The Problem with Letting Wins Define Your Self Worth

Competition naturally brings on a count of wins versus losses, who beat who, and how many teams were made when you competed at an elite level. None of this is inherently bad, until we start letting those elements define our self worth. We have all heard stories from past athletes, no matter what level they competed at, of the lessons from sport which have carried over into their careers and personal lives. This happens for a reason, and they share these stories because they are proud of the characteristics sport has given them. They discover that the wins and losses have faded from memory, and they have reaped the benefits of resiliency and determination. It helped them become successful people in life. The athletes who stepped away from sport with a sour taste in their mouth often leave because they focused too much on the wins or losses. They never saw the lessons sport had to give, and often have a harder time adapting to what life throws at them.

It can be a dangerous game when winning is the reason you continue playing a sport. The only person you can gamble on is yourself, and if your self worth is wrapped up in how you perform, you will often come out the loser. I have certainly fallen in the trap of believing that one win will change it all for me. If I just won this match, my confidence would change and I would feel like a whole different person. Or I'd believe that everyone would finally see my potential and all the hard work would be justified. I often felt ashamed if I lost a match I felt I shouldn't have, and believed that I would be seen differently by my peers. This was no way to ensure longevity for myself mentally or emotionally in a sport that I loved.

Looking back on the times I competed to win versus competing for the love of the challenge, I wish I could have seen how much the fear of losing was holding me back. Ask yourself, do the values you hold as a person also align with your reasons for competing in sport? I mentioned before, I value the love of the challenge. But that value was not focused on challenging myself to win a certain way or to win in general. I challenged myself to stay in each moment, to notice my emotions and let them pass, and even just showing up to competition were my accomplishments. It takes bravery for each of those challenges to be met, and you’re not the bravest in the room by winning a tournament.

It's not a bad thing to have pressure or to have a goal of winning. It helps motivate, push, and strive for improvement. But creating an environment where all that matters is the win, creates a breeding ground for negative self worth if that goal is not met. If we are obsessing over a win/loss record and allow that to dictate the energy we take to practice, we are hindering more than helping.

Progression is measured by more than just the win or the loss. If you've lost to the same person twice, but the first time you were pinned and the second time you lost by one point, you can't describe those scenarios as the same. The same logic pertains to with winning a close match, and then winning by a technical fall the second time around. Tiny gains are often seen only by those looking closely. The people who are paying attention are the ones who matter. Those are going to be your team of supporters who are working to help progress your skill set. The ones who are paying attention to your record are most likely not in tune with your long term goals.  

You will always be your harshest critic. Create an environment for yourself that is rich in searching for answers, and gentle on your psyche. Being a wrestler cannot only be defined by who you have beaten or how many have fallen before you. That once you reach a certain number of wins, that you will finally be a worthy competitor. You can strive for a goal of 100 wins, but let that goal of 100 wins be something to strive for, not a new way to critique yourself if it's not reached. You are still worthy if you win, you are still worthy if you lose. You are a great competitor because you challenged yourself and were brave enough to show up and step on the mat.

5 Items You Shouldn't Forget for Competition

For every sport competition, we have our typical packing list of must haves: uniform, food, water, lucky socks. But the more we compete, the more we find ourselves in situations where we didn't have what we needed. And even though we try and buffer for most situations, not everyone knows what to pack just in case. Here are the 5 items you should never forget to bring with you to a competition.

Athletic Tape

There are basic uses for tape that don't require you to become an athletic trainer. You can tape your fingers when they've been jammed, or for joint areas when you need extra support. Other than its intended purpose to tape injuries, the uses for athletic tape can be endless! It can be used for a headgear strap that broke and needs a quick repair, for shoe laces that cannot be loose, for your teammate who ripped their singlet strap, or to repair a broken hair tie when it was your last one! Athletic tape is useful due to its ability to be ripped into half its width. I'm sure you will find even more creative uses than I have!

The Emergency Kit

Your kit should include any medicines (cold medicines for overnight trips) or personal necessities you may need when you have a weekend at a competition. What is often overlooked are the things we think we can buy if we end up needing them, like feminine hygiene products. We never think our period will start during the middle of a tournament... and then it DOES! First thing in your kit should be extra underwear for that unexpected leak, or even for after the competition is over. Bring a variety of tampons, pads, and period underwear (it's the hot new thing, check out Thinx Panties). You never know what you will prefer on the day of competition, and you don't want to be without the options. Even if you've brought more than enough variety of feminine hygiene products for yourself, you'll always have a teammate who has forgotten her own supply. She most likely also didn't anticipate beginning her period on the day of the tournament!

Extra Tee Shirt

I was told years ago by a coach the importance of feeling fresh after the morning warm up before competition, and to always have new clothes to change into. Since then, I always have extras so I am not sitting around in my sweaty warm up clothing. At the very least, having an extra tee shirt to change into after the warm up will help give the mentality of further prepping and preparing to be fresh for competition. Anything that gives you a psychological edge over your competition is always a good thing. 

