High School Wrestling: NLP and Mental Skills Training

posted in: Articles | 0

Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is a discipline mainly associated with the field of personal development. NLP uses various techniques and strategies to help people improve particular areas of their lives. NLP can most simply be defined as a system or process for self-improvement.

Neuro – This relates to the use of our senses to interpret the world around us. We filter information through our senses which affects our thoughts, emotions, and physiology.

Linguistic – This relates to how we use language to interpret our experiences and describe those experiences to ourselves and to others.

Programming – This relates to our repetitive patterns of learned behavior and the way we organize our ideas and actions. We can change our programming. We can change the way we think and act.

When motivational guru Tony Robbins wrote Unlimited Power he helped bring the concept of NLP to the mainstream. In his book, Robbins mentions some of the key principles associated with NLP. Some of the principles and methods proposed by the discipline of NLP and Tony Robbins may be able to help you improve your wrestling performance.

Goal Setting

Like many self-improvement systems NLP has advice on goal setting. You probably already know that a goal needs to be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. In other words, your goals need to be SMART. In the domain of NLP, a goal is sometimes referred to as a well-formed outcome and NLP adds a few more elements to the process of goal setting.

Maybe you are currently an average wrestler. But, what do you want to achieve? How will you know when you’ve achieved it? Do you want to be a state champion? Maybe you simply want to have a winning record. What will you see, hear, and feel when you reach the desired outcome? Can you visualize yourself wrestling flawlessly and aggressively? Can you see yourself standing on the top of the awards podium?

What resources will you need to achieve this goal? Perhaps you need to seek out extra instruction to improve your skills. Perhaps you need to put more emphasis on conditioning. You know that others have achieved this goal. How did they do it?

Do you know exactly what you want, why you want it, and how you’re going to get it?

Ultimate Success Formula

Know the Desired Outcome – We have already examined the first step to applying the Ultimate Success Formula. What is it specifically that you want? Engage all of your senses when describing or imagining your desired outcome. How will you know when you’ve achieved your outcome? How will you feel when you have achieved your goal?
Know Why You Want It – You need a strong purpose in order to take the action needed to reach your objective. Why do you want tobe a state champion? Why do you want to have a winning record? Is it for the recognition? Is it for the sense of accomplishment and pride you’ll have knowing that you worked hard to become the best? Do you want to help your team reach the highest levels? Do you want to make your coach and parents proud?
Take Massive Action – Having a well-formed outcome does little good if you don’t take action. Are you ready to take deliberate action and take the steps necessary to carry out your plans? You may have many choices. You may not feel prepared. But, you need to take massive action. Taking half-hearted action is unlikely to lead to success. But, if you take massive action and believe in your ability to produce results then success is more likely. You can simply let your coach or perhaps fate decide what your outcome on the mat will be or you can take action and help determine for yourself what results you achieve.
Know the Result You are Getting – You need to have the awareness to know what is working and what is not. Maybe you’re takedown skills are weak and you need some extra help to correct the problem. Maybe you need to realize that your conditioning is lacking.
Change Your Approach if Necessary – Perhaps you need to seek out the teammate who has the best takedown technique and ask for his advice. Maybe you need to invest in some technique videos. Maybe you need to get up early in the morning in order to add some conditioning or skill sessions before your school day begins. Evaluate the results you’re getting and figure out what to do next. Keep refining your strategy until you get what you want.
In Mike Chapman’s Wrestling Tough, University of Minnesota head wrestling coach J Robinson states, “Learning is the same for geometry or piano lessons or wrestling. Practice it over and over and over and over, make adjustments, fine-tune it. It is a process of eliminating mistakes. Over the duration of the season, you will eliminate the mistakes if you are working on technique. You drill these skills over and over and over and over, just like playing the piano.” Notice how he mentioned having to make adjustments.
Beliefs and Values

Beliefs are convictions or principles we accept as true. Beliefs can be empowering or limiting. Perhaps you believe that only wrestlers with a lot of innate talent can be successful on the mat. Some people believe that they are incompetent and can’t learn new moves. Do you believe that you can be a champion or beat a certain opponent? Do you believe you can achieve a certain level of technical skill if you’re willing to study and drill? NLP advocates certain beliefs thought to be empowering. One of those beliefs is: There is no such thing as failure. There are only results. This is an empowering belief. Even if you lose a match you can use your results as feedback and use this feedback to improve your skills or make refinements. Some people believe in taking responsibility no matter what happens. They don’t blame others or complain. They take responsibility for their actions. What do you believe about your abilities and the pursuit of achievement?

Values are ideas, qualities, or principles that we hold to be important. Do you value hard work? Do you value commitment? Do you value honesty? Do you value loyalty? What do you value?

Regarding his work on perfecting the light bulb, the inventor Thomas Edison is allegedly quoted as having said, “I haven’t failed, I’ve found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” Evidently, Edison didn’t believe in failure.

