Wrestlers get nervous, wrestlers get anxious, and wrestlers need something to get over the over-think mind matches.
The best wrestlers know how to use their pre-match nerves to help them compete at their best. They can stay poised, and compete fearlessly, aggressively, and with great confidence. The problem is that many wrestlers get too nervous.
Before they wrestle, they look like a deer in the headlights, become lethargic and fail to compete with the confidence needed to bring out their best. And worst of all they don’t have any fun doing the sport that they love. Although they are physically prepared, their mental state drains them of the necessary confidence and swagger needed to bring out their potential on match day. You may even begin to wonder if it’s the same wrestler you watch in practice.
Why am I getting so nervous before a match?
After doing research I found In Sport Psychology, there is something called the Inverted U Theory, which illustrates the relationship between pressure and performance. (This is why I love the phrase “Pressure is a privilege.”
As you can see a little bit of nervousness is good for performance. Wrestlers tend to compete at their best when they are excited and motivated, yet relaxed and composed. When they get too nervous and put too much pressure on themselves, their performance begins to crumble. The bad news is that too much nervousness before a match will cause a wrestler to choke. The good news is that proper mental training will help you develop a better competitive mindset.
In fact, think about this Training Paradox: Many experts agree that most sports are 70% or more mental. On match day I would argue, sports are 99% mental. The problem is that most wrestlers spend 99% or more of their time training physically. When wrestlers begin to correct this training paradox, almost without fail they will see significantly better results when it comes to performance.
Here are 5 Tips to help overcome nervousness before matches:
- Focus on the process, not the outcome. There is a time for goal setting and focusing on what you want to achieve, but it is not right before a match or dual. The more you think about the outcome (winning, losing, championships, feedback/criticism from others) the more nervousness most wrestlers will experience. Focus instead on the things you can control, your effort, attitude, and aggressiveness. You cannot control the outcome otherwise everyone would be undefeated. You cannot control the crowd, the referee, how you feel at the moment or what your opponent does or doesn’t do. You can always control your effort and attitude and focus on the process of your match plan.
- Develop a consistent pre-match routine. Top wrestlers have a routine before each match: Stretching, Warm-up, drills, etc. Routines put your mind at ease. Most people thrive on routine. When you are thinking about your routine, you are not thinking about the outcome, your opponent, or other external factors. I would recommend 5 components in any pre-match routine: (1) dynamic stretching (2) deep breathing (3) element of fun; something physically you do that makes you feel good (i.e. listening to music, dancing, singing, joking with a coach or teammate, etc.) (4) wrestling specific drilling (5) positive self-talk. The timing and specifics of the routine are designed specifically to each wrestler to help them prepare mentally and physically for each match/competition.
- Keep things in perspective by understanding your values and principles. One of the simplest yet effective mental exercises is helping wrestlers understand the big picture. In such a competitive society it is easy to lose sight of the things that matter most (faith, family, health, academics, etc.). Understanding their values outside of sports will make the competition more enjoyable and reduce pressure. We recommend wrestlers rehearse their mindset principles before each practice, workout and competition. (1) I am thankful for the opportunity to play (2) I am aggressive and relentless (3) I have no fear of losing or making mistakes (4) I never ever give up. These principles can be tweaked to better suit your sport or wrestler. Reminding yourself that your principles (which you can embrace win or lose) are more important than the result, will help you control your nerves and reduce performance anxiety.
- Relax leading up to the “big” match and treat it like any other match. Every match is important, but none are special. When you build up a particular match or tournament it tends to make you more nervous. You do not need to raise your intensity at 7 am or a 7 pm match. Have a plan to relax leading up to the match; read a book, pray, do deep breathing, watch a funny movie, listen to music, and focus on the task at hand. Don’t talk about the match/tournament all day, who you are wrestling with, what they are ranked, the magnitude of the match, etc. Don’t pay attention to rankings, predictions, and social media. This will likely lead to more nerves and deplete your energy throughout the day.
- Train your mind on a daily basis. If sports really are at least 50% mental, then it stands to reason that you spend at least that much time training your mind. Here are a few things mental exercises you can begin immediately:
- Visualization– visualize not only wrestling the perfect match but visualize overcoming adversity that will likely occur throughout a long season.
- Affirmations– develop 2-3 motivating affirmations and say them each morning and night.
- Goal Setting– write down your short/long-term goals and more importantly your action plan to get there.
- Mental Toughness– do one thing each day (in sports, school, and your personal life) to push outside of your comfort zone.
- Motivation– make a playlist of songs, movies, quotes, and videos that motivate you and relax you before matches.
- Confidence– make a list of your strengths and past successes. Improve your body language on and off the field.
- Deep Breathing– take a few minutes each day to focus on your breathing.
I hope these suggestions will help wrestlers overcome the nervousness, which can lead to poor performances on the mat.