By Jake Hunter
Energy and enthusiasm exude from the Beat the Streets athletes that I have come to know over the last four years. Some I’ve worked with once or twice, others over the course of several seasons. Beat the Streets Philadelphia (BTSP) is a youth development nonprofit that strives to “Positively Alters Life’s Trajectory” for at-risk youth. The organization fosters holistic development, utilizing the sport of wrestling and academic mentoring as vehicles to teach student athletes lessons and values – such as Grit, Compassion, Service, Team – that apply to all areas of life.
BTSP was started by alumni and former wrestlers from the University of Pennsylvania. They recognized that wrestling was a crucial part of their formative college years and that wrestling can be used as a vehicle for positive youth development. These wrestlers took note of the lack of youth-centric programs in the city and started BTS Philadelphia in 2009.
My first exposure with BTS athletes started on the mat as a coach. The backgrounds of the athletes were as diverse as the city of Philadelphia itself. The two most striking characteristics of the athletes from BTS is their perseverance and grit. With the growth of wrestling in Philadelphia over the last decade, many of these athletes were the first in their family to compete in the sport. Rather than parents bringing them to practice, many of the wrestlers found their own way, with support from BTS. Before they left at the end of practice, one of the older members often handed out tokens for public transportation for younger members to head home. With evening practices ending around 8:00, it was easy to see the commitment the athletes made to the sport and the teams they were part of.
It didn’t take long for the wrestlers’ gratitude for those around them to become apparent. We always had a “breakdown” at the end of practice. We concluded by putting our right hands in together, while resting our left hands on a teammate. The right hand demonstrated our team mentality, and the left hand symbolized gratitude and the importance of others in our own improvement. This wasn’t the end of their thankfulness though. Following the “breakdown,” the wrestlers came up, every one of them, to shake my hand and thank me for coaching. This was something I hadn’t done as an athlete, nor seen as a coach. Was it an anomaly? I saw soon that it wasn’t. It happens every practice.
“Mindset helps us learn to do the right things during the worst moments.” -Dennis Belleh, BTSP student athlete
My work with BTS continued as I joined the faculty of The Philadelphia School. The school hosted a BTS community wrestling club that served a diverse range of students from across the city. In my years of coaching, whether athletes are fighting for state titles or just trying to find a club to be part of, I have always focused on how each participant can improve as an athlete and individual. In this way, the athletes at BTS were similar to any group of young people I had encountered. The difference though was the odds many were working to overcome. The discipline and focus required to grow as a wrestler are impactful for all – but can be life-changing for some. These mental skills are improved by participating in the sport, but when focused on in an organized and systematic way, they can teach each individual life and career skills that will serve them for their entire life. This is the mission that Winning Mindset focuses on, and it is work we do extremely well.
BTS’s ability to help athletes is the work of an entire community. Donations from businesses and individuals back up the time and energy put forth by coaches, mentors, and office staff to alter the life trajectories of the youth of Philadelphia. When my career took another direction and I stepped out of the classroom, I knew my work with BTS couldn’t end. In my new role, I advocated for an enlarged partnership between Winning Mindset and BTS.
“Our partnership with Winning Mindset has given our youth the mental tools needed to work through adversity; this helps our Beat the Streets student athletes on the mat, and helps them persevere in life.” - Ben Reiter, BTSP mentoring director
This year I stepped into a management role at Winning Mindset. We focus on the mental aspect of teams and athletes to help them perform consistently at their best, without being hampered by the stress, anxiety, and self-doubt that so many athletes,regardless of age, struggle with. In my new role, I took on the training and ongoing professional development of our coaching staff. Growth Mindset, as well as using sports as a vehicle to improve individuals, are core values of Winning Mindset. In the BTS office on Market Street, the leadership of Winning Mindset and BTS created a plan to support the athletes served by BTS.
Over the course of the last spring and summer, more than 20 Mindset coaches have worked with the athletes who frequent the BTS Mentoring Center. This past weekend was the next stage of our work to help grow Philadelphia’s wrestling ecosystem. On Saturday, September 15, we held our first Winning Mindset Training Session with the coaches of BTS programs across the Philadelphia area. Our aim was to share our knowledge and practices of improving the mental capacity of the wrestlers they coach. Our work with BTS will continue in the future with their coaches, mentors, and athletes.
“Mindset training helps the kids learn from their mistakes on and off the mat, and manage fear in tough situations.” - Edwin Morales, BTSP alum and mentor
The relationships we are fostering with BTS wrestlers and coaches allow us to help them improve their mental toughness, motivation, confidence, and ability to control aggression and compete in challenging situations. These are the skills that translate from wrestling, directly into life, and are the focus of our work with BTS. Building confidence for a match is similar to building confidence for an interview. This is a skill that Winning Mindset teaches countless teams and individuals across the country. Setting goals as an athlete, as a student, and in a career allows you to pinpoint what you want and what you are working for. The action plan to get there is what outlines the path to achieve it. At Winning Mindset, these are a few of the skills we seek to instill in athletes and teams across all sports.
