The Motivation Challenge
From Chapter 3: Motivating Wrestlers


Staying motivated when you have success is relatively easy. Your wrestlers can see that the training and techniques you are teaching them are paying off, which motivates them to work harder. When you see that they are motivated, that in turn motivates you. But everyone can't always win, nor will performances always meet expectations. These situations can challenge an athlete's, and a coach's, motivation. In those cases, you and your athletes better have well-established sources of motivation you can rely on until the breaks start going your way.

Personal Motivation
Great motivators are themselves very highly motivated. Once you reach that high level of motivation, you need to maintain it to stay on top. If you lose it, regaining it may be difficult. My motivation for coaching has several sources. First, I love the sport. Wrestling excellence is the ultimate in individual and team achievement in athletics. It takes a complete commitment to attain it. Second, I love helping athletes seeking wrestling excellence to achieve it. The teaching, the motivation, the workouts, and all that goes into helping develop champions are what I enjoy doing.

Third, I love the wrestling competition. A clean, hard-fought wrestling match is the most honest of athletic contests. There are no technological interventions, no teammates to blame, no panel of judges to bias the score. In wrestling, you compete or you quit. No alibis-I like that. The final source of my motivation, one that I think most top wrestlers and coaches share, is a desire for greatness. This necessary inner force is required to become a legend in our sport. My own drives, as a wrestler and a coach, allowed me to achieve what others have not.

Athlete Motivation
Now that I've put all the emphasis on the coach's motivation, let me say that no one can motivate a wrestler who does not like the sport, is not receptive to teaching, and has no desire to compete. It's impossible. Hopefully, all your wrestlers will at least begin their careers with great enthusiasm. The great wrestling programs have athletes who are supercommitted; these wrestlers don't stay down when things go poorly. Because of their positive mindset, they are capable of incredible athletic feats.

A whole team of supercommitted individuals is rare, however. Some wrestlers just never seem to reach the high level of motivation necessary to be champions. Some have social, academic, or athletic interests that take away from their wrestling motivation. Still others who were once motivated-perhaps even champions at one time-lose their motivation for the sport.

You and I face these motivational challenges every year. It's impossible for me to prescribe any motivational technique that is sure to work in every case. If I had one, I would have used it with Mark Reiland and other athletes I've coached. On the other hand, I do have some suggestions for you. Try some of the following techniques that have helped motivate myself and my wrestlers. You probably use some of them already.

Talking One-on-One
The easiest and most basic motivational approach is to meet with each of your wrestlers individually and to do so frequently. Don't just wait until something bad happens. If you can't always arrange face-to-face talks, call them on the phone. Listen to them. Make sure that they know you have a special care for them as people. Just letting your athletes share with you the many things affecting them can be a tremendous boost to their motivation. By listening to them, you also might be able to help them achieve the things that are important to them. They'll appreciate it.

Setting Goals
Motivation is closely related to establishing, monitoring, and adjusting goals. In your one-on-one and team meetings with your wrestlers, help them set goals that are measurable, challenging but realistic, performance-based, specific, and important to them and the program. Include subgoals that will serve as motivators toward the big goals. Don't just limit the goals to wrestling; also address academic objectives and identify desirable social behaviors for athletes. Then, as they meet or come close to the targets, look for ways to broaden or extend your wrestlers' goals. Through this process, athletes and teams not only improve their level of achievement, they also have a performance standard that is independent of the competition. That standard is crucial for achieving consistency and excellence.

Experiencing Fun and Success
As important as a positive relationship with and proper direction from a coach are to an athlete, personal talks and goals aren't enough for many wrestlers. They need to enjoy the sport and realize some degree of success on the mat. How you design and conduct practices (see chapter 6) has a lot to do with how much fun and success they experience and therefore how motivated they are. This is especially true for reserve wrestlers, but it also applies to the stars on the team.

Success, when defined as getting the most out of your potential within a given situation, can be achieved by every athlete. Success produces a positive feeling that athletes want to experience again and again. As a result of success experiences, your wrestlers will give greater effort in order to achieve even greater success. The saying that "success breeds success" is true, as is the saying that "success and fun breed motivation."

Publicizing for Motivation
Everyone likes to have their accomplishments recognized. I'm sure your wrestlers and your coaching staff (not to mention you and me) get a little more pumped up when they get positive public recognition. Make sure it gets to the public. One very effective promotion that motivates Iowa wrestlers is the annual poster schedule. The design is attractive and meaningful for each season.

The athletes know that if they become All-Americans before their senior year they will appear on the poster. This fact motivates them to excel as undergraduates and gives the seniors the recognition they deserve. Even the fans look forward to each year's poster; they appreciate the design and look for a clue to that season's mission. Some fans even frame the posters and save them as collector's items.

