120 Things To Learn From Wrestling
Wrestling’s biggest strength lies in its extremely large community of diehard fans. The reason that competitors and fans identify so strongly with the sport is because it teaches you self reliance and teamwork simultaneously. These two skills, along with 118 others, are critical to business success.
Here’s are 120 things that both wrestling success and business success have in common:
1. It’s an individual sport – the only way to be successful in anything from wrestling to starting a business is to worry about yourself first. If you’re a mess, your relationships will be a mess. If you’re weak, you’re business will be weak. The only way for your team to win is for you to be a winner.
2. It’s a team sport – No one gets successful all on their own. At some point, someone helped you; someone coached you. Acknowledge it.
3. Inspiration is perishable – Inspiration is like nutrition, you need daily servings.
4. Aim for the top –Your goal should be mastery, not mediocrity. Your goal should be to stand on the top of the podium, not at the #2 or #3 spot. Your aim should be to run the company, not work for the company; to be an employer, not an employee.
5. Hard work is 90% of winning – Everyone thinks they work hard but few people really do. You can put yourself ahead of 90% of your competitors just by being willing to sweat. This means getting up early, staying up late, and putting in more time than other people think is reasonable.
6. Hard work is more than putting time in – Hard work is more than conditioning. Don’t just practice the same old things. Don’t just do what you’ve been doing harder and harder. You have to be creative. You have to work smart and hard. You have to constantly seek out new opportunities.
7. Hard work is not enough – Hard work will get you to the big match, or to the big interview, or close to closing the big deal, but it won’t close it for you. To win big, you have to find 10% more in you. No one can tell you what that 10% is. It’s different for everyone.
8. People make bad decisions when they’re tired – Fatigue makes cowards (and idiots) of us all. The fastest way to pull ahead of the competition is to get them tired.
9. A lean horse runs a long race –The leaner you are or the leaner your business is, the further you’ll go and the quicker you’ll get there. Check this book out: The Lean Entrepreneur.
10. Create allies – No matter how self-motivated you are, if you want to reach the top of the podium or the top of your field, you will need help. You will need drilling partners, sparring partners, employees, clients, or customers. Start building allies as soon as possible.
11. Surround yourself with champions – You are the average of the people you hang out with the most. I wrestled in college for a NCAA Division 1 team that didn’t have any All-Americans my freshman year. As a result, my skills developed slower than other freshman at other Universities who were wrestling with All-Americans every day. If you want to be the best, surround yourself with the best.
12. Find better competition – The summer before my senior year, I moved in with a friend at the University of Pittsburgh and made huge gains training with his team’s All-Americans.
13. Befriend your competitors – Keep your enemies close. There’s a lot you can learn from them, including how to best defeat them.
14. Hate your competitors – Sometimes you need to stir up a little hatred to bring out the best in yourself. Find things you despise in your enemies; this will give you energy. It will also clarify your position and give you a strong reason WHY.
15. Have a strong WHY – Knowing WHY you are working to achieve a goal is more important than the goal itself. To paraphrase Nietzsche, if you have a strong enough WHY, you can bear almost any HOW.
16. Competition makes you a better person – Competition brings out the best in you. It’s the only way to see what you’re really made of. Tyler Durden from the movie Fight Club says it best, “How much can you really know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?”
17. Compete with yourself, not others – The best wrestlers and the most successful businesses and entrepreneurs are always those who are constantly competing with themselves. Instead of trying to break other people’s records, they work to break their own records. They don’t wrestle someone else’s match. They wrestle their own match.
18. Have fun – Everything should be fun, even grueling sports like wrestling and grueling seasons like the first 3 years of starting a business. If you’re not having fun, why are you doing it? Plus, happiness in distress is intimidating. Work hard and take your work seriously, but maintain a demeanor of cheerfulness and aloofness. This combination will keep your opponents off balance.
19. Be creative – Studies show that happiness and humor spark creativity. The only way to reach the highest levels of success in wrestling or business is to be creative on the mat or creative in your product, service, or approach.
20. Learn to scramble – In wrestling, a scramble is when two wrestlers engage in a flurry of moves that involve quick decision-making, extreme flexibility, and constant adaptation to what the other guy is doing. No one is in control. Both people are scrambling for position. A lot of business and most of entrepreneurship is a scramble. The key is learning how to scramble. In high school, I thought scrambling was a talent that you were born with. Either you could scramble, or you couldn’t. This is not true. Anyone can learn to scramble by putting themselves in uncomfortable and uncontrolled situations over and over again.
