From The Coach
By Bruce Gabrielson
Head Coach - SMWC
Spring, 1999
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The Champions Ladder To Success
Ladder diagram

I am often asked by parents what I think drives a champion, what can prevent someone from becoming a champion, and/or what makes a champion what he or she is? Since everyone is different, this is a very difficult question to answer. However, over the years I've had the unique opportunity to observe a number of great wrestlers from when they were little to when they completed their competitive careers and went on to coaching or their professional life. While most of the best wrestlers were successful as kids, some didn't really start to develop until they reached high school age. Based on what I've noted among those who failed or succeeded starting when they entered the 9th grade, here are some of my thoughts and observations. I call this my "Champions Ladder to Success".

Assuming the basic wrestling skills are known entering high school, substance abuse and distractions (including peer influences) seem to be the biggest hindrances to success. The wrestler must make a choice as to how far he or she wants to go. If wrestling isn't your primary sport, then don't do more than wrestle during the season, stay away from substance abuse, and have fun. By the time you are a senior you should have some level of success. I constantly talk to parents of high school seniors who come to me at the beginning of the season and say "We really want to win this year", or "We really want to get a wrestling scholarship so what can we do"? All I can say to them is "it's a little late but we'll do the best we can."

If you're in high school and wrestling is to be your sport, then hold to an off-season workout and competitive schedule, even if you need to work. I've seen so many good high school wrestlers get a car, work every night and weekends to pay for it, party every weekend, and not make the grade when it comes to college wrestling. Also, drugs and alcohol might be big in some party circles, but it's the fastest way to end a successful career that there is.

If you get lucky and make the grade to wrestle in college, you face another whole set of new circumstances. In college the distractions such as parties and substance abuse are even more prevalent, plus you have the added pressure of trying to keep your grades up while staying ahead of the competition. College wrestlers represent the best of the best. They are all good, and each is motivated at some level to succeed. If you don't have the motivation to push yourself, or if you can't walk the narrow path of least distractions, you will likely flunk out long before you fail as a wrestler. Even if you can handle the college academic pressure, you have to go that "one more yard" if you plan to get to the top. The best will push themselves and not let anything get in their way.

I've watched some of today's best and know their motivation and work ethic. It's nearly the same wherever you go and has always been that way. However, maybe a couple of examples from my own college years will help in explaining self-motivation and what it takes.

I knew a serious wrestler in college who lived in the dorms. He kept a weight set in his room and would lift whenever he got tired during his studying. He entered every off-season tournament he could find, had a regular off-season practice schedule, and drove himself to, not only become a wrestling champion, but also a 4.0 student and eventually a medical doctor. He was motivated to win and focused to succeed, regardless of his immediate or long term goal.

Another friend of mine was a two time NCAA Champion at my weight. He had a serious work ethic and was always practicing someplace. After he won a close championship match one-year I asked him what gave him that extra boost to win. His answer was something I will always remember. He said that the guy he had just beaten knew all the same moves and was just as strong. What won it for him was that his motivation and will to win was stronger than his opponents. I had a chance (and a personal pleasure) to speak with this same wrestler again many years later when he and I were officiating a freestyle match together during a national championship. Not only did he still feel the same but both he and I could see the same motivation in the winner of our match. A true champion is so strongly motivated that "they simply don't lose, they just get beat sometimes."

I remember my own off-season workouts during my college years. I would be in the wrestling room every day around 3:30 p.m. looking for someone to work out with. A couple of times each week I had a regular partner for the workout, but not every day. Although I was 130 lbs., sometimes I had to pull in football players who were taking wrestling as a class just to get a workout. I even had an old librarian who I taught how to wrestle just to have someone to work with. Weight training two to three times a week was also a must. Once I could get around, I was able to go to area club practices, and when summer came I had a local club around home to work out with. My practice off-season lasted right through summer until school started. What I'm saying is that self-motivation to do better is the primary driver for success. Without forcing yourself to do the extra work it will be difficult to reach the final goal of a champion. No one else can push you that hard, not your coaches and not your friends or team members, only yourself. This motivation must start during high school and must be strong enough to keep you focused right on through your college years. The path is narrow but the goal is there for the taking.