The 1985 poster was a take-off of the television show Dallas, which was extremely popular at the time. I'm emulating the show's lead character, J.R. Ewing, one of the most disliked TV personalities ever. Just as Dallas dominated the Nielsens, Iowa's wrestling team dominated NCAA wrestling. We were seven-time defending champion going into this season, and people outside of our program liked us about as much as they liked J.R. Everyone wanted to stop us from getting our eighth consecutive title. Very simply, it was the United States vs. Iowa. We wanted our wrestlers and fans to know that and to be prepared for the challenges we would face. The All-Americans shown on the poster are (from left to right) Lindley Kistler, Barry Davis, Jim Heffernan, Duane Goldman, Greg Randall, and Marty Kistler.

The Roman numeral for 10, X, was on the mind of everyone in 1987. X represented our quest for a tenth straight NCAA Championship, which at that time would set an all-time record for consecutive titles for any NCAA sport. That season was all about making history. X was everywhere-on our uniforms, on sweatshirts, on bumper stickers, you name it. I guess we were too swept up in the whole thing and too confident for we came up short of that tenth straight NCAA title. From left to right, the people are Rico Chiapparelli, Greg Randall, Jim Heffernan, Brad Penrith, Royce Alger, and me.

The team had ended its nine-year reign as NCAA champs, so I felt it needed to refocus its priorities. Although my previous approach had been very successful, the title loss gave me courage to change some things that had been bothering me about the program. The 1988 poster reflects the new emphasis of the program: academics, clean living, and all of the other values that are crucial to being a true champion.

In the poster, Professor Gable is introducing the "new school" of Iowa wrestling and tossing out the "old school," which is symbolized by bad press (newspapers), excessive and poor social behaviors (empty cans), and counting championships before they were won (uniform with X on it). This season was the turning point-a breath of fresh air and great motivation for our program. The All-Americans from left to right are Brad Penrith, John Heffernan, Mark Sindlinger, and Royce Alger.

On the 1997 poster I'm checking the list to see which former All-American or NCAA champion has a chance to win or repeat. The "To Be Determined" wrestler represents anyone else on the squad who wants to step up to this category. Ironically, the "To Be Determined" is Jessie Whitmer who ended up being an NCAA champion that year. At the time, Jessie wasn't a starter.

Iowa has been printing poster schedules since 1980. Even if you can't afford an expensive color annual poster, I highly recommend doing something like this. You'll find that it's a great motivational tool. Publicity efforts beyond an annual poster also help. Hold a media day before your first competition each year to give your wrestlers some publicity. Not only is this experience a good motivator, but it can also help your athletes become more skillful and articulate in responding to the media.

Your own statements transmitted through newspaper, radio, and television outlets can also serve as motivators. Mostly, take the positive approach without putting too much pressure on the team or any individual wrestler. If you have good kids and respect the things that should be kept between you and them, they'll get inspired by watching or reading your comments about them.


From Coaching Wrestling Successfully by Dan Gable. Copyright 1999. Excerpted by permission of Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL. Available in bookstores, by calling 1-800-747-4457, or ordering online at $21.95 plus shipping/handling.

Coaching Matches
From Chapter 12: Coaching Matches

There's nothing like the heat of battle to get your blood flowing. I get more excited about coaching matches than I used to get when I competed. Anyone who's seen me on the sidelines urging my wrestlers on knows that I get pretty emotional and intense during a match. How I coach matches just naturally flows out of my personality. It would be inappropriate for coaches with more laid-back personalities to emulate my style; each coach needs to develop his own style and approach to coaching matches. Within your own approach, however, you should address basic principles and points in order to help your team succeed. I'll share some of those key points with you in this chapter.

Try to warm up free from the crowd and other distractions. This is usually easier to do at home, where you can control the environment. My team warms up for meets in our practice area while our opponents warm up on the meet mat in front of our home crowd. This atmosphere allows me to communicate more easily with my athletes, who can focus on the task before them.

Of course, the team faces a more difficult situation on the road. It can be disconcerting to warm up in front of a crowd on the road, so you need to help your athletes concentrate on their mission. Even the rowdiest crowd will soon become silent once the match starts and your athletes are prepared, focused, and winning. Winning comes easier on the road when you know what to expect so you can make adjustments or prepare your team for the environment you'll be entering. For example, there's nothing worse than a band blaring in your ears when you're trying to concentrate, shout instructions, or encourage your athletes. You need a good set of lungs to out-shout a whole horn section.

The nature of the competition will often dictate how you handle the match surroundings. You could go as far as keeping your wrestlers away from the match atmosphere until their competition time. Some athletes may have trouble conserving their energy and remaining focused if they appear too early before a large and festive crowd. Others can handle this distraction, but by and large, it's best in big meets to let your athletes prepare in private, where they can stoke their competitive fires and focus on their upcoming match.

Usually referees meet each team before a dual meet begins. Athletes and coaches should pay close attention to the referee's demeanor and words. If you don't get a good feel for how calls will be made before the match begins, you should get a good read a few minutes into the competition. Your athletes may need to adjust their attack according to how calls are going. It's up to you to help them understand how to adjust.

