Help yourself & help your team all at the same time.
You know those moments you have as a coach where one of your hardest working kids finally has a breakthrough performance?
How awesome does that feel?!
It’s like all the hours, all the sacrifice and all the nonsense we sometimes have to deal with as coaches just falls away and you get this amazing feeling of pride and satisfaction… Man, nothing in coaching beats that!
I just had a senior on my team like that.
This kid was not a great natural athlete and not a great wrestler. He had a losing record all through high school. He hadn’t won a single match in our Sectional Championships at any point in his career going into his senior year.
Any one who’s ever had anything to do with wrestling can tell you this is not easy. Wrestling can be so physical and so personal most kids can’t take the continual losses that add up year after year and eventually leave the sport.
Not this kid though.
Here’s what he did have going for him. He’d show up every day. Every practice. Every match. Every day. And he’d just focus on improving. Little by little. Day after day. Painstaking bit by painstaking bit.
Every conversation with him was about how he was focusing on improving his technique, improving his conditioning, improving his strength. Even when he was going into matches - he was locked in on his own efforts. It like he was in his own world and everyone else was just an “extra.” I don’t think I ever heard him talk about winning or losing.
This kid was focused.
But it was always a focus on the process. Never the outcome. Every match he’d come up to me before he took the mat and say “Coach, I’m just gonna stay aggressive and get to my attacks.”
And it ultimately paid off for him.
He managed to qualify for our Sectional Tournament, despite never having won a match there in his career, and wrestled his way into the quarter finals.
And then he lost.
He lost to a kid that beat him pretty badly earlier in the season and he found himself in the consolation bracket, one loss away from the end of his wrestling career. He could still take 3rd if he kept on winning, but, hey, he’d already come further than he ever had before.
I watched him warm up for his next few matches and you’d never know “his back was against the wall.” You couldn’t see any pressure on his face. Same routine. Same focus. Same “I’m just gonna stay aggressive and get to my attacks.”
It kept on working. He rattled off three decisive wins to find himself in the 3rd place bout against the same kid who pinned him earlier in the season. The same kid who knocked him out of the quarterfinals was the opponent he’d be finishing his wrestling career against.
So here we were, biggest match of his career, and he warms-up looking like it was any other match. No pressure, no stress. This is such a great kid that I personally want nothing more than to see him win. Now I’m feeling stressed. Inside I’m sorta freaking out. Him? Calm as can be. And what happens?
He goes out, “stays aggressive and gets to his attacks.” And he wins. 11-4.
So proud of this kid. He had come SO far. And there he was. He sure didn’t look like anyone’s conventional vision of a mentally tough warrior, but you couldn’t question that he was.
Thinking back on his career, what really made the difference for him was his unwavering focus on “process over outcome.” What makes this even cooler is that we taught that kind of focus. It didn’t come naturally.
Finding ways to get our kids to focus on the process instead of the outcome has been such a huge part of our success in building mental toughness.
Here’s exactly how we did it in our program, step-by-step…