Mark Schwab was a four-time Iowa high school state wrestling champion. Schwab also won three Junior National Freestyle titles and a National Greco-Roman title. In addition, he was a two-time NCAA All-American while in college. He went on to coach after college. He has held assistant and head coaching positions at a few different universities and colleges. Mark Schwab knows about wrestling and the importance of beliefs.

When asked in an interview if there is anything that is a catalyst to good performance and getting rid of doubt Schwab answered, “Well, I think the way you talk to yourself. You know, self talk is huge. That’s a sports psychology term but it’s really just a – I think it’s a pretty understandable term – the way people communicate to themselves. I think it’s so important the way you communicate with yourself.”

Reframing

The meaning we place on an experience depends on our point of view. In NLP, this point of view or context is called a frame. The way you frame an event will impact how you feel about it and how you respond to it. For example, if you lose a match to someone you think you should have easily beaten you may think, “I really blew it. I’m a terrible wrestler. I should never lose a match or make mistakes. I might as well just give up.” You may sulk and feel sad for a couple of days. You may not actually quit but you may lack focus in practice because you continue to dwell on the loss.

Reframing involves altering your perception of an experience. You can change the frame or meaning of an experience and then you may feel and behave differently. For example, in the situation above you may reframe the situation and think, “It’s not uncommon to have an off night occasionally. Maybe there is something I can learn from this loss. Maybe I was distracted for some reason. Maybe I didn’t warm up enough. I’ll make sure I am more focused and prepared for the next match.” If you put the loss into that frame then instead of feeling sad you may feel motivated. Instead of lacking focus in practice you may become more focused than ever. You may decide to really work hard on your skills and conditioning to make sure that you don’t lose again. And, before the next match you may pay more attention to warming up properly and making sure that you are mentally focused.

How do you frame the wrestling season? Do you hold the point of view that losing a single match spoils the entire season? Or, can you look at the bigger picture and use a loss as a motivator for improvement?

The legendary Dan Gable knew about reframing.

Gable only lost one match over the course of his high school and collegiate career. He lost his last college match – the finals of the NCAA tournament which he was, of course, expected to win. The loss of that match pained him greater than any physical pain. But, he didn’t just give up and quit wrestling. In the book A Season on the Mat: Dan Gable and the Pursuit of Perfection by Nolan Zavoral Gable is quoted as saying, “Bottom line is that match helped me. I needed to get beat. Because it not just helped me win the Olympics, but it helped me dominate the Olympics. But more than that, it helped me be a better coach. I would have a hundred times rather not have that happened, but I used it. I used it.”

In 1987 Coach Dan Gable and his Hawkeyes were attempting to win 10 consecutive NCAA wrestling team titles. The wrestlers wore a Roman numeral X on their singlets all season. And then at the NCAA tournament the Hawkeyes failed to win the title. Gable could have whined. He could have gotten angry. He could have given up and decided that the dominance of Hawkeye wrestling was over. What did Gable have to say about the loss? “I don’t have many losses in life, and I think I needed one,” he said. “This will motivate me.” He went on to say, “A little pain will make me work harder.”

Gable would later say that he had let his talented team make him complacent. The work ethic had changed. He was afraid to make adjustments. Then Iowa lost and had to settle for runner-up status. So, after that season he made changes that he knew had to be made. By 1991 the Iowa Hawkeye wrestlers were on top again.

Sometimes mistakes and even losses help us to learn and improve if we put them in the right perspective.

Tony Robbins states, “You can always learn from every human experience and can thereby always succeed in anything you do.”

Submodalities

We experience our world through our senses. The three major modalities that we experience our world through are the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (feeling). For instance, if we imagine taking a walk outside on a snowy winter evening we may see glistening snowflakes. We may hear howling wind. And, we may feel the sensation of being cold.

However, we can describe our experiences in greater detail using what NLP calls submodalities. For example, in the scenario above do you focus on only the snowflakes or do you notice the trees swaying in the wind as well? Does the wind howl constantly or does it pause at times? Do you also hear the sound of your feet as you walk along? Do you become so cold that you would describe it as a numbing coldness? Is the coldness all over or just in your hands and feet? Do your muscles tense up from the cold?

Submodalites are the fine distinctions that give meaning to our experiences. For example, if I imagine an upcoming match submodalities can make my imagery more powerful. I can choose to visualize the match as a big bright movie as opposed to a black and white picture. I can hear the roar of the crowd cheering me on. I can put this mental movie right in front of me instead of far away. I can feel my muscles strain as I visualize taking down my opponent. I can see my body in the movie or I can be part of the movie and feel myself experiencing the event.

