Congratulations! You have trained hard all spring and summer, changed your diet and cut weight correctly, and survived the long trip from your home state to arrive in Fargo! Now that you are sitting in the only air-conditioned room in your dorm, forced to watch whatever stupid show is on television, what is next on your journey to the top of the podium? Shoot, all that’s left is passing the skin check, weighing in, and winning up to ten matches against the toughest Greco Wrestlers in the country- simple!
Now that you are in Fargo, there’s a ton of things going on around you. All of the mats at the Bison Center are jammed packed with wrestlers and coaches barking instructions. If you are “fortunate” to get a workout in the NDSU wrestling room, you’re in for a treat: The NDSU wrestling room is one of the hottest rooms in the nation. I think it gets up to over 100 degrees in there! No need to wear heavy sweats in that wrestling room. Seriously — don’t do it. And while we’re at it, don’t even think about bringing plastics into the Bison Center. For starters, plastics are illegal for USA Wrestling events and if you get caught wearing them in the building you can get kicked out of the tournament. It happened to one of my wrestlers a few years ago. If you have trained the right way, your weight shouldn’t be a problem anyway, right?
Mental Preparation for Fargo
Probably the hardest part of your Fargo preparation is the mental aspect of winning the tournament. How you mentally prepare will shape your performance. I’m a huge fan of sports psychology and closing in on earning my Master’s degree in the subject. So I like to get inside the heads of my wrestlers to see how they prepare for events, deal with setbacks, and set goals for the day/week/season. Not every athlete prepares mentally for events in the same way — some have specific things that they engage in (superstitions), while others fly by the seat of their pants.
For me, the mental aspect of wrestling was one my strong points, especially when it came to big Greco tournaments. I used a lot of positive self-talk, so you may want to begin your mental preparation with this idea. Positive self-talk begins when you are on your own, trying to relax. I focused in on looking back on my physical preparations for the tournament and telling myself that I am the best prepared, strongest, most physical wrestler in my weight class. Use positive statements that reflect what you have done to prepare for Fargo. I coached myself up on confidence, getting myself to really believe in my training for the tournament. I left reminders of this throughout my belongings in the form of little notes all over the place: On my bathroom mirror, in my wrestling locker, and in my wrestling bag to reinforce the positive thoughts. The more you use and practice positive self-talk, the more you begin to really believe in it. My teammates could tell when I was getting myself prepared for a tournament. Usually the gregarious, fun loving guy, I tend to turn inward and quiet down before events. I call this “focusing the energy.”
I also used a lot of mental imagery while preparing for battle. A good time to practice this concept is just before a nap or going to sleep at night. Visualize yourself wrestling on mat 1 in the Fargo Dome — the platform mat in the championship finals. Really imagine what you and your opponent are doing throughout the match. You can tell those who use mental imagery and visualize themselves competing pretty easily – their bodies begin to respond as if they were actually on the mat. Feel every aspect of the match, take in everything around you. Wrestle the perfect match in your mind and the body will follow. It takes time to master visualization, but it can be extremely powerful.
Confidence and Focus
Confidence is also a major part of being mentally prepared for Fargo. Be confident but not cocky about how well you are going to do in Fargo. This was the strongest part of my mental game. Whenever I was going through my final little warm up mat-side, I would find out who I was going to wrestle and focus on confidence. I told myself, I am the best Greco wrestler on the mat. I am the strongest wrestler in your weight class. This is MY match. This is MY tournament. Nobody is going to stand in my way today. I don’t care where this guy is from; he can’t hang with me. I never talked trash about any opponent or directly to anyone I wrestled. Basketball players talk trash, wrestlers respect each other. The closest to trash talking I got was the stare down. I was good at the stare down while warming up, especially when I was completely focused. This helped me to dial in the game plan for the match: control the center, get to a takedown, and get to the lift.
Some wrestlers and coaches focus match preparation on the other wrestler’s habits or technique. I focused my preparation as a wrestler and most of my coaching on what I was going to do, having faith and confidence in my ability to pummel and control position to get to my takedown, that it did not matter what the other guy was going to do, I planned to impose my will and overwhelm my opponent. Not enough wrestlers really try to impose their will on their foes. Maybe against an easy opponent, but rarely against a good wrestler. Really believe in imposing your will on every opponent; overwhelm them with whatever you do best. Do not wait to “feel things out”, get right down to business.
Warming Up and Getting Ready
You’re likely going to feel a little sluggish when you arrive at the Fargo Dome before the first Greco session. Be sure to get a good warm up, whether your state does a good job of pre-match warm ups, or go off on your own to do your own thing. You need to do two things during your warm up: Get your heart rate up break a good sweat. If you do not do both, your first match is going to be sluggish and rough.
I rarely ever got a good enough warm up before tournaments and this is one of the faults I have tried to fix as a coach. My first match was always a little dicey because I felt sluggish and sick from the gallon of water I guzzled after weigh-ins. First matches were always the worst for me. Don’t be like me and waste a good warm up. Get that heart rate up with high intensity drilling that includes hand fighting and pummeling. Fight the urge to slow down and take breaks because you don’t feel good. Once you are able to get through the wall of sluggishness, your body will respond. Try to wrestle one or two full live matches to keep the heart rate up and get the sweat rolling. A few quality matches before you begin the tournament will help get the body feeling good.
Once Sandy Stevens begins clearing the floor, find a spot behind the gate to camp out, whether your teammates join you or not. Matches in Fargo tend to move quickly, so you need to stay close to the floor so you can get to your mat well in advance of your match. Watch the bout board carefully or bring Track Wrestling up on your phone. You’ll have to continually refresh your team’s bout schedule, but that’s okay.
Through this waiting game, find what works for you to keep the mind focused and relaxed. For me, it was listening to Bob Marley and the Wailers or the Grateful Dead. These two bands helped me relax and focus as I waited to wrestle. Some wrestlers like to listen to aggressive music to get “hyped.” If that works for you, do it. Aggressive music only tired me out thirty seconds into the match.
You see your name on the bout board, it’s time to jog to your mat and get ready to wrestle. In these final fleeting moments, find what works for you to prepare the body and mind to be ready to go. Some people pace the length of the mat, some bounce, while others stand around. It’s time to get your game face on and pump up the confidence.
- You are the best wrestler on the mat.
- You have the best arm spin in the Dome.
- This kid can’t hang with you.
- You are going to WIN this tournament.
It’s time to get that “stop sign.” And be sure to hold it up correctly when you show it off to the crowd. It looks awkward holding an upside down or backwards stop sign on mat 1.
I certainly hope this series helps you in your final preparations for Fargo and will see you all out there in a few weeks. (I will be the short coach from Virginia with glasses.) Good luck!