10 Life Lessons I Learned On A Wrestling Mat


Growing up involved in the sport of wrestling is a very interesting experience. You are exposed to a manner of thinking that few others will understand, even fewer will agree with, and none outside the fraternity of wrestlers will recognize the power of. This method of thinking is near and dear to me, as it shaped my entire life to this point. The reason why the “wrestler mentality” is so incredibly powerful is because it makes zero concessions in terms of acceptance of mediocrity or failure. The only option is success, and the only way to get there is to be unyielding in your pursuit of your goals. These are the 10 major life lessons that I learned through wrestling that have impacted me as a husband, father, teacher, student, and overall human being. While some of these lessons are straight forward, there are some that are Miyagi-esque in terms of the metaphorical application to everyday life experiences.


Lesson 1: Champions Always Find A Way


Every single challenge I faced in wrestling was a metaphor for challenges I have since faced in various other aspects of my life. Sometimes, I was stymied by a lack of talent or ability in a particular area of the sport. Life has thrown me the same curveball time and time again. In order to succeed in wrestling and in life, I have learned to be more adaptable both on the mat and off of it. If I am faced with a challenge in which I lack the talent to overcome, I have learned to be more creative in order to accomplish my goals. Ultimately, life, much like wrestling, is a function over form type of endeavor. In order to achieve, we must be willing to adapt and overcome. We must develop our ability to find a way to win and succeed in spite of our own limitations. This is the very attribute that wrestlers display in the biggest matches on a regular basis. In spite of the circumstances, and against all odds, champions always find a way. They find a way to win in wrestling, and they find a way to succeed in all aspects of their life.


Lesson 2: Wrestling (Life) Is 90% Mental


I was a very dedicated wrestler. I did the extra running. I did the lifting. I can honestly say that when I look back on my two decades of active participation in the sport, there was not a single day that I dogged it or put forth anything less than my absolute best effort. In spite of this, I still fell short numerous times. Life can be like that too. In contemporary times, challenges arise in many forms. Sometimes, doing the work simply doesn’t get the job done. I often found myself wondering why. As a wrestler, my opponent was the same weight as me, and as far as techniques, it was likely that we all trained the same basics. Assuming that my opponent and I had both worked as hard as possible, it was always difficult for me to grasp the fact that on the day we met on the mat, one of us would win, and one of us would lose. With all physical things being relatively equal, I realized that the difference must be mental. It was at this point that it dawned on me… It is not the hardest body that prevails when tested. It is the hardest mind. This is mirrored in life, as it is in wrestling. Physical toughness in a civilized society has gone the way of the Dodo Bird. You no longer have to be the biggest or the strongest, but it certainly pays dividends to be the smartest and the mentally toughest person around! Unfortunately, even though wrestling was 90% mental and only 10% physical, most athletes spend 100% of their time preparing for 10% of the competition. By harnessing your ability to manage stress, as well as using your intellect to become a student of the game, I found that it was easy to become a better wrestler. The same applies in real life. Wrestling and life are 90% mental…. Don’t spend 100% of your time preparing for 10% of the experience.


Lesson 3: Don’t Stop Moving


Simply put, stagnation equals failure. In a wrestling match, when one competitor stops moving, it is easier for the opponent to launch a well executed attack. In life, the hope is that no one will attack you; however, the challenges faced can become your opponent. When facing challenges, it is important to remain active and pursue avenues of positive action in order to overcome the challenges you are faced with. When we cease movement, it is more likely that we will back-slide and fail. The simple reason is that motion builds momentum. The more you move, the more momentum and force you build. The more momentum and force you build, the more easily you can topple our opponents or challenges. Life is like that too. As long as you are moving, you are a more difficult target for attack, and you will eventually get where you are going.


Lesson 4: Fatigue Makes Cowards Of Us All


Background of This Picture:
This picture was taken of Anthony Hinson after he wrestled a 2-time NJ state champ at the Virginia Beach National Duals He lost a close match. Unfortunately the picture paints him in a bad light.

