July 15, 2010 by David Gillaspie
A beginner looks at a successful person with no idea how they got where they are.
After doing some of the work put before them, they begin to understand.
If they don’t do the work put before them, they figure success is based on good luck, and it might be. Just remember that the harder you work, the better your luck will be.
What is work for a wrestler?
Start with making a baseline of your ability. How strong are you? What is your level of conditioning? How effective is your technique.
Let’s say you’re stronger than most of the opponents you face, you don’t get tired easily, and you can snatch a single from anywhere.
But you still don’t win, or win as often as you think you deserve.
Most sports success is based on bigger, stronger, faster. Football? Basketball? Baseball? Steroids? Human Growth Hormones? The list is long and dirty.
But you’re are a wrestler. You lift. You run. You cut weight. You drill and drill and drill. You work with a partner. You work with a dummy. You work with a wall.
It’s different for you when you see someone tying their shoes. To everyone else it’s someone tying their shoes. To you it’s an easy cradle. Visualize it instead of slapping a cradle on the unsuspecting.
You don’t have a hoop, or a pass, or a glove to play with. You have what you were born with, so take an inventory.
Make sure they can push and pull, pop and post. Make sure you’ve got enough grip in your hands to make someone wish you’d stop grabbing and clamping onto them.
Be sure to have enough flexibility to change levels, move side to side, in and out. That’s the easy part, the dance. The surprise comes when you’re flexible enough to fake an opponent one way and go the other.
Make it twist and bend. A bad dancer is a stiff dancer; a stiff wrestler is easy to anticipate. If you have fluid torso movement, and your opponent is reading that instead of the whole attack, they are sunk.
You’ve done a version of a throw-by? Your guy collar ties with a nasty chop on your neck and you reach up with your same side hand to their elbow and look away while you push their elbow across their body. If the opponent has ever had their ankle picked, they do a little hop before squaring up.
Now you know what they expect. If you ankle pick a guy expecting an ankle pick, you’ve got some good technique going on, which leads to the last item in the tool inventory:
Dan Gable gave wrestling the greatest gift in the last match of his college career. He was already a legend as none before him. Fitting legendary status, he had to change his approach to his final match to accommodate those who needed more from him than he usually gave.
Then he got beat by the new kid in town; got beat on a move Larry Owings didn’t break out very often. In a later interview Dan Gable said he’d have rather lost on a move that didn’t feel like a fluke, a move he could have anticipated. He got beat by the better wrestler at that moment, but not the better wrestler.
Which guy went through the Olympics on one leg without giving up a point? You know which one. Which guy set the all-time standard for coaching excellence in D1 sports? Same guy.
Gable changed his routine and paid the price. By doing that he became the most believable person in sport when he talks about preparation.
Physically we all have the same gear. Mentally we are vastly different. And wrestlers have the greatest mental approach. They have to. Who else can they count on? Who else is there to lean on in the middle of the mat? Most important, who else does a wrestler have to blame for their results?
In the off-season, if you have one, take your own inventory. Are you getting better prepared? Are you adding weapons? Are you fluid and shifty?
Look at someone tying that shoe and imagine that cradle. Watch someone walk and time their step for a foot-sweep. When someone stands up from a chair, see if they push up, if they gather themselves before they stand, or if they spring up all at once.
The movements of everyday life translate to the mats. The short, compact, body does things differently than the long, lanky one. They walk different, they swing their arms different, their head moves different. Wrestling isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ sport. No hoop, no net, no goal post, no bat, no ball.
The movements you see in an ordinary person translate to one similarly built on the mat. The tiger has stripes, the leopard has spots, the stumpy guy is different than the long bone guy. To find more out, talk to a former runner who has piled on an extra seventy pounds. Their journey from lean to lard has changed them into a stump, but they still think long.
Start with the basic gear, you, and see what you can do with it. If you are successful, it’s no accident.
If you win championships, others will see your success. If you don’t win anything, you will know your success the rest of your life comes from wrestling.
Downstream is the work you do to put yourself in the best position to win.
Upstream is the rewards you get for the effort, win or lose.
Dan Gable is the greatest winner of all time, the only person who forced his way to the top of his sport, then turned around and forced the teams he coached to the top. The force is definitely with him.
His wins set him apart, but that one loss made him the best ever.