The techniques and physical improvements gained in athletics help athletes excel in their chosen sport, but I personally haven’t found that my strength or single leg has been very helpful during job interviews, teaching classes, or managing a company. It is the mental toughness, confidence, and motivation – sharpened through years of athletics – that lasts a lifetime.
Have you ever heard the tale about the two wolves? If not, I’ll briefly explain… A Cherokee Native wanted to teach his grandson about life. He told the child, “There’s an eternal battle going on inside of me - a struggle,” he said, “between two wolves. One is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego. And the other - he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.” “The same struggle is going on inside of you, and every other person that exists,” the grandfather said. The grandson paused for a minute in contemplation before saying, “Which wolf wins?” The grandfather looked down at his grandson and replied…. We’ll continue this story later.
Attitude of gratitude mindset is principle number one of the Winning Mindset team. While the principle intuitively makes sense, since people naturally are inclined toward working harder if it is doing what they enjoy, the research behind the principle actually paints a compelling argument that stems beyond the obvious.
“In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The Harvard Medical School defines gratitude as “a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives … As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals – whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.”
Arguably the most renowned research organizations in the world recognize the power of gratitude as they bring up the principle of an individual being a part of something greater than themselves. Researchers across perspectives agree that gratitude is pivotal to athlete success. Chen & Wu (2014 & 2016) were adamant that gratitude clearly contributes to athletes’ optimal functioning. This is most likely due to the the following facts collected in the text Positive Psychology in Sport and Physical Activity (Brady, Grenville-Cleave, 2018): Gratitude BROADENS AND BUILDS. McCullough et al. (2002) found athletes with who display high levels of gratitude tend to have flexible worldviews and recognize the circumstances, relationships, and resources they possess as gifts. Lambert, Graham, Fincham & Stillman (2009) expanded on this by finding athletes who display a high level of gratitude actually spin negative circumstances as blessings. This tendency is a plausible explanation as to why GRATEFUL ATHLETES FALL FORWARD.
Grateful individuals not only broaden their horizons but attract interpersonal relationships that help them accomplish their goals (Algoe, Gable, & Maisel, 2010; Fredrickson, 2000). For example an athlete thanks a teammate for pushing limits in practice, the teammate feels appreciated and valued, come next practice the athlete pushes limits again, recognized again the teammate encourages, and expresses gratitude to another teammate for similar principles.
This cycle continues eventually raising the bar of the entire team. Possibly most impactful is the fact that GRATITUDE IS CONTAGIOUS; in research language, it motivates prosocial actions to create upstream reciprocity, which is passing on benefit to a person uninvolved in an initial exchange (Nowak & Roch, 2007; Chang et al., 2012). Continuing with the same example, the initial contact of gratitude helped the two individuals involved, however the resultant rise in effort in practice benefited all. Another example may be a collegiate coach taking time to check in on individual athletes expressing how thankful he/she is for the athlete’s dedication. The athlete grows and matures into a top performer, and upon graduation decides to stay in the area and contribute back to a program he/she was so grateful to be a part of (Brady, Grenville-Cleave, 2018).
Gratitude is not a new principle - philosophers and religious thinkers have been exploring the idea for a millenia. Buddha was quoted as saying, “Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.” Christianity is almost entirely based on gratitude! Today the principle is reiterated by many highly successful people including Steph Curry, Will Smith, Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs, etc.. Famed talk show host Oprah Winfrey who was quoted as saying, “The more thankful I became, the more my bounty increased, for sure- what you focus on expands. When you focus on the good things in life, you create more of it.”
Can two words change your life? “Thank you” - Researchers and boundless anecdotal evidence seem to point in that direction.
ANYWAYS BACK TO THE STORY OF THE TWO WOLVES…
The grandfather looked down at the grandson and said:
“The one you feed”
Gratitude is learned principle. We learn to be thankful for experiences either by being starved of experience or by consciously choosing over and over to be acknowledge what is good in our lives. We have an internal battle going on inside of us between two wolves. One is ungrateful and fills his mind with negative thoughts, doubts, and ego. The other is grateful and fills his mind with positive thoughts, love, and faith. The one that wins, the one who ultimately controls our reality is the wolf we feed.
Brady, A. (Ed.), Grenville-Cleave, B. (Ed.). (2018). Positive Psychology in Sport and
Physical Activity. London: Routledge.
Chen, L., Wu, C., & Chang, J. (2017). Gratitude and athletes’ life satisfaction: The
moderating role of mindfulness. Journal of Happiness Studies : An Interdisciplinary Forum on Subjective Well-Being,18(4), 1147-1159.