When you see yourself in an image or mental movie it’s called being disassociated. It’s like watching yourself in a movie. However, if you’re seeing the images through your own eyes it’s referred to as being associated. When you are associated into a picture it usually leads to heightened emotions because it is as if you are actually there. You are experiencing it from within your own body. Being in a fully associated state can be powerfully motivating.

On the other hand, disassociating from the memory of a painful loss can be useful. If you lost a match and can’t get it out of your head then try disassociating. Observe yourself in a black and white picture of the match with the sound turned off. The pain of that loss may seem less if you can disassociate from it and instead become associated to the next match and the good feelings you will have when you get back onto the winning track.

So, you need to remember that submodalities are a powerful way through which you can control how you experience your world.

Perhaps you’re concerned about a certain opponent and he appears as a big and bright image in your mind. Try making the picture in your mind black and white and shrink that opponent down until he seems insignificant.

Perhaps you imagine being a state champion. Your imagery might be more powerful if your mental pictures are big and bright.

Submodalities like color, brightness, detail, size, pitch, tonality, volume, temperature, texture, movement, direction, and speed (distinctions you make to internal images) can change the way you experience your world and change your emotional state.

The Power of State

Two definitions of state are frame of mind and condition. A state can be resourceful or non-resourceful. For instance, someone who just finished a productive wrestling practice may be in confident state. Or, someone who has been working and training too much may be in a state of exhaustion. Therefore, in NLP state has to do with an individual’s physiological, mental, and emotional state at any moment in time. And, the state you’re in can determine whether you experience a success or a loss on the wrestling mat.

Have you ever watched an action movie and walked out of the theater feeling energized and ready to take on the world? Have you ever listened to a song and found yourself overcome with a feeling of boldness? Have you ever found yourself feeling incredibly focused and confident before a match? Do you know how you produced that state? Perhaps you were focused and confident because you’d been practicing and drilling diligently and were, therefore, very confident in your skill level. Maybe you’ve even had matches where you were “in the zone” and your technique was flawless.

Our states are created by our physiology, thoughts, beliefs, and the images we picture in our minds. Our states can also be altered by the things we hear, see, smell, taste, and feel.

Tony Robbins states, “Successful people are able to summon their best when they need it, when the pressure is the greatest. People who have achieved excellence are masters of tapping into the most resourceful parts of their brain, by deciding what they are going to focus on – what they are going to represent to themselves, and thus controlling the state they access on a regular basis.”

The key to wrestling achievement, therefore, is to be able to access and direct your states. Wouldn’t you like to be able to determine whether you’re relaxed, focused, or motivated? You need to be able to access a state that leads to successful results. How can you do that?

First, as I mentioned earlier there is a connection between physiology and state. Do you have superior technique and conditioning? Do you walk confidently? Do you run out to the middle of the mat enthusiastically or walk out there hesitantly like you’re scared? The way you carry yourself can affect your state. Pay attention to your posture and breathing. Notice whether your muscles feel tense or relaxed. If your heart is pounding hard before each match because you’re nervous then perhaps you need to learn some relaxation techniques. If you usually walk to the center of the mat timidly then maybe you should try running to the center of the mat boldly. Learn how to influence your physiology so you’re always in a resourceful state before a match.

Second, you’re state at any given time has to do with your internal representations – the thoughts and images in your mind. Is your mind filled with negative self talk? Do you imagine losing and how bad that would feel instead of imagining winning?

Perhaps you can remember a time when you wrestled a really great match. What did you feel in your body before the match started? Did you feel well rested and strong? Perhaps your heart was beating a bit faster but not pounding. Perhaps your breathing remained deep and calm. Maybe you ran to the center of the mat confidently.

What was going on in your mind before this great match? Did you picture yourself executing your moves flawlessly? Perhaps your inner voice was saying positive things such as “I know I’m prepared. I know I can beat this guy.” Or, maybe you used instructional self-talk to focus your mind on proper technique by saying things like “head up” “hand-fight for inside position” “deep penetration” “level change” and “constant motion.”

The bottom line is that you want to control your state. You’re always going to be in a mental state before you wrestle. So, make sure it’s a powerful and resourceful one.

Modeling

In the domain of NLP, modeling refers to the process of attempting to reproduce the results that someone else has achieved. For instance, you may want to wrestle as well as Olympian John Smith. Therefore, you would model John Smith. Modeling involves imitating the behaviors of a person in order to recreate the results they have achieved. However, modeling involves more than simply copying or mimicking another person.

For instance, it’s not that difficult to learn the technical skills of John Smith. Most wrestlers know that he used a lot of low single leg attacks. You can watch him wrestle in videos online. In addition, you can purchase technique videos where he’ll demonstrate how to do various stand ups and other moves. Copying someone’s techniques is fairly simple. However, in order to truly model someone we need more information. You may also want to model their beliefs and strategies. A person’s beliefs are one of the most important qualities to model.