21. Be flexible – scrambling requires flexibility. In business, it’s best to always stay flexible in your approach. Stay firm in your principles, but flexible in your processes. Inflexible people (and companies) are easy to break.
22. Rules change – At the beginning of my college wrestling career, the rules for overtime changed. Instead of there only being one round of double overtime, there were now two rounds. This change gave both wrestlers a chance to escape from the bottom position. Several other rules have since changed. Successful people adapt to new rules, or new ways of doing things, or new economic conditions, as quickly as possible.
23. There are no ties (not anymore) – In both wrestling and in business, there is always a winner and always a loser. Either the customer buys your product or they buy someone else’s product. End of story. (Sure, they could buy both, but wouldn’t you rather they buy 2 of yours instead?)
24. Train for overtime – Most wrestlers only train for the first 3 periods of a wrestling match. As a result, when their matches go into overtime, they’re unprepared and often lose. Likewise, most people only train for a 9-5 job. As a result, when they are presented with a big promotion or a new opportunity, they’re unprepared and often miss out.
25. Be ruthless – It’s you or him. Act accordingly. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that there’s plenty of success to go around. There’s not. Don’t pretend that your opponent cares about you. Whether it’s a wrestling match or business deal, your competitor wants to beat you and embarrass you in front of your family, your friends, and the entire world.
26. Smell blood – There are two kinds of wrestlers and, in general, two kinds of people. Those that face a weak opponent and take it easy on him and those that face a weak opponent, smell blood, and crush him completely so he never wants to wrestle again. Which one are you?
27. Stir people up to get the best out of them – In college, some of the people I would practice with wouldn’t work very hard. So, if they started coasting, I would hit their head with my hand and snap it down hard over and over again (a legal move in wrestling) until they got angry and came at me with everything they had. This made us both better.
28. Everyone remembers a cool name – At wrestling tournaments, wrestlers are called to their next matches by their last names. Those with the best last names were watched more often then those will ordinary names. My two favorites, both from college, were Mark Ironside from Iowa University and Mike Bigrig from Navy.
29. Winning will make your name cool – Dan Gable and Cael Sanderson weren’t particularly cool names, until they started winning hundreds of matches and breaking records. Likewise Apple wasn’t cool until Steve Jobs made it cool.
30. Develop your brand – In wrestling and business, your name is a brand. The Dan Gable brand is one of offensive wrestling, hard work, and aggression. The John Smith brand is one of technical skill and defensive wrestling. Your brand will determine how your audience, customers, and colleagues look at you. If you don’t define your brand, someone else will.
31. Know who you are – You are either on a mission or you are just fooling around. You either have a message or you stand for nothing. The most important thing you will ever do in wrestling or business is define who you are and what you’re about.
32. Train for power – Your goal is not to outlast the competition, but to consume them as completely and as quickly as possible.
33. Strike fast – People respect strength, but they fear speed.
34. Strike first – Over 70% of all wrestling matches are won by the wrestler who gets the first takedown. The same holds true in business and entrepreneurship; the first to enter a market, the first to change the medium, or the first to build a strong reputation will maintain a substantial advantage over their competitors.
35. Discipline is the most important thing – Without discipline, growth stops. The only way to overcome training plateaus, or what’s called the dip in business, is to stay disciplined. If success was easy, everyone would be successful.
36. Politeness is a sign of toughness – In the book, The Call of the Wild, a domestic dog named Buck is captured and trained to be a sled dog in Alaska. There’s a scene that describes how, after months of sled training, Buck doesn’t let the other dogs bother him anymore. He’s above it. This is what politeness is really about. This is why wrestlers, people serving in the military, and people who’ve built their businesses from scratch are extremely polite. They’re above the drama. They’ve already proven themselves.
37. Show sportsmanship – Losing your cool is a sign of weakness. It’s sloppy and gives your opponent a huge advantage. Now, he knows your weak spot. He knows where the chip on your shoulder lies. Avoid exposing yourself by always keeping your cool and showing sportsmanship.
