestling coach. He started his college coaching career at Purdue, where he spent two seasons on staff before becoming an assistant coach at Minnesota. In nine seasons at Minnesota, Schwab helped lead the Gophers to seven top-three finishes and two NCAA titles. He coached 55 All-Americans at Minnesota. Schwab followed up his time at Minnesota with head coaching stints at Buena Vista and North Iowa Area Community College.
In 2011, Schwab returned to his alma mater, Northern Iowa, to become an assistant coach on his younger brother Doug’s staff. He resigned from the position in 2016. He is now heping others by giving them the “best opportunity to grow, develop and succeed regardless of the arena” through his Opportunities to Succeed and Mental Warriors programs.
As a competitor, Schwab was a four-time Iowa state champion and two-time NCAA Division I All-American at Northern Iowa. In freestyle he placed third at the Tbilisi (Russia) tournament, which was considered the toughest wrestling tournament in the world at the time. Schwab also captured a bronze medal in the World Cup.
You left your position as a college wrestling coach last year. What went into your decision to leave coaching?
Schwab: I had been thinking about moving on from coaching for some time. I was dreading what I was doing and really in the last couple of years, coaching brought out the worst in me. Coaching with my brother Doug was a disaster. We’re both responsible for this. The most important reason was me following what I believe to be my purpose. My purpose is to help others reach their goals, potential and dreams. My purpose is about giving others tools, direction and experience. My purpose is to help others give themselves every opportunity to grow, develop, and succeed. My purpose goes way beyond wrestling, sports, competition. We focus on going inside, investigate, create awareness, take responsibility, identify, and understand the real decision maker, influence, and potential is under tour own hat. Man, there’s so much more I could write on this. I also believe I have the ability to convince and this has mountains of potential.
How important is the mental side of wrestling?
Schwab: I always hear people saying how much the mentality plays a part but when asked what one does to ensure a strong and thriving mental climate, no one really answers. In my experience, most must believe they can get what they need from training alone. My experience says otherwise. The higher the level of competition, the more the mental side will dictate results. As a youngster, you can win with ability and same with high school, but college and international is mental climate, ability, and skills. Where the mental side makes a real difference is when abilities are matched, when an outcome can go either way, the spirit in which one competes, the determination, obstacles, fatigue, injury, or when inches and ounces make the difference in the outcome. It’s all about the inches and ounces. The little differences, advantages, grit, and the power of one who’s made up their mind; this is what the mental side is about and what it will do for you when you invest and become aware.
Wrestlers often times go to wrestling camps or clinics, take private lessons, work on their technique, spend more time in the weight room, but maybe don’t focus on the mental side as much. Why do you think the mental side is so overlooked by wrestlers and coaches?
Schwab: In my experience, most have never really developed beyond training, technique, recruiting, organizing, etc. In my experience, athletes are expected to derive their strong mentality from training. I think coaches think about it but hope the athletes will manage, develop, and perform with training, dedication, and maybe some convincing here or there. A strong mental climate really is on the athlete and a few simple tools, behaviors, or adjustments would make a big difference. In my experience, many athletes don’t want to admit they struggle or question themselves even though it’s obvious in their performance. In my experience confidence ebbs and flows; it’s not permanent for most. The great reality is you can have doubts and still prevail. In my experience most competitors need development and education managing their mind, awareness, understanding thinking can be changed and developed into strength. Again, so much could be said here
Many wrestlers across the country will be competing in postseason tournaments over the new month. You often talk about the tournament mindset. Describe what that means.
Schwab: The Mental Warriors I work with we focus on short memory for bad and long for good, being in the present vs. squandering one’s focus and energies on uncontrollable. I mean what can we really control? We can control our thinking and we can CHANGE our thinking. We can control our breathing. Breathing is a compass for competition because it’s there for us at all times, keeps us in the present, allows us to recover quicker, focus, increase our intelligence and awareness, more in control of our movements, and rehearse victory all by manipulating our breathing. This is an overlooked tool. Tournament mind is strong body language, simplicity, calm, cool, focused, and expecting to succeed. Tournament mind is about the NOW, and taking action. Tournament mind is NO attention to W or L; the focus is on behaviors that give the best opportunity to succeed and not outcomes.
How important is goal setting?
Schwab: Goal setting is another overlooked tool that can make a monster difference. We miss so many opportunities to further our cause. Maybe goals are talked about so much they lose their effectiveness or just maybe they’re not talked about enough. Here’s another inches and ounces opportunity. Goals are a tool for taking action. Nothing can be accomplished without taking action. The advantages of taking the time to plan your success and write the steps/actions/behaviors that give you every opportunity to succeed is just plain good business. Goals provide wisdom, advantage, return, direction, feedback, an edge, support. I mean look at all of these inches and ounces, all of these difference makers that are ignored. In my experience the simple, little things, and going within ourselves are often disregarded. Maybe the coach never did any of this so he or she don’t see the value. I don’t know, but I do know simple behaviors can have a major impact.