It was my own shortcoming as the author of this post to use a picture that could potentially damage a young man who has never given anything but his absolute best. Anthony, you have my sincere apology for any unhappiness the use of this picture may have caused.

Preparation in all forms is an absolute necessity. In order to succeed in wrestling as well as in life, we must always make an effort to properly prepare for the challenges we will face. In spite of the need to prepare, it is important that we make sure that we have balance in our lives. If we do not create this balance, burnout and fatigue will undermine our ability to succeed. In wrestling, we call this “over-training”. This happens to the individual who spends an inordinate amount of time training, but goes beyond the point of hard training and enters the realm of exhaustion. When competition time arrives, this person will not experience peak performance. In fact, it is likely that this individual will fold in the later rounds and begin to stall… Life is similar. If we push too hard, we will burn-out. No matter how talented we are in any given field of endeavor, fatigue makes cowards of us all.


Lesson 5: Work Smarter, Not Harder


In order to avoid burnout or fatigue, we must learn that it is not HARD work that makes champions, it is SMART work that paves the path to success. Imagine the wrestler who attacks while in the neutral position. He or she shoots as hard as he or she can repeatedly, but never clears the head and hands defense of the opponent. By the end of the first period, the aggressive wrestler has used a tremendous amount of energy. and has not earned any points for his or her efforts. There is no doubt that he or she worked HARD. The problem is, he or she did not work SMART. Imagine the same match, but instead of trying to bull his or her way through to a takedown, the aggressive wrestler sets up the takedown with a beautiful arm drag set up. It is likely that he or she will end up with a 2 point lead shortly after executing the set up and takedown perfectly. This was not exceedingly Hard work, but it was certainly SMART work. More focused effort equals better results. This is applicable in life as well. Spend more time setting up your plan of attack to reach your goals then you spend actually executing your plan of attack. The more refined and intelligent your plan is, the higher the likelihood of success.


Lesson 6: Never Reach Back


This is one of my favorite lessons learned. My freshman year of high school, I was wrestling in a very close match. My opponent was on top in referees position, and he moved out to the side in order to try to break me down. Instead of scooting out to the left side and standing up, I reached back… Shortly thereafter, I found myself counting lights due to his nicely executed 1/2 nelson. Reaching back is bad. When my coach asked me why I reached back, I thought about it, and I explained that it felt right. His response was interesting. He told me that reaching back felt right because I was looking to get into a position where I felt comfortable. By reaching back, I would have found myself in a defensive position where we had spent countless hours in practice. Reaching back is bad.

In life, we often find ourselves in situations where we want to “reach back” in order to find ourselves in a place of comfort. We do so with relationships, professional opportunities, etc. The problem is, when we are reaching back, we cannot also be moving forward. Seeking out and finding our zone of “comfort”, will prevent us from gaining ground and moving closer towards our goals. I learned that I should never reach back. Reaching back is bad. Instead of ever reaching back again, I focused on being comfortable being uncomfortable. Once my desire for comfort or security was no longer a part of the equation, I was able to make vast leaps forward in wrestling as well as in life.

Lesson 7: Keep Your Head Up


Where your head goes, your body will follow! In wrestling, if you let someone get better head position, you are going to have great difficulty. You will not be able to launch an effective offense, and it will be difficult for you to effectively defend against attacks launched by your opponent. In life, when challenges create doubt or insecurity within us, we start to “hang our heads”. This is negative because when we hang our heads, we ask questions like “why did this happen to me?”, and “Why am I not good enough?”. Even though questioning is our brains natural response to falling short, it is imperative that we keep our heads up. We have to keep our heads up in order to remain positive and recover position. Once position is recovered, we can begin to move forward in a positive direction once again.