In order to model a successful wrestler you want a detailed blueprint representing all of the elements that make the wrestler successful. His technical ability is only a part of that blueprint. You may be able to achieve success if this detailed blueprint can guide you to the essential elements that allow that wrestler to produce his great abilities. Tony Robbins likes to say that success leaves clues. Therefore, you need to figure out specifically how John Smith or other successful wrestlers create their incredible results.

Do they wrestle year round including folkstyle and freestyle wrestling? Do they drill a lot or prefer live wrestling? What kind of conditioning regimen do they follow? What beliefs and values do they have? Do they use visualization? What are they thinking and doing just before a match? Do they have a ritual or routine they follow before every match?

For example, you may decide to model NCAA wrestling champion Terry Steiner’s attitude. He states, “I learned that trying to break my practice partner in every practice was the key to my success. At the University of Iowa this is what we did! This is what we did almost everyday!”

Mark Schwab seems to echo the same sentiment. He states, “Never allow easy points in practice or competition. Slug it out and make your opponent earn, work, and exhaust himself to score points on you. Demanding your opponent work for points makes him expend energy and question his ability to score. This is what you want.”

In high school I don’t think I had that view point. I wrestled hard in practice but I never tried to break my wrestling partner and make him quit. I never thought of trying to break an opponent mentally and physically in competition although I always wrestled to win. Perhaps I should have focused on going after my opponent so relentlessly that he simply gave up. Dan Gable believed he could break opponents. In fact, he made an opponent quit once. Gable states, “It was a tough match. He was a good wrestler. We still had maybe a minute and a half to go in the match and I had just pulled ahead of him by a point. When we went off the mat, I ran back to the center, turned around and he walked out of the arena.”

I’m not saying you need to model a similar attitude. But, you might consider whether such a belief or attitude would serve you well or not.

Anchoring

Have you ever heard a song on the radio and suddenly found yourself transported back to a certain place and time and thus experiencing strong emotions? Maybe a particular song reminds you of a happy childhood or an ex-girlfriend you used to love.

In psychology this is called classical conditioning. Classical conditioning is learning by association. Classical conditioning involves involuntary behavior (an involuntary response to a stimulus).

In NLP, anchoring is similar to classical conditioning but it is a process you can control and use to your benefit. For example, what if tapping your left shoulder between wrestling periods became an anchor for feeling refreshed and strong? What if slapping your leg just before walking onto the mat became an anchor for a state of excitement and confidence?

How does anchoring work? You are trying to establish an association between an external stimulus and an internal state. For example, if you were to vividly recall a time when you felt refreshed and strong while simultaneously tapping your left shoulder at the peak of your emotions you may be able to establish an anchor if you repeat the process enough times. Then when the anchor is established you can simply tap your left shoulder without imagining anything and yet still feel refreshed and strong because of the association your mind has learned. A gesture, a touch, specific posture, a motion, sound, specific words, and voice tone can be used as an external stimulus. For instance, squeezing your right hand into a fist while recalling a time when you felt totally confident may create an association between the squeezed fist and the feeling of confidence. The more unique the stimulus is the better it will work.

Anchoring is interesting although I’ve never personally tried it. The process of establishing an anchor sounds a bit tedious and difficult to me although the concept of being able to quickly elicit a resourceful state sounds great. Being able to quickly trigger the state you desire (e.g. confidence) at any time you choose could be a very valuable and powerful skill to possess. If the concept of anchoring interests you then you may want to find some books or articles that discuss anchoring in greater detail.

A hypnotist named Bill Gladwell and a mental coach named Stephen Ladd have a course available entitled Renegade Mindset Techniques for Fighters which includes some information on NLP techniques such as anchoring. When discussing anchors they state, “This is a way to link up your optimal mental states with unique physical actions.” They also state, “Sounds weird, we know. But with a little practice, you will be able to anchor an action (like tapping your left shoulder, for example), to the state of ultimate confidence. Then you will be able to activate it at any time and feel confident.”

Performance coach and NLP expert Jimmy Petruzzi has also written about anchoring. He states, “The best performers in the world have the ability to get into the right state of mind in specific situations.” He adds, “An NLP strategy which can be used to get performers into the right state of mind is anchoring. Just imagine having access to your most resourceful state – confidence, motivation, relaxation, power – at the touch of a button.”

Conclusions

Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is a methodology that can help you produce optimal states of functioning so you are more likely to achieve your goals. If you examine your beliefs and your mental images you may find that you have greater control over your state of mind than you realize. Remember success leaves clues. You can model the behavior of successful people including highly skilled wrestlers. If someone is producing positive results there is a reason. Remember beliefs are powerful. There is no such thing as failure. There are only results. You can learn something from every experience. Keep taking action and making refinements until you achieve your desired outcome. If NLP interests you then numerous books and articles on the various techniques are available online, in bookstores, and at libraries.