Wrestling With The Mind

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When it comes to preparing for a wrestling match, cutting weight is commonly the first thing most think of. But while making weight is a pivotal part of the sport, the psychological aspect of the game is something that cannot be understated.

Just ask Ohio’s All-American heavyweight Jeremy Johnson how much he attributes the mental approach to wrestling and he will emphatically respond, “100 percent.”

“The mental aspect is crazy,” he said. “You’ll start seeing that at the end of the year at nationals where guys that are supposed to win on paper usually fall apart at that time because of all the pressure.”

Johnson’s teammate, Spartak Chino (157lbs.) also emphasizes the importance of a strong mentality.

“I’d say (wrestling) is 70-30 – 70 percent being mental, 30 percent being physical,” Chino said.

“I like to think of wrestlers as the best-in-shape college athletes out there, but as much as the sport is physically demanding it’s even more mentally demanding.” Chino said. “You can be the most physically amazing specimen, but if you don’t have the right mindset to carry on then you’re not going to have much success.”

With the sport being as psychological as it is then, a lot goes into the preparation before a match.

Johnson tries to think positive thoughts every day leading up to a match. In addition to positive thoughts, Johnson thinks a lot about his abilities as a wrestler.

“I try to think about what I’m going to do … instead of stopping what (my opponent) is going to do to me,” he said.

Ohio’s 165-pounder, Harrison Hightower, shares Johnson’s sentiment. Hightower focuses on how he can impose his will rather than, in his words, cater to the opposition.

Chino really stresses being in the right mindset before a match. Like Johnson, he tries to think positive. He works on being confident in his technique and being confident in any situation that he may find himself in.

“It’s really just coming in there with a state of mind like, ‘I’ve put in the work and that it’s my time,’” he said.

Prepping is not all about thinking positively, however. In order to understand their opponents better, wrestlers and coaches spend a good portion of time scouting their competitors, watching videos, and breaking down their moves. They look for the strengths and weaknesses of their competition.

Johnson spends a couple of hours each day scouting.

“I’m looking for (my opponent’s) number one move, what I can do to keep them from doing that move and whether or not my underhook to a high single – my plan A – will be open,” he said.

Chino, on the other hand, gets scouting help from his coaches.

“My coaches do a great job in learning about the guys that I’m wrestling, understanding their tendencies, and breaking down what my opponent does to help me perform to the highest degree,” Chino said.

Understanding their foes better helps Ohio’s wrestlers enter a match with a plan for victory. As Johnson stated earlier, scouting allows him to know if and when he can use his signature move in a match.

Knowing what moves will work on an opponent is huge, but a wrestler knows that his plan must be more complex than one move.

“If you just have that one move and your opponent watched you and learned how to defend that, you don’t want that to be your only thing, because they are going shut you down,” Hightower said.

Clearly, countless hours in a week go into the Bobcats’ match preparations. The preparation does not stop after weigh-ins however. For many it does not stop even until seconds before a match. Pre-match rituals are yet another thing that wrestlers use to prepare them for their bouts.

“(Mine) involves pretty much doing the same thing every time, whether it’s going to the restroom at the same time, saying a bunch of prayers or taking off my clothes (in a certain order),” Hightower said. “It doesn’t necessarily define how I’m going to wrestle that match but to me if I don’t do that before I kind of feel uneasy.”

Whether it is thinking positively, scouting an opponent or enacting a pre-match ritual, Hightower said all the prepping helps make wrestlers comfortable for their match.

“It (all) comes into going in there and having the right mindset and that pretty much determines how you’re going to wrestle.”