38. Set goals – Studies show that 80% of Americans don’t have goals and 96% of them don’t write down their goals. If you don’t know what you want, it doesn’t matter what you do. Put yourself ahead of 96% of the population by writing down what you want.
39. Focus on the end of the season– Everyone is focused on the small, urgent problems and difficulties right in front of them. In wrestling, this might be how hard a practice is. In business, this might be how hard a product launch is. Don’t let these temporary difficulties distract you. Be a strategist, not a tactician. Keep the end in mind. Zoom out and see the finish line. This will give you energy and clarity.
40. Peak at the right time – In high school and college, I would train so hard at the beginning of the season that I would peak early. I would win my biggest matches and biggest tournaments in December. The problem was the wrestling season lasted until February in high school and March in college.
41. Fail first-hand – If you want to be a better wrestler, wrestle more, don’t lift and run more. If you want to be a better public speaker, speak to the public more, don’t read more public speaking books.
42. Don’t overestimate your opponent, ignore him completely.
43. Don’t underestimate your opponent, ignore him completely.
44. Decide to be good – My sophomore year in high school I was on Junior Varsity and lost most of my matches. Then, for some reason, I decided I wanted to be good and started training with the toughest wrestlers in the room. Winning is always a decision. If you want to be the best in your field, the first step is deciding to be the best.
45. Have a bias for action – No matter what the question is, action is the answer. Action solves all problems. Success is linked to action and the more action you take, the more successful you’ll be. The key is to learn from every action. Act first, learn after. Fire, fire, fire, aim.
46. Opportunism is more important than hard work – In 1970, Dan Gable had 118-0 record after nearly three years at Iowa State and an incomparable 181-match winning streak that dated back to his high school days. That year, at the NCAA tournament, Gable faced Larry Owings, a lesser known sophomore in the finals who ended up beating Gable and stopping his winning streak cold. Owings was supreme opportunist. He dropped 31 pounds in order to meet Gable in the finals. He saw an opportunity to make a name for himself by taking down a giant and he took it. The worlds of both wrestling and business are littered with stories of hard working competitors being upset by supreme opportunists.
47. Never be intimidated – Before that 1970 NCAA tournament started, as the wrestlers were waiting in line to weigh-in, Owings ran to the head of the line and cut in front of Gable right before the weigh-ins started. Owings was sending Gable a message; he wasn’t intimidated. He was going to win.
48. Excuses make you sad and weak – Save it. No one cares. Keep your excuses to yourself.
49. Blood time is short – In high school, if your nose (or any other body part) started bleeding during a match, you had 5 minutes to get it under control. It doesn’t matter why you’re bleeding or how much it hurts, when your blood time runs out, you forfeit the match.
50. Injury time is shorter – Injury time was only a minute and a half in high school. When time runs out, no matter how much you want to win, you forfeit the match. Similarly, when you get hurt in business, your only options are to get back in the match or lose.
51. Camaraderie is better than friendship – Nothing compares to the trust and connection created by working hard with other like-minded people towards a shared goal.
52. Pain strengthens relationships – The strongest relationships are forged by pain, whether that pain is from tough practices or tough business challenges.
53. Everyone is a coach – No matter how successful you are on your own, sooner or later, to be more successful, you’ll have to coach others. True success is making the people around you better too.
54. Leverage your strengths, ignore your weaknesses.
55. Coach people’s strengths, don’t try to fix their weaknesses.
56. There is no off season – While you’re on vacation, while you’re resting, while you in front of the TV, while you’re sleeping, someone, somewhere, is getting better than you.
57. You can’t do everything – In high school, I was the only sophomore to make the varsity baseball team. My batting average was 677% that year. My junior year of high school, I quit baseball so I could wrestle freestyle in the spring. In life, sooner or later, you’ll have to give up something you’re great at so you can get better at something you love.
58. Pain is motivation.
59. All growth requires pain.
60. Complaining makes you stupid and weak – It’s science.
61. No plan survives contact with the enemy – My college wrestling coach used to try to predict the team score of our wrestling matches. Before every match, he would either say “I have us winning on paper” or “I have us losing on paper.” His on paper predictions were never right. Never.
62. Attack your opponent’s center of gravity – The quickest path to victory is to attack the one thing, whether it be a skill, a connection, or a product, that is holding up your opponent’s success. Everyone has a center of gravity. Find it and you will win.
