Post By: Jeff Ruser, M.A. | Friday, May 29, 2020

sport psychology performance STRESS RESILIENCY

Muhammad Ali knew a thing or two about achieving at a high level. Widely considered the best boxer of all time, Ali once said, “You don't lose if you get knocked down; you lose if you stay down.” This mentality and the actions that come from it, in short, are resilience. With that, I'm here to tell you that in order to succeed and achieve in the sport of wrestling, you must have resilience. Bold statement, I know. Let me explain.

You might ask: What is resilience? Diving a little deeper, researchers Mustafa Sarkar and David Fletcher have defined resilience as mental processes and actions that allow people to enact their resources to protect them from stressors and setbacks. Breaking that down even more, mental processes refers to the mentality or engrained attitudes that an athlete holds, or it might also refer to the thoughts, internal dialogue, or “I” statements that a wrestler frequently encounters. “I can get off bottom” or “I am stuck” are both “I” statements with tremendous power. The second part of resilience is related to actions or behaviors. Of course, in a match, thoughts and mental processes can occur, but unless they are acted upon, they don't do us much good. Actions often require that we are convinced of their truth and effectiveness in our thoughts and mental processes, first, before we enact them. To clarify, the thought/mentality have to come first to inform the action. In resilience both thoughts and actions are put to use to allow a wrestler to protect themselves, to bounce back from a bad break, to get out of a take-down attempt, or even come back from a deficit in the 3rd period.

Let's continue to put resilience and its importance in to context of a match and situations that wrestler will see. Resilience is the ability to use our mental resources to get back up when we get knocked down, figuratively. However, this also happens literally in wrestling. Upon getting taken down, wrestlers lacking resilience might struggle to get back up or not be able to work their way out. Knowing that every wrestler is bound to get taken down in their career, likely hundreds of times, resilience can be a key to succeeding after a temporary setback.

Developing resilience comes with practice, just like any physical skill that is taught on the mats. Starting with the mental processes and thoughts, resilience requires that a wrestler:

  • Remain collected, without panic, when taken down.
  • Have trained and practiced patterns of strategic thinking on how to escape.
  • Remain optimistic, believing escape is coming soon.
  • Cultivate confidence in doing these steps successfully (in practice and matches)

Resilience comes through in actions, too, that require that a wrestler:

  • Trust in their training
  • Give relentless effort to find a way out
  • And most importantly train through these scenarios in practice.

While you can learn to train resilience through mental practices like reframing self-talk, controlling physiological activation, being mindful and fully engrossed in the moment, and building self-confidence the traits of resilience come from going through the obstacles. For wrestlers at all levels, the challenge does not only lie in the matches with a referee, the challenge can and should come in practice. Drill the situations that you struggle in. You see, in order to be resilient you have to fail first. You have to, at least momentarily, not be at your best. You have to be willing to put yourself in the very position where you could fail and fall or literally get taken down. It is from here where resilience is built and stored. It is built when you put yourself in to the scenarios in which you can fail and be ‘not-so-resilient at first,' then practice, repeat the scenario, and eventually come out more resilient. It's a painful and vulnerable process, but it will leave you resilient for the moments that matter most. After all, Muhammed Ali knew that it wasn't about avoiding failure, rather it was about getting back up after failing. Resilience lies right outside your comfort zone. Go take it.