As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend – Proverbs 27:17
Wrestling is a dichotomy. On one hand, it is an individual sport. This individuality is what draws many people to wrestling. Unlike sports such as basketball, football, or baseball, the errors of a teammate cannot cause you to lose a match, nor can the outstanding performances of a teammate cause you to win a match. In that sense, wrestling is individual, and to a degree, you can improve or hinder your likelihood of success with the effort that you put into training and preparation for matches or tournaments. However, when you look at programs that have consistent success, it is undeniable that wrestling has a team aspect of the sport that is vital to being able to perform and compete at the highest level.
First, while it is true that no one else is on the mat to help you, your success on the mat comes from the hours of preparation that you put in prior to the actual match. An important principle in mindset training is the concept of accountability. When you have teammates and solid drill partners that share a common goal, you will be able to go further and experience more success than you ever would on your own. It is so easy to compromise on any goals that have when you do not have someone holding you accountable for your actions. There are countless things that can come up in life that can distract you from being able to reach your goal. When you have teammates that share a common objective, those teammates will be able to push you even when you do not want to be pushed. Moreover, you will be able to push your teammates even when they don’t want to be pushed. As legendary entrepreneur Henry Ford stated, “if everyone is moving together, then success takes care of itself.”
Furthermore, there is undoubtedly a force of momentum that goes along with watching your teammates win. As a team, you are all working and striving towards the same objective. When you see your teammates win, you know the hard work and dedication that came together to make that win possible, and this sparks a sort of energy and momentum. It is evident especially in dual team matches. When a team starts to win a couple matches back to back, you can look at the bench and see an energy starting to accumulate as the entire team gets invested into the match. As one person wins it is as if the entire team wins. While it is true that there is definitely a large individual component to wrestling, there is an undeniable team aspect of the sport that is vital for success!
Wrestling is a sport that can quickly reveal any shortcomings that you may have.
If you are out of shape, your opponents will be able to easily set a pace that you cannot match. If you are sloppy, then your opponents will be able to work their counter offense with ease.
Unfortunately, if your abilities as a wrestler are not constantly improved upon, then those abilities will quickly decline. Just because you are in shape today does not mean that you will inherently be in shape a month from today. Think about the last time that you went into the room after having a long time off. You probably felt slow, stiff, and maybe even some of the wrestlers that you were able to beat easily were able to close the gap. What’s worse, it happens so quickly. You have to train consistently if you want to have lasting success. That is why you see Olympic champions continuing to train despite being the best in the world. They continue to work and improve because without continued training, they would not have continued success. There is always going to be someone who is working and training even if you are not.
However, what many people overlook is the fact that mental training has to be just as consistent as your physical training. When it comes to physical training, the evidence that you have been neglecting your conditioning, weight training, wrestling, etc. is much more readily apparent. Maybe your shots aren’t as consistent, you are not able to put up as much weight as you could during the season, or you’re even starting to not look as in shape as you once did. But, just because something is not as readily apparent does not mean that it is not there. Your mindset training has to be given the same level of importance as your physical training, because like your physical attributes, your mindset as a wrestler can lose its ability. While you once were confident, aggressive, and focused, you may now be slightly more timid and distracted. This change in your mindset could ultimately prevent you from accomplishing your goal. You would not take weeks, months, or even years off from training your physical abilities. Do not take, weeks, months or years off from training your wrestling mindset. Consistency is essential for your success as a wrestler.
A lot of my intensity in wrestling was due to mental preparation before the matches. I got myself into a different world. – Dan Gable
It is ironic that a tournament or match that is completely focused on wrestling could have so many distractions that have little or nothing to do with you actually wrestling. Think about it. You are there to wrestle, but there are so many outside factors competing for your attention that could distract you from preparing from your match. Maybe your parents are there, you have a test the next day, or you had a tough weight cut and just want to rehydrate. That is why it is crucial that you are able to get in a good warm-up prior to your matches. There are multiple benefits that come from establishing a good warm up routine:
Being physically ready to go: This is probably the most obvious benefit given through a good warm-up routine, but it is also one of the most important. Especially after travelling or having a hard weight cut, you can feel sluggish, slow, or stiff. It is important that you don’t feel that way going into your first match. Having a good warm up and pre-match routine can help to ensure that you are as physically ready as possible for your match.
Confidence: This falls in line with being physically ready to go for a match. If you go into that match feeling sluggish, stiff, or even overly bloated from rehydrating, it can cause you to feel unprepared to wrestle. Having a good warm-up and pre-match routine can help you to feel confident that you are ready to wrestle, and therefore more confident in your abilities.
Clarity: As we have discussed before, there are so many things that you could be focused on before a match that have nothing to do with wrestling. Warm-ups and pre-match routines give you the time you need to focus your attention on the match rather than any of the external factors competing for your attention.
Consistency: Each tournament is unique in its own way. Having a set pre-match routine and warm up allows you to have some sort of consistency in your tournaments and matches. This consistency can help ease some of the nerves that go along with competing.
MISS A MINDSET MONDAY CALL?