One of the first mindset red flags noticeable to parents and coaches is when a wrestler is freezing in matches or “big” matches. It is easily recognizable because the wrestler clearly has the talent or skills but does not use them on match day. The wrestler may wrestle at a higher level in practice than in matches. Hence the name “practice room wrestler”.


Why does my wrestler freeze in matches?


As with most things, there are many potential reasons but here are 4 common reasons and solutions:


  1. It’s all about FOCUS! If your athlete can do it in practice, they are capable of doing it in matches. They are likely shifting their focus completely. The athlete’s thoughts and self-talk is probably vastly different. Before a match, they have thoughts and use language like “This is what counts” “It’s do or die” “This is a big match”. Before a practice they are probably telling themselves “Just wrestle” “Score points” “Be aggressive”.Solution: They must start by identifying their thoughts/self-talk. Then they must aim for more consistent thoughts, actions and self-talk.
  2. Nerves are getting the best of them. Some people just get more nervous than other people. They work hard, they try to focus, but nerves seem to encroach on their performance.Solution: Develop consistent warm up and pre-match routines. Routines help put our minds at ease. Incorporate things like dynamic stretching, deep breathing and self-talk. When you are focused on your routines you are less focused on how nervous you may be.
  3. Drill, drill, drill. Think about practice. Usually there is some hard drilling immediately before you wrestle live (maybe a quick water break in between). Now think about a match. Often times, wrestlers complete their warm up hours before their first match. Then they simply bounce or pace around before matches. This is vastly different from practices.Solution: Drill before matches, when you are on deck or double deck. Get your motor running before the match starts so you can come out firing on all cylinders.
  4. Train with a Mindset Coach. The first three tips will help, but as stated previously, all wrestlers are different. Years ago, I spoke with my former college wrestling coach, now the coach of one of the top wrestling clubs in America. He said “A lot of these kids just need someone to talk to”. He hit the nail on the head. Last week Thomas Gilman talked about how everyone is struggling with some mental battle from sort of trauma (no matter how big or small). We all could benefit enormously from talking to someone (outside of our immediate circle) to develop and enhance our mental skills.


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