Rehydration Convenience

If you are depending on a coach or parent to get to a store and get the hydration you need, that might be your first mistake. Depending on others to provide what you know is best for you could result in you not having enough for the day, or ::gasp!:: the wrong type of drink entirely! Now that may sound sarcastic, but having proper hydration is critical. If someone bought the team Gatorade and you only like Powerade, becoming dehydrated helps no one. Be responsible for what you know you need and have it with you in travel packet form. This way it's conveniently always in your competition bag and you can easily mix it into water.

Massage Recovery Tools

Today we have much better understanding about how the body works and how to recover in between workouts. Competition is no exception. After sitting in a gym all day, re-warming up in between matches, and wrestling multiple times in a day, it's important to help those aches and pains. There are a lot of tools you can utilize, but I have a few favorites that work best. A mini travel foam roller, tennis or lacrosse ball to roll out tight areas and knots, or a massage stick roller are amazing products. You can see me hauling almost all my massage tools to each competition. See below for my favorites!

What's Your Motivation for Cutting Weight?

Wrestling has a stigma about weight cutting, and often the wrestling community is perpetuating it ourselves. In my opinion, it is emphasized much too heavily and much too young. Through competing, coaching, and educating young wrestlers about the sport, I have observed that our young athletes are taught they might only be successful if they compete at a lower weight. The number of males and females I've spoken to who have decided not to continue their career onto a collegiate or international level, have mostly been due to burn out from weight cutting. When does it become impractical to maintain a weight class? Should our minds, bodies, technique, and love for the sport suffer? This post is meant to be a guide for young athletes to navigate the pressures they may be receiving to cut weight.

I'll Win More

It is easy to think when you are the bigger wrestler in a smaller weight class, you are guaranteed to win. Once you come to terms with the concept that we are never guaranteed anything in life, you may realize that your desire to cut weight is taking away from your focus. Wrestling takes full accountability on good nutrition, technique, conditioning, and mental strength. These are the factors that will contribute to your success on the mat and give you an edge over your competition. By relying on a weight cut to help you win, you are mistakenly putting all your eggs in the wrong basket. 

I'll Look Better in My Singlet 

I hear it over and over! From middle school, to senior level – "I look way better in my singlet when I cut to the lower weight!" As senior level women, we don't realize how much this mentality trickles down. We have so much to deal with as women; societal pressures, media pressures, self pressures. Being in the sport of wrestling is empowering and gives us the opportunity to do amazing things with our bodies. By putting emphasis on being a smaller size, we are not recognizing that the real reason we are in this sport is because we are capable of amazing things at the exact size we already are. That is the beauty of multiple weight classes! If you have a personal goal of changing your body composition, that is a very different concept from cutting weight and looking smaller only for a weigh-in. Weight cutting is not a long term approach to coping with how we feel in our own skin. Set goals for yourself that include increasing strength and good nutrition. Our bodies will make significant changes when we seek overall health, not when we cut weight for a season. 

Making the Line Up

Making the team is important to every athlete. We may recognize a line up spot that could be made at a different weight, however it should not interfere with being your most healthy self. 

Moving a weight class should be a decision made by you, your coaching staff, and your family.

It should be a well thought out decision and you shouldn't feel pressured. Your own health and longevity in the sport should be taken into consideration. The mental and physical well being of an athlete is always more valuable than the need to cut weight. If you are still feeling pressured, come up with a strategy that helps everyone involved understand your goals. Here are some questions you should be asking yourself:

1. Am I currently at a healthy weight? Should my goals include strength and nutrition to help change my body composition so I am competing at a healthier weight?

2. Do I have to starve myself each week in order to make the weight? 

3. Can I seek the right professionals who can help me achieve and maintain this weight class in a healthy way?

4. What is my ratio of time spent on wrestling technique versus weight cutting? If the time and energy spent is mostly on the weight cut, this should be a tell-tale sign that your not spending enough time actually wrestling. 

Remember, this is YOUR athletic career, no matter how far you take it. It is important for you to leave the sport with a positive out look and great memories. We want you to come back to the sport through coaching, supporting, or one day with your own children competing in wrestling!   

My Experience with Weight Cutting

I was fortunate to have full support around me that did not encourage weight cutting. In high school, I changed weight classes each year to allow for natural growth as a teenager. As I got older, I made conscious decisions to not make excessive weight cuts because I wanted to compete for as long as possible and enjoy wrestling. I had seen too many examples around me of unhappy weight cutting wrestlers. I knew going into the 2012 Olympic Trials that I would have to make sacrifices and move to a higher weight class. It was more important for me to use the 2011 year to acclimate myself. Getting use to the bigger Olympic weight class became priority, instead of focusing on cutting weight in order to possibly make a world team at a smaller weight class. I had to center in on a future goal that was more important to me. I strongly believe this is what helped me stay competitive in the sport for so long, and allowed me to remain a happy athlete. With all the pressures, challenges, and emotions wrestling brings, adding years of weight cutting to my body could have led to less longevity.

