Tenacity! Is it necessary to be tenacious in the sport of wrestling? If so, how does one acquire tenacity as a wrestler or an athlete? How do coaches teach tenacity to their students? Are you born with tenacity or can you develop it?
I totally believe tenacity can be developed and taught. Tenacity can be displayed both physically and mentally and I believe most successful wrestlers learn to cultivate it. They learn to expand it and use it to put the pressure on their opponents.
What is tenacity as far as seeing it in a wrestler? It shows up in many ways.
Mental tenacity is an attitude, when on the mat, shows up as a persistent, determined, steadfast approach to offensively attacking an opponent. It is a dogged and very stubborn mind set.
Physical tenacity shows up as a relentless attack, moving from one threatening position to the next, always putting your opponent in worse position. Always attacking, as your opponent reacts to your attack.
It’s like a fast moving physical chess game where you are constantly moving your pieces in place to attack your adversary. You must attack your opponent to get a reaction and then attack them again to get another reaction, and so on.
Andre Metzger, who won three world medals in freestyle back in the early 1980’s, and I were discussing this topic at dinner recently. Metzger is 52–years-old and recently made a run at the U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman Team Trials held in Iowa City. He moved to Colorado Springs, roughly five months ago and had been vigorously training with our national team at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. Metzger is still a student of the game, no doubt about this.
Metzger summed it up like this: “It is all about ‘critical response time!’ Critical response time is the time it takes for an athlete to go from one technique to the next technique. For every action you take, you get a number of multiple reactions from your opponent. So, you attack and get to a good position. Then you get to a better position and then an even better position. When a takedown occurs you then go right to a turn and then right to the pin. So, no matter what your opponent does – you continue to attack them to better your position, always looking to score one more point.”
I remember Andre as being a very tenacious competitor who always wrestled his matches with great focus and tremendous intensity. He always seemed to live his matches to the fullest, totally enjoying the battle. When he wrestled an opponent he was in it – hook, line and sinker!
So now, how does one learn or improve this tenacious attitude and method of operation on the wrestling mat, and how do coaches teach this?
As an athlete or a coach, we must first practice this tenacious approach in our practice rooms, and then reinforce this mentality when the spotlight hits us on the big stage.
We must think in terms of repetitive moves and attacks. It’s a mind set. Once we realize that attacking one, two, three and four times (continuously) should be the norm and not the exception – then we’ll start to get it. Take a look at USA’s 2011 World Champion, Jordan Burroughs, and count the number of times that he shot and reshot in his quest for the world title in Istanbul, Turkey last year.
Drilling our moves in a repetitive, chain-wrestling type way, will also help to instill this style of wrestling.
Wrestling long grind matches is a great way to teach and practice this non-stop relentless attacking style of wrestling. A grind match is a one to two hour non-stop live wrestling match, where the main objective is to break your practice partners ‘will’ to keep wrestling. The main goal is to try and force your opponent to quit for the day.
This long and intense wrestling exercise forces both wrestlers to relax, while staying in solid position and looking for moments to explode and attack in a tenacious and relentless way. Grind matches, more than anything I know, can build so many great attributes in young wrestlers. Besides the obvious physical conditioning benefits, grind matches will help to develop many important skills, such as rhythm, balance, speed changes, level changes, pace changes and repetitive movements.
Grind matches also allow for wrestlers to experiment and be creative with trying new and different moves, set ups and strategies. Since there is no stopping (in a grind match), it teaches wrestlers to wrestle in all positions and helps them to figure out, for themselves, how to react in every position possible.
Studying film of some of our best champions, and watching how the tenacious ones operate, is another nice way to learn this mind set and physical approach.
Expect to win with relentless intensity!