That said, I still believe that wrestlers need to make their own breaks in a match and not be consumed with how a referee is making calls. When a wrestler enters a match in excellent condition and with a proper attitude, the referee's calls usually won't be a factor. I stress this attitude with my wrestlers. Referees respect coaches and athletes who are prepared and who compete with intensity. Although it pays to get a good read on the referee, it pays even more to be prepared and to wrestle aggressively.

You always want your wrestlers to wrestle aggressively-that should be part of the strategy all wrestlers employ. Certainly it's ideal for a wrestler to be in an attacking position at all times. In the majority of cases, this position works to the wrestler's advantage.

A wrestler needs to know more than just how to attack, however. A wrestler needs to read the situation at hand, taking into account his own strengths and weaknesses as well as his opponent's. At times it's to a wrestler's advantage to work on wearing down his opponent's effectiveness. This is especially true early in the match if an opponent has proven his dominance before. But even in the latter case, where an opponent has dominated your wrestler in previous matches, there's a fine line between risking being too aggressive and limiting your own attack by being too defensive.

This is not a simple call on the coach's part, and I don't have any quick-and-easy guidelines for you to follow regarding strategy. I will say that there's great risk in changing your tactics at random. Even if an opponent dominated one of your wrestlers before, don't just arbitrarily change your approach. Making such a change on a whim, without thinking through the consequences, leaves the door wide open for your opponent to dominate again. Instead, plan an attack in a different way, but make it one that your wrestler has practiced and is prepared to use. Otherwise, the results can be dismal.

Change is fine when the athlete is prepared for it and when his offense isn't taken away from him. Not having a solid offensive plan in place is like sending a baseball batter to the plate without a bat. How's he supposed to get a hit when he doesn't have anything to hit with? Although you should stay away from big changes, making a minor adjustment or a small tactic change is sometimes the right thing to do.

For big matches, it's best to have an assistant keep track of the time and score and inform you of any mistakes being made. One extra second of riding time, one extra second on the clock, and errors in scoring have made the difference in some important matches. Although referees' calls can be difficult to handle, it's much more difficult to lose a match because of a scorekeeper's or timekeeper's error. Having an assistant keep on top of these matters will free you up to pay full attention to your wrestlers.

On the sidelines, I focus on how my wrestlers are performing both physically and mentally. I look for them to be executing holds effectively and to be aggressively attacking, and I'm strongly urging them to put themselves in the best position to win. I tell my wrestlers to stay in their best positions and to execute their best holds. Although I'll often encourage experimenting with new holds in practice, I discourage it during matches. Why bank on something you haven't practiced or mastered? I also emphasize to my wrestlers to never concede position. Doing so allows opponents to get in offensive position. When two evenly matched wrestlers face each other, the one who concedes position first inevitably ends up losing.

Usually a wrestler's desire flags and he begins to concede position when one of four things happens:
o He becomes tired.

o He becomes lazy.

o He loses concentration.

o He doesn't have as aggressive an attitude as his opponent.

The latter three are more likely when number one (fatigue) happens. All four have to do with physical and mental toughness and conditioning. Desire plays such an important factor in winning and losing, not only in athletic contests, but in many facets of life.

Wrestling is an intense sport. We coaches drum it into our athletes to be aggressive, to attack, to be intense, to not concede position. In the next breath, we tell them to be perfect gentlemen, to conduct themselves with class and dignity, to respect their opponents and referees, and to be nice and polite in public. This may sound like a conflicting message, but it's not. Both goals can be accomplished. You can compete with fiery intensity and still carry yourself with class. Coaches can and should be role models of that behavior. That said, it's still not easy for athletes to rein in their emotions when their match is finished; some athletes will need more help than others in this area.

Although it's best not to have your team just run off after a match, it's also probably best to save any in-depth evaluation for later. You'll be in a better position to evaluate once you've reviewed the match tapes and slept on your ideas. It's too easy to overreact in the heat of the moment and give what you later realize is not the most helpful evaluation. In some cases, you'll feel the need to say something to your wrestlers, but weigh that decision against the benefit of saying it the next day, after you've thought it through.

Deciding when to evaluate a match can be a tough call. Taking into account what is happening with your team and what part of the season it is might help you choose when to address the team. Sometimes things cannot wait, or it will be too late. The philosophy of what goes on in the wrestling room stays in the wrestling room is an unwritten rule. Once something is said or done, however, it has the potential to later be misperceived by others. Hopefully, any misunderstandings can be easily straightened out due to your good rapport with your athletes.

Many times when an athlete hasn't performed well he knows why. If he's gotten off-track in trying to attain his goals, then he has to decide whether he wants to make the extra effort it will take to get there. That kind of effort is evidenced by athletes who work on their conditioning immediately following their matches. This conditioning work may involve hard sprints, more wrestling, or intense exercising. It doesn't have to take long, maybe 10 minutes. When athletes are dedicated enough to work out after a match, you know they're willing to pay the price to achieve their goals.


From Coaching Wrestling Successfully by Dan Gable. Copyright 1999. Excerpted by permission of Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL. Available in bookstores, by calling 1-800-747-4457, or ordering online at $21.95 plus shipping/handling.