Champions Believe: Lessons From NCAA Wrestling Champions

Sometimes, champions seem mystical in their presence. They seem to speak differently, think differently, and carry themselves differently. How is this possible? How did they reach this point in which they almost don’t seem human anymore? More importantly, how do we as athletes reach this level?
In reality, there isn’t some secret or magic trick that separates a champion from a regular athlete. There are certainly tangible things that you can do to reach higher levels in sport, and we’ll cover three of them in this post.

Champions Believe

Regardless of sport, many post-championship winning interviews have the same thing in common: some version of “I believe” or “I knew we could do it.”
  • 125lb NCAA champion Spencer Lee said that his great support system allowed him to believe in himself.
  • 141lb NCAA champion Yianni Diakomihalis, when asked about the clutch move that put him back in the lead in the third period, responded, “I’ve put myself in that position every day since I was ten years old. I’ve always played the game ‘you’re down by one, you gotta get one‘.”
  • 165lb NCAA champion Vincenzo Joseph scored the first takedown of the match with a wrestling move which some would consider risky. When asked about it, he responded, “I’m confident there…that’s who I am and I’m gonna keep being who I am.”
  • 184lb NCAA champion Bo Nickal very briefly put himself on his back in order to pin his opponent and lock up the team championship for Penn State University. When asked about that move by the matside reporter, he responded, “I’ve been doing that move since I was six!”
This belief may stem from within, however, more often, this belief stems from an athlete’s support system: their teammates, their coach, their friends, and their family.
At the 2018 NCAA Division 1 Wrestling Championships, almost every NCAA champion mentioned how grateful they were for their support system. The higher you climb, the more likely it is that doubt will seep into the corners of your mind (and your support system’s). This is normal. If you understand that this is inevitable, you can prepare yourself by strengthening your beliefs to keep on climbing that ladder.
This begs the question, “How do you get to that level of belief?” That brings us to the next mental quality: confidence.

Champions Have Confidence

Confidence is how your belief manifests itself into your thoughts, how you speak, and how you carry yourself. Any high level competitor carries with him or herself an adequate amount of confidence. Olympian and MMA superstar Ben Askren certainly wasn’t shy or timid in his ways. Multiple-time world and Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs doesn’t show any noticeable sign of doubt when he shoots his world-renowned double leg takedown. Even quiet champions like legend-in-the-making Kyle Snyder exude some presence of confidence and strength. Their movements are executed with no sign of fear.
They may all act a little differently out on their field of competition but one thing is clear: they know they can win and it shows in the way they carry themselves.
You can increase confidence in manageable steps. Confidence increases as the mind recalls past positive experiences, so you can think back to your own personal success stories. This could be a time when you did a great job or a scoring combination in practice. This could even be a time when you were able to execute something in another competition.
For the greats, they can think back to the thousands of times they’ve done something in practice. With enough experience, they can think of all the times that they had to take the game winning shot with seconds left on the clock…and score successfully. Multiple-time world champion wrestler Jordan Burroughs has shot his double leg takedown in practice and competition enough times to know that with seconds left on the clock, he is more than capable of coming up clutch.

Champions Have an Unbelievable Work Ethic

Back up your belief and confidence with serious work ethic. Give yourself another reason to believe in yourself.
Wrestling legend Dan Gable left no doubt that nobody outworked him on his way to winning the Olympics in 1972 without surrendering a single point. In recalling the summer between his freshman and sophomore year, Jordan Burroughs said, “I’m gonna stay here all summer, and I ain’t leaving this place ’til I feel like I’ve improved.” In short, he decided against going home that summer so he could be in the optimal training environment at the University of Nebraska. This paid off as this put him in NCAA title contention for the remainder of his collegiate career while ultimately winning two NCAA championship titles.
Belief, confidence, and work ethic are not “nice-to-haves” on the way to succeeding at a high level; they’re prerequisites to succeeding at that high level. How much do you believe in yourself? What steps can you take to strengthen this belief in yourself?

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