5 Lessons Every Athlete Needs To Learn
I’m going to keep it real with you guys. You are not going to find any muscle building, nutrition, exercise or fat loss content in this blog. All that you will find is how to train the two most important parts of any athlete: the heart and mind.
It’s no secret. I love the sport of wrestling. Ask anybody who has ever wrestled “what is the toughest sport you have ever done?” I can almost guarantee you that they will say wrestling. Not everybody can do it, but everybody can learn from it. Before we go further, let me tell you just a little bit about my background.
I began wrestling at age 4, was a pretty dominant high school wrestler and went on to wrestle in college for 5 years in the Big Ten Conference at Michigan State University. I went from being a walk on to being named Team Captain during my senior season. Was I a national champion? Nope, All American? Nope. I never even won a state title, but I beat all Americans, 3X and even 4X state champions. I won a lot of matches that I had no business winning. It was done not with talent, but with mental toughness and heart. That mental focus still burns inside me and I apply it to everything thing I do every single day.
Like I said earlier, the two most important parts of any athlete: the heart and mind.
Take what I learned and apply it to your life right here and right now. I’m sure you will find that you have some changes you need to make.
Here we go:
- “You are only as good as your practice partner can make you”
Most of the time in wrestling practice each guy is given a choice of who they want for a partner that day. Sounds like a simple task right? Well it’s not. You have the choice of the guy who will give you a fight for your life or the kid that you beat with one arm. Choose the latter and you will not succeed in wrestling. Trust me, you can be good to a certain point, but not at the higher levels. I first heard this from my oldest brother RJ. I remember him telling me that in 2nd grade on the way home from a youth practice. He saw me beating up on a weaker kid while I could have gone with a state champ who was way better than me. He was so pissed at me and it broke my heart. I never let it happen again.
In fitness, sports and life you have the same choice every fricken day. Think about it – you have colleagues, workout partners, teammates etc. Do you surround yourself with people who are smarter and work harder than you? Or do you put yourself around weaker people to make you look better? Choose the second option and you will soon find yourself in a bad spot. We are creatures of habit and naturally we imitate the people we surround ourselves with. Find a mentor, somebody who will push you and support you and constantly find ways to be around them. Choose to workout with somebody who is stronger and tougher than you. Work next to the guy in your office that is killing it. Soon you will find yourself smarter and tougher than you were before.
- “There are no shortcuts, if you fake it everybody will find out”
We have all been there. That moment during practice where you’re starting to get tired and you find yourself looking for an easier way out. You know that if you do it there is no way anybody will know besides you. It’s so tempting and after more and more fatigue you do it. You skip a rep, jog through the sprint. You make it look like you’re tired, but really you could go harder. That is what we call coasting. Coasting is when you know you can work harder, but you just settle for doing just enough to get by. Towards the end of my freshman season I was guilty of this a few times. Guess what happened? I got my butt handed to me!
I knew I was doing something wrong so I went to my coach. We were watching the NCAA Championships from the stands and I told him I wanted to be out there wrestling. He called me out and told me I have been coasting. It was right in front of my dad too. Man was I pissed at myself. He was right and I never ever forgot that moment. I made the change right then and there.
No shortcuts or any easy way about it. Either I worked my hardest or I did not.
This goes not only for sports, but for your life. If you take it easy during your workout at the gym, you will not see the results you want to see period, done, boom. If you show up and just do enough to get by at work, you should not have your job and you’re probably going to get fired soon. It’s what you do when nobody else is watching that counts, yeah that’s true but it is more about what is going on inside you that truly matters. You know in your head if you are pushing your body past the point of comfort. Nobody else can know besides you, you can grunt and yell and act like you’re tired, but deep down you and only you know if you’re able to push out a few more reps. There are no shortcuts, work your butt off every fricken day because if you don’t everybody will soon find out.
- “Get comfortable being uncomfortable”
Take your arm and put it behind your back. I don’t care how you do it. Now have somebody take that arm and crank on it till it feels like it is about to rip off. Sucks right? Try doing that after losing 10 lbs in a week with every muscle in your body sore and you can barely breathe because you’re inside an 85 degree room. That my friends, is just a glimpse of what wrestlers have to go through on a daily basis. It is extremely uncomfortable. As a young athlete I had no choice but to learn how to deal with it and even love it! I found that the wrestlers who could look at that situation and embrace it were the ones I saw on top of the podiums at the end of tournaments.