63. Where the head goes, the body follows – Distract the head of an organization, and you will distract the entire organization.
64. Break your opponent mentally – Vince Lombardi says it best: “Physical strength will make the opponent weaken and mental toughness will make him crack.”
65. Break yourself – Work hard to break yourself mentally over and over again because you will always come back stronger and stronger.
66. Everyone has a breaking point.
67. Be confident – Even when you don’t feel confident. Fake it before you make it and when you make it, fake it at a higher level. The only way to succeed is to believe in yourself no matter how many times you fail and to be willing to get back up and learn from each failure.
68. Your environment can crush your hopes and dreams – In wrestling, you’ll never make weight and stay in shape if you keep ice cream in your freezer and a box of cookies in your dresser. In business, you’ll never create anything amazing or achieve any other worthwhile goal if you’re always responding to emails and push notifications on your phone and computer.
69. Use the edge to your advantage – In wrestling, the circle is the edge of the mat. Sometimes a takedown near the edge won’t count and sometimes it will. It all depends on your position. Similarly, in business, if you position yourself correctly, you can use the edges, or local laws and industry regulations, to your advantage.
70. Circle in – In wrestling, you are penalized for fleeing the mat, or trying to escape a compromising position by moving outside of the circle. The only way to prevent this is to always be seen as circling in towards the center of the mat. In business, circling in is a great way to keep the pressure on your competitors. Always find a way to reposition yourself towards the center of the market and towards the center of your customer’s attention.
71. Keep the pressure on – It’s almost impossible to tell exactly when your opponent is going to break. You’ll never quite know how close you are to victory. Don’t give up two inches before you strike gold. Keep the pressure on at all times.
72. Don’t stall – Stalling is penalized in both wrestling and business. The more you wait around and do nothing, the more the competition gets ahead.
73. Fight off your back – When you get knocked down or caught on your back, fight like hell to get up immediately. Every second you wait, inertia builds.
74. Push-pull – One of the best ways to set up an opponent for a takedown is to push into him hard and then, just as he starts to push back, pull him forward to put him off balance. In business, if you’re always the aggressor, try pulling back to unbalance your competitors. They might just fall flat on their face.
75. Don’t hold back – Time machines don’t exist. Give everything right now to this moment before it’s gone forever.
76. Engage your audience – Flair goes a long way in both attracting a wrestling crowd and a customer base. J. Robinson once told me that he tries to recruit engaging wrestlers who play up to the crowd. The truth is, without an audience, neither a sport or a business can survive. The best way to get and keep an audience is to constantly engage them. This might even mean indulging them in some theatrics.
77. Weird is cool if you win.
78. It’s never too late to win.
79. Surprise yourself – My sophomore year of college I had to wrestle the team captain to make varsity. He was the best on the team and everyone expected it to be a blow out. I was intimidated but ended up winning the match with a last second reversal in the 3rd period. Even I was surprised. The key is that you always have more in you than you think you do. The only way to find out what you have – the only way to surprise yourself – is to put yourself in situations where all of the odds are against you.
80. It’s darkest before the dawn – I ended up having to wrestle the team captain three times and the last time we went into double overtime. I was exhausted. I chose down and tried to escape three times but was slammed back down on my face each time. With five seconds left, I stood up one last time, and, like magic, he just let go. Very often, when things seem to be at their worst, you’re actually really close to winning.
81. Your decisions determine the score, not your circumstances.
82. Luck is when preparation meets opportunity – My freshman year of college, the NWCA All-Star Classic was held on our campus. The #1 and #2 NCAA Division 1 wrestlers of each weight class came to Franklin & Marshall College to wrestle each other. As part of the event, one wrestler from our school and one wrestler from another local college were chosen to wrestle each other as an exhibition match during the event. The wrestler from our school would also get to drill with Dan Gable during a wrestling clinic sponsored by the event. This was every wrestler’s dream. Our team captain was chosen to represent our school but, the week of the event, he was temporarily suspended from the team. At the last minute, our coach substituted me into the All-Star Classic and the pre-event clinic.