Lesson 8: Champions Are Regular People


Before and after anyone becomes a champion, they are a regular person. To become a champion, you defeat someone else. Ultimately, when you become a champion, you do not cease being a regular person. As such, there are several lessons to be learned. First, anyone with the will to perform the necessary actions is capable of becoming a champion. Second, any champion can be defeated on any given day if they choose not to maintain their efforts in doing the things that were necessary to get them there. Being a champion doesn’t necessarily mean that you are victorious, it means that you did every single thing possible to give you the best opportunity for success. Wrestling has created many champions in life who were never on top of the podium in big tournaments. These champions are husbands, wives,  life partners, fathers, mothers, teachers, coaches, businessmen and women, and many other things. In spite of the diversity of the group, these champions are regular people.

Lesson 9: Live In The Rambo Zone


Not everyone is created with equal talent and ability in every single field of endeavor. There were some matches I wrestled in which my opponent was simply better than me. He might have been much faster, much more skilled, or simply more talented than me. Often, I knew this before I ever stepped onto the mat for the match. In spite of these deficiencies, there were times when I was victorious. I defeated people who were much better than me because I was willing to take them outside of their comfort zone.

In an effort to do this, I adopted my “Rambo Zone” philosophy. In the movie, there is a very famous line in which Rambo’s commanding officer, Colonel Troutman makes the statement, “What you call Hell, he calls home”. This inspired me. I focused on expanding my comfort zone. I started to do everything the hard way simply because I could. I figured that if I made every single aspect of my own life more difficult, then I would be more comfortable pushing beyond my comfort zone than my opponents were. If it was cold out, I slept with a window open and no blanket. I parked in the farthest possible spot as opposed to seeking out a spot close to my destination. I took the stairs instead of using an elevator or an escalator. I took showers with no hot water on. Essentially, I wanted to develop my ability to push my opponents outside of their comfort zone, and have their zone of discomfort become equivalent to my own level of complete comfort. The results spoke volumes. I turned matches into battles of attrition. I focused my training less on defeating my opponents with skill, and more on breaking their will. This is applicable in life, as often times, we find ourselves competing with equally qualified, or even more qualified people for contracts, jobs, etc. Possessing the ability to push yourself beyond the capacity of others is an attribute that is highly sought after in employees, mates, and more. Live YOUR life in the “Rambo Zone” for similar results.

Lesson 10: The Machine Usually Beats the Animal


In wrestling as in life, there are people with different approaches. Some people operate with a basis in the emotion. Others operate strictly from a place of rationale. Others still, are an amalgam of the two. Those who operate on emotion are more animalistic in the manner in which they approach challenges. These people allow anger to drive their performance in wrestling, and they allow emotions to govern their behavior in life. These people are very passionate, and intensity seems to radiate off of them when they enter a room. Individuals who operate solely on rationale are the machines. These individuals have developed an ability to seemingly shut down their emotional responses to challenges and view those challenges like puzzles for which they must find the solution. These people can seem cold and calculating in their interactions with others, and they are more likely to listen than they are to speak. The third type of person is a mixture, not always a healthy mixture, of the previously mentioned two. They are able to walk in both worlds, as it were. They can be incredibly emotional and have a tendency to have outbursts from time to time. They can also appear very cold and calculating in response to situational demands.

In wrestling, when an animal meets a machine, the matches are fantastic! Typically, the animal is extremely explosive and fast paced, while the machine executes his techniques in seemingly effortless fashion and at will. The matches are exciting to watch, and there are often very surprising occurrences. Usually, though, the machine beat the animal. Technique and skill typically overcome passion and explosiveness.

In life, events tend to mirror wrestling. The individuals who are always governed or ruled by their animal nature are not able to manage their emotional experiences and behave in a rational manner. When challenges are faced, the animal can often overcome through the use of intensity, but the machine can overcome through the use of rational thoughts and behaviors. When the two types face off, the winner is typically the machine.


Concluding Thoughts:

OK. I admit it…. This blog post was a bit of a head-fake teaching/learning experience… Staying positive, managing your emotions, communicating effectively, and experiencing peak performance are all things that I am passionate about. They are all different aspects of emotional intelligence, or EQ. Often times, presenting this topic to an audience who has not heard about it or learned about it previously is difficult. Difficult doesn’t scare me. After all:


“Once you have wrestled, everything else in life is easy”.