As an athlete, you have to get out of your comfort zone every time you train. Some people will argue that not every workout needs to be challenging and sometimes you have to take it easy. Ignore those people, they don’t want to take it to the next level. It’s called your body’s threshold. Every time you train we have to push past that threshold to reach progression. It could be adding 5 lbs to your bench because you know you did that weight last week or going an extra 10 seconds with a circuit lift. Forget about the time left in your circuit and focus on getting as tired as possible. Learn to crave being exhausted. It could even be showing up to workout with your legs throbbing because you’re so sore. That is uncomfortable! Don’t run from it, embrace it!
- “You have to train every part of your body”
Wrestling requires you to be in the best shape of your life from head to toe. You can never realize how many muscles you use in wrestling until you truly attempt the sport. One second your using all legs, the next you is using just your neck. It’s crazy. I was lucky enough to have some great strength coaches in college. We trained every muscle from head to toe in a balanced fashion that allowed our bodies to adapt and become strong for our sport.
Looking good is one thing, but being functional is a great thing. Don’t be that guy who never trains legs or only does bench for upper body. You don’t’ want to be that super ripped kid who always rode the bench because he was injured. Nobody remembers those guys. Find a coach who knows what he is talking about and have him write you up a balanced program. Strength Coach Dan John said it the best. “You MUST do the Fundamental Human Movements…Ideally daily! Make sure you have a push, pull, hinge, squat, loaded carry and some type of groundwork every day. If you need to hire a professional, then do it. You will see way better results way faster.
- “Play the game, not the name”
I’ll never forget it. I was wrestling a nationally ranked opponent from where else, the Iowa Hawkeyes. Probably the all time greatest team in college wrestling. Just before the match, my teammate and roommate on the road whispers to me “wrestle the match, not his name.” I know, a little different from my quote above, but stay with me. I have heard that so many times in my career but for some reason I heard him say that loud and clear. I wrestled the match with clear confidence because I knew that I trained harder than he did.
It has stuck with me ever since. What he was saying was this: You can never really control every aspect of the game. You are going to face great opponents sooner or later. What you can’t do is make a match or game bigger than it is; at the end of the day you are still going to be the same person. All you can control is going all out and giving everything you have to win that match.
In fitness, but moreso in life you are going to face tough and worthy opponents. I don’t care if it’s a job interview; a cross fit competition, football game or a 5k race. There will be somebody gunning for the same thing that you want. Don’t ever let yourself lose what you want because somebody else won this or did that in the past. Forget their accomplishments and focus on yours! Work your butt off every day like it’s your last and do not stop until you get what you want. If you truly want it with every cell in your body, then you will have it. You want that body you had back in high school? It can be yours. You want that dream job you went to college for? It’s yours for the taking. Play the game, not the name.
Before I go leave let me just add one more story that I think captures the mindset you need to have if you want anything in life.
I was in 10th grade. We were at the end of our practice doing sprints around the wrestling room. I couldn’t feel my legs and I had just lost 5 pounds in 2 hours! Sweat was stinging my eyes and my socks were soaked with sweat. We were all competing to win every sprint, but there was one guy in the room who just kept on beating us. At that time he was ranked # 1 in the nation. He was not that athletic, just had an unreal gas tank and the will to win. So the coach wants to challenge him. He puts one guy about 30 yards in front of us to give him a head start. He wanted to push the guy who was winning all the sprints a little bit more. In my head I already lost. There was no way I was going to catch him. That is what most of the guys standing on the line thought, all of us besides one. The whistle blows and we take off, he gets right on the tail of the guy who had the head start. Boom! The #1 ranked kid tackles that guy and throws him down to the ground just so he can win the sprint. I thought wow, no way, what a fricken jerk. Our coach congratulated him! I couldn’t believe it. After I left, I realized that he was just competing… He wanted it!
I’m not telling you to go tackle kids. What I am trying to say to you is that if you want it, really want it more than anybody else than you will have it.
You are either sitting still or chasing it.