83. Never stop training – After the All-Star Classic’s wrestling clinic, I shook Dan Gable’s hand, said thank you, and went down to the locker room to shower. When I came out of the locker room, I looked into our wrestling room and saw Gable working out by himself. He was running, doing pull-ups, and shadow drilling. Sweat was pouring down his forehead. He was 53 years old at the time.
84. Image is nothing – In both high school and college, about three weeks into every season, a photographer would come in and take pictures of the team for things like press releases and the yearbook. On picture day, everyone came out of the woodwork. Kids that had never wrestled a single competitive match showed up, put on a singlet, and flexed as hard as they could for the pictures. Within a week, we never saw them in the practice room again.
85. Reputation is everything – Your reputation is built on what you’ve actually accomplished, not what you want to accomplish. Your reputation is your win-loss column, nothing more and nothing less. The sooner you start building a strong reputation, the better. The only way to get seeded #1 in a tournament is to have a strong reputation. The only way to get ranked #1 in customer satisfaction is to have a strong reputation. The only way to get repeat business and to keep getting new business is to have a strong reputation.
86. Get mean – Stop letting people walk all over you. Put people in their place and set some boundaries.
87. Be nice – Don’t take things so seriously.
88. Talent does not exist – Skill is the result of deliberate practice, nothing else.
89. Reps, reps, reps – The only way to get better at something is to do it over and over and over again.
90. Practice like it’s real – You also have to do it the same way you would when it counts.
91. Compete better than you practice – Your match performance needs to be better than your practice performance, even if you’re practicing like it’s real.
92. Sweating fixes everything – Is life treating you unfairly? Are you mad at the world? If so, try this: walk outside your front door, turn to the right, and run as fast and hard as you can, as long as you can. I’m willing to bet that all of your problems disappear within 60 seconds.
93. Attack, attack, and attack some more.
94. The best defense is a good offense.
95. Make them come to you – Attacking should be your default but sometimes you have to let your opponents come to you. Don’t be one-dimensional. There’s an old proverb by Sun Tzu that goes something like, “If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will come floating by.”
96. Don’t be afraid to wrestle up a weight class – In wrestling, sometimes you have to bump up a weight class to help the team. And sometimes you have to bump up a weight class to challenge yourself. Similarly, in business, the only way to grow is to keep stepping up higher and higher to face bigger and bigger challenges. If no challenge exists, create one.
97. There are no short cuts – My senior year of high school, I made it to the finals of Tri-State, the largest tournament of the year, where the best wrestlers from three different states came together to compete. Before the finals, I drank a “special” over-the-counter energy supplement from GNC that was supposed to enhance my performance. I thought it would give me the extra boost I needed to win. Instead, it gave me cramps and nausea. During the entire finals match, I laid on my belly writhing in pain. I was demolished 11-0.
98. Study yourself – In both high school and college, my teammates and I watched videotapes of our matches. This helped me see what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong. It also helped me find better ways to score on my opponents. In business, I use this same technique to improve my public speaking and business communication skills.
99. Don’t overanalyze the bracket – Once competition begins, there’s no use going over 100 different “what-if” scenarios in your head. You can’t control whether or not the #2 seed or the #3 seed will win their semi-finals match. Quit obsessing. Focus on the match, or the business deal right in front of you.
100. Don’t look past an opponent – My senior year of high school I was so focused on beating the #1 seed at the State tournament that I didn’t prepare for my quarterfinals match and ended up losing 3-4. Never look completely past the nearest obstacle. You should always stay focused on your end point, but don’t let your focus blind you to what is right in front of your nose.
101. HUSTLE – Every day.
102. Don’t telegraph your shot – Most wrestlers have subtle tells (like in poker) that show which takedown they’re about to shoot and when they are going to shoot it. For example, a tell can be a head snap, an arm twitch, or a shoulder drop. Either way, the tell lets the competition know what’s coming. A lot of businesses also have tells. They show their competitors what they are about to do before they actually do this. As a result, their competitors have plenty of time to respond. A better strategy is to maintain the element of surprise by planning in secret and attacking abruptly without indication.
103. Re-shoot – If your first shot doesn’t work, shoot again right away.
104. Control everything you can – Everything. There’s a reason most successful people are control freaks. Success doesn’t just happen.