-Dan Gable



38 thoughts on “10 Life Lessons I Learned On A Wrestling Mat”

  1. Thanks for the information. Nice blog. I understood the concept very well. This blog is very informative. And it’s very interesting topic.

  2. Study in Canada is highly funded by government of , which makes study in Canada is quite better than other countries. Study in Canada consists of ten territorial systems. All education in Canada is overseen by the federal government but the onus is on provincial governments to govern funding and academic regulations, which vary widely from one province to another. Whether Institute is public or private it must meet stringent requirements of federal or provincial regulations. In Canada, each province and territory is responsible for education at all levels within it including universities i.e. there is no federal accreditation. This means that each province and territory regulates the standards of education and any issues which arise as well, and these are strict to ensure quality.

  3. Study in Canada is highly funded by government of Canada, which makes study in Canada is quite better than other countries. Study in Canada consists of ten territorial systems. All education in Canada is overseen by the federal government but the onus is on provincial governments to govern funding and academic regulations, which vary widely from one province to another. Whether Institute is public or private it must meet stringent requirements of federal or provincial regulations. In Canada, each province and territory is responsible for education at all levels within it including universities i.e. there is no federal accreditation. This means that each province and territory regulates the standards of education and any issues which arise as well, and these are strict to ensure quality.

  4. Thank you for the article. Of all sports, I firmly believe that wrestling is one of the few combat sports that involves discipline and emotional intelligence. Wrestling is not like football or basketball where your teammate can pick up your slack. With wrestling, although it is an individual contributor sport, the outcome and what you do impacts whether your your team wins. During a match, you face your opponent (or perhaps your archrival) and the spotlight is on you. Your family, team are there supporting you however it depends on you if you want to win. Wrestling has taught me many life lessons that I apply to my everyday life- care, opportunity, discipline, earning what you put in, “burning out” by over preparing, and lastly it taught me to be humble and to respect others. Overall, it has taught me the principles to become an effective leader, one who cares for others, one who sees obstacles as an opportunity to grow, and one loves to see their teammates or colleagues improve by teaching them what you know. This applies to mostly everything in life whether it is at home, work or even on the wrestling mat.

    In summary, great article! Thank you.

  5. Sir, you nailed it. Even though I wrestled for a few years, I wasn’t mature enough to realize the impact until I joined the military. At that point when there were some grueling trying etc. My mind flashed to how we sucked it up for wrestling. Again I wasn’t any good like you but that experience really helped to mold me into the man I am. Thank you.

  6. Thanks RMendelson, Excellent piece ~ Loved the lesson on “Don’t Reach Back” it may instinctively seem the best place to go, but that direction is filled with perils. JH

  7. As a high school head coach in the highly competitive state of Oklahoma, I’m constantly searching for newer and better means of motivation for my wrestlers. Your sound wisdom will be proudly posted on our team FB page. You, sir, nailed it. Thank you.

    1. Thank you! I am glad it hit home. That means that I am not alone in recognizing how incredibly important wrestling is in the development of young people.

    2. my 3 sons wrestled and i had no trouble from any of them because of the grappling training of 1 on 1 and self disp. father of 3 wrestlers

  8. Both of my son’s are wrestlers. Your post does a great job of recognizing the aspects of the sport that all who been involved appreciate. Who my son’s are becoming, in a large part due to wrestling, is far more important than the awards and recognition they receive along the way . If you have a digital copy that could be printed I would ask the you allow me to hand it out at our youth tournaments. Thanks for a great post,

    1. I’m glad the post spoke to you. I do not have a digital copy. Please feel free to print and distribute as you see fit. The wrestling community helped me grow, so it is a pleasure to know that my thoughts might pay that forward.

  9. Reblogged this on Perspective and commented:
    In case you, the reader, have not noticed, wrestling is a theme in my life and my thoughts. Wrestling was the fertile soil for some of the greatest personal growth I experienced. I pass on other blog post of similar ilk because it never gets old for me.

  10. I have an organization called Wrestling for Life and would like to post this on our facebook page, with full attribution, of course. May I?

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