In wrestling you often hear the word “toughness.” What does toughness mean?
Schwab: Toughness is something you bring every day. This eliminates many. Toughness is focus, responsibility, bravery, courageousness, decisive, biting off more than you’re sure you can chew, endurance, and consistency. Toughness is taking risk, making decisions, making mistakes, the decision to function effectively while fatigued, discomfort or pain. Toughness is composed when others are rattled. Toughness is being a warrior and bleeding like one. Toughness is the ability to produce when feeling less than, welcoming the effects and strain of training, sprinting through the finish line of anything and compete and effective regardless how you feel. You have to be willing to give up comfort, persistent in fight for victory, show up day-after-day in pursuit of a dream, those who battle and compete regardless of what the outcome might look like. Toughness does not respond to doubts or barking dogs, does not make excuses, accepting and embracing challenge. Toughness will put it on the line. They don’t want or need safety. They throw away life’s crutches and refuse to leave it in anyone else’s hands; they win the daily battle with themselves and dance until it rains. They may be outscored but you never lose. Toughness is those who can lose it all, go all the way back to zero and put it back together again and thrive.
I have heard you say taking ten additional minutes every day to do something on top of what you’re already doing is important. Describe what you mean.
Schwab: Again, we go back to the inches and ounces — the detail that adds up. You accomplish goals a little at a time. You improve and grow a little at a time. Consistent intelligent effort over time can be astounding. I hear people often say they don’t have time. Yes they do. We all have time to do whatever’s important to us. I use a ten-minute example because everyone has ten-minute slots to use how ever they want. Ten minutes happens 144 times every day. By using just one of these to better our movement still leaves us with 143 segments. Ten minutes add up over a year. How much better would you be by spending 56 more hours than your opponent or competition in a specific area? This is what I call mastering.
Why is self-reflection important for wrestlers?
Schwab: I believe awareness is crucial. How can I make adjustments if I don’t have information? I feel one needs to know their strengths, lesser strengths. What defeats them? What has kept them from crossing the goal line? What needs to be dealt with, faced, and mastered to reach potential? One should be able to write an accurate scouting report on themselves as a person, coach, athlete, etc.
You worked with Brock Lesnar before his UFC 200 fight. What kind of things did you work on? How do you think it helped him?
Schwab: I had a prior relationship to Lesnar and in this case, it was a benefit. Each person is a bit different and each is a bit the same. If Brock hadn’t known me prior, I don’t think he would have trusted me as he’s leery of people. He knew I was for real so that helped a lot. I kept everything simple. The plan was to follow his determined compass within and he did. Brock used his inner compass to guide him through the most crucial round in the fight. Brock is a very quick, witty, and a street-smart guy. Lesnar stayed where he was strong and got the outcome he wanted. I am looking for an angle to work with more UFC competitors. With my wrestling background and developing strong mental climates with my Mental Warriors, I know I can make a difference with competitors.
You talk about the importance of making decisions. Why is decision making important?
Schwab: I cannot write strongly enough to express how important and effective a true decision can be. I’m talking about going deep and making up one’s mind. I’m talking about burning bridges and cutting off all other possibilities except the one decision you committed to. You even eliminate indecision when you make a decision. This is an inner-agreement you’ve made with yourself. The decision is permanent. You now have engaged the most powerful tool in the human personality — making up your mind. Making up your mind to order a sausage pizza vs. a pepperoni pizza is one thing, but making a decision to commit to giving yourself every opportunity to be a champion is something else. A true decision is more powerful than talent. Making up your mind is serious confidence. There’s no room for indecision, doubt, or question marks. A decision is an exclamation point!!!!! And that’s powerful.
When you look back on your own competitive career, what do you wish you would have known that you know now?
Schwab: I wish I would have understood how to communicate with myself, how my thinking cannot be stopped but it can be changed. The power and tool of just manipulated breathing and all of it benefits. I wish I would have made a different decision on where I went to college and the major differences from college to college, team to team, coach to coach, environment, resources, experience, and success. I trusted that I knew better than what was best. There were a few other voices I wish I had listened to. UNI was great in many ways, but for me and my wrestling career it was a bad decision. Don Briggs, my brother Mike and Jeff Bradley helped me a lot, but not becoming a better wrestler. I contributed to some of my own demise but negligence in my personal situation was off the charts. I’m just saying for me and this doesn’t apply to anyone else. Others may have the experience of a lifetime. My experience was a major disaster.
To learn more about Mark Schwab and his Opportunities to Succeed and Mental Warriors programs, visit his website: http://markschwab118.wixsite.com/mysite.