105. Ignore what you can’t control – There are some things you can’t control. Don’t get distracted by them.
106. Don’t overtrain.
107. There’s no such thing as overtraining – It’s impossible to overprepare. If you get tired or start to lose your motivation or focus, step back, check your inspiration levels, check your commitment, and then take new action. First, make sure that you’re feeding yourself enough inspiration. Remember, inspiration is perishable. Second, come back to the decision you made to achieve your goal. Remind yourself WHY you are achieving it. Then, recommit to it. Third, get back on the mat and take new action.
108. Carry the team – If the people around you aren’t keeping up, carry them.
109. Lead by example – People follow actions, not words.
110. Create a core – In wrestling, every team I’ve ever been on would naturally form a subgroup of leaders, usually made up of 4-5 of the best wrestlers on the team. In business and especially entrepreneurship, people operate best in small groups of 4-8 people. Call it a tribe, call it a mastermind group, or call it a core; it doesn’t matter. What does matter is the synergy created within this kind of group.
111. Don’t save yourself for final period – Give everything from the start.
112. Work your way back through the consolation bracket – It’s not over just because you lost once. Get your head back on straight, refocus, and get back to work.
113. Stay in the winners bracket – Working your way back through the consolation bracket can take 6-10 matches. If you would’ve stayed in the winner’s bracket, you would have only had 4 matches. You also would have had a nice, long break before the semi-finals and an even longer break before the finals. Invest as much of your energy up front as possible. The more you win in the beginning, the easier winning will be in the end.
114. Adapt or die – In the 1960’s and 70’s college wrestling was ubiquitous in the U.S. Then, in 1972, Title IX was enacted requiring college funding to be split evenly between male and female sports regardless of participation. In 1970, there were almost 400 NCAA D1 college wrestling teams, now there are less than 80. Most recently, the sport of wrestling was dropped from the 2020 Olympics. Meanwhile, ultimate fighting has risen to fame and is now a multi-billion dollar industry. Some wrestling proponents believe the ultimate fighting and wrestling do not mix and that the former is hurting the latter. Others believe that wrestling should embrace ultimate fighting and openly help the UFC recruit top wrestlers. The key is that wrestling has yet to adapt in a meaningful way and, as a result, is suffering. For any sport or business to be successful, you must constantly adapt to the current times and people’s current needs. Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice tradition and the integrity of your product. It means you have to develop. Without an audience, a company can’t exist.
115. Avoid bad press – When I was in high school, news organizations reported the deaths of three college wrestlers within 6 weeks of each other. The wrestlers died during strenuous workouts after taking massive doses of creatine monohydrate. As a result, the entire sport was looked down on and the rules for making weight were changed dramatically. Whether you’re promoting a sport or a business, be prepared for bad press and have a plan for spinning it before it hits. Understand that Google real estate is highly valuable. Now, more than ever, it’s important to keep bad press to a minimum. You want to be a top hit for people searching terms in your field, not for people searching “death,” “disaster,” or “cautionary tale.”
116. Don’t try to be something you’re not – In 2002, two wrestling teammates from Northwestern University founded Real Pro Wrestling, which combined several different types of wrestling including collegiate, freestyle, and Greco-Roman. Real Pro Wrestling used a raised circular mat to provide better camera angles and better audience seating. The founders meant well but, unfortunately, the matches came off like a combination of WWE and sumo wrestling. The biggest problem was that no one understood the rules. After two seasons (2004 and 2006-07), Real Pro Wrestling folded.
117. You can’t be everything to everyone – One of the reasons Real Pro Wrestling failed is because it was trying to be everything to everyone. It was trying to be freestyle, Greco-Roman, collegiate, sumo, and WWE wrestling all in one. Trying to please everyone is a recipe for disaster for any organization.
118. Create a community – The strength of the sport of wrestling is it’s close-knit community. Like Crossfit, wrestling has built an empire of fans who strongly identify with it. Nowadays, creating a strong community is crucial to being successful in business and entrepreneurship.
119. Always be recruiting – The best colleges, and the best companies, recruit top-level talent year-round. Never stop seeking out great people to work for you or to work with you.
120. Give back – In high school, our wrestling team gave motivational talks to Junior High and elementary school students every season. In college, our team volunteered for Habitat for Humanity every spring. Nonprofit work is a great way to help other people and to give back to the community. It’s also a great way to get good press and raise awareness of what your organization is about.