Winners and Learners (HS)

Winners and Learners

The ability to “win” in the sport of wrestling is pretty much a 50-50 proposition.  Further, each wrestler can only be totally responsible for his or her efforts, techniques, and tactics in a match situation.  I have come to understand that because we can only control what we can control; we should never be satisfied in victory, but more importantly never “lose the lesson in a loss.”  In discussion the topic of winners and learners, it is important to discuss the overarching concept of success which I believe is the underpinning wellspring of educational athletics.

In discussing the concept of success, coaches might be well-served to take notice of the philosophy communicated by John Wooden the legendary college basketball coach at UCLA.  “I tried to convince my players that they could never be truly successful or attain peace of mind unless they had the self-satisfaction of knowing that they had done their best.  Although I wanted them to work to win, I tried to convince them that they had always won when they had done their best (1-page 95).  He maintains that at times he felt successful even in a loss his players had given their all and at the same time he felt disappointed in a win if they had not.

In reading the literature on Coach Wooden, you will notice that he never really talked about winning (as have other successful coaches such as Dean Smith and Tony Dungy).  I think wrestling coaches can be well-served following such a model.  I would suggest coaches take a task-oriented approach where wrestlers learn to control what they can control (diet, sleep, and practice time), learn to stay in the moment (not the past or future) and evaluate themselves as compared to themselves and not the other wrestlers.

A philosophy that has a total focus on winning can be detrimental in terms of competitive anxiety which can lead to a number of physical and/or psychological issues (burnout, staleness, loss of confidence, etc.).  We all want to win…but I’d suggest focus on being successful.

In conclusion, I suggest that everyone reading this blog to check out one of the last interviews with Coach Wooden in this 17 minute video-your time will be well spent. Also check out the NWCA’sWrestling Coaches Resource Manual (2) for more information on the topic of winners and learners.

“Find a way and make it happen”….dj


  1. Wooden, J. (1988). They call me coach. Chicago IL; Contemporary Books.
  2. Caslow, D. (2008). Wrestling coaches resource manual. Manheim, PA: NWCA

Scholastic Program Wrestling Coaches:  Wrestlers and Learners
Dennis A. Johnson, EdD
Associate Professor-Jamestown Community College (SUNY)
Former wrestling coach & author of Wrestling Drills for the Mat and Mind

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