The athletes I have worked with over the years have dealt with many different weight cutting pressures and scenarios. Once they decided not to cut weight, or had a strategic weight cutting game plan, they came back a happier and more successful athlete. They realized that great wrestlers are at every weight, and their focus on technique made them successful against those athletes. Have you heard the saying, "a happy fighter is a dangerous fighter?" The same applies here. The happier we are as wrestlers, spending productive hours training and not sucking down weight, the more dangerous we become on the mat.

Choosing Underwear for Female Wrestlers

As combat athletes and especially wrestlers, we face a very different set of challenges when it comes to choosing our workout gear. Being in tight fitting leggings, shorts, or competition singlets requires us to look at our undergarments from a different perspective. Gone are the days where we can wear our favorite lucky neon pink undies for competition... especially if we appreciate some modesty. When it comes to wearing spandex, we have to know how "sheer is our gear" before we get into a stance. I have had my fair share of undergarment faux pas, at practices and competitions. Here are my recommendations to help you navigate the world of sport and underwear!

Color

Look for underwear that is the closest to your skin color. Trying to match the color of your underwear to the color of what you are wearing will not always prove successful. Spandex is skin tight and you don't want to differentiate your underwear from your skin. This would be like giving someone x-ray vision to what you are wearing! Unfortunately, the underwear market isn't as diverse as it needs to be to fit all skin colors. You may have to do some digging, but once you find underwear that works for you, ask the company to provide more skin tones. Most likely you're not the only one looking for that product! 

Seamless Thong, Briefs or Bikini 

Stick to the underwear cut that is most comfortable for you. By finding underwear that has a seamless style, you wont have to resort strictly to a thong in order to prevent underwear lines. Briefs or hipster style will cut lower along the hips than a bikini style, which helps with the "no see" look. A thong can be ideal if you often are dealing with adjusting your underwear during practice or competition. However, never purchase a string thong as it has a thick seamed side and will be seen through spandex. Be sure to find a thong with a wider side, and avoid lace on any kind of underwear you choose. Below are some examples of seamless underwear. 

Sweat and Moisture Wicking Fabrics 

It is important to not wear cotton underwear for workouts and competition. Conventional thought told us that because cotton is absorbent, it would be the best material when sweating. However we have learned while cotton may absorb, it doesn't wick the moisture away from the body. This means moisture stays close to the skin, which increases bacteria and may lead to an increased risk of yeast infections. Choose breathable fabrics specifically designed for sport: combinations of microfiber, polyester, nylon, or spandex. The other advantage to sweat wicking fabrics are their convenience to wash and quickly dry if you have any accidental leaks during your period.

Spandex shorts

Your other alternative for practice and competition is wearing black spandex shorts underneath your singlet or workout gear. Now you can wear those lucky neon pink panties and not worry about them showing through! Spandex shorts are thicker underneath your gear, so be sure to find ones that are light and do not bunch as your move. They should have similar properties to the underwear you choose: moisture wicking and breathable.

Whatever undergarments you choose, make sure to have a trusted girlfriend do the "stance check." Can they see your undergarments through your spandex? Underwear isn't something we often discuss, but so many girls have questions about! Bring me all your questions about this topic if you want to see me write more on this subject! 

 


What you Need to Move Past a Tough Training Session

Giving yourself the opportunity to be okay with the ups and downs of training is important. No one has consistently perfect training sessions, no matter how positive they seem or how awesome their workouts look on social media. Here are my tips so you don't get hung up on a tough training session:

Shift your mentality 

We have all had those days where we are so frustrated or angry during a training session, that we just can't seem to find our way out. We are so worked up, it literally feels like the sky is falling (Chicken Little anyone?) Shifting your mentality is certainly one of the most difficult and personally rewarding challenges to work on. This is also often referred to as "mindfulness." Can you recognize your emotions while they are happening? Can you notice how they are affecting you, and redirect your attention? This becomes important when we know difficult training sessions will come no matter what. Practice noticing thoughts and emotions in day to day situations, as well as during training sessions (good and bad). Learning to redirect helps train us for competition that has uncontrollable factors in play, and to get the most out of a practice when it's an unfavorable situation. 

Move forward, don't look back

What has happened has happened. The more you dwell and think about that rough training session, the less time you are focused on being present in the moment. You are not helping yourself by mentally beating yourself down because a training session did not go as planned or as hoped. Really, who cares? Now what? Bring yourself to the present moment. You will have the next training session to practice being present, and meanwhile you need to do the right things now to prepare and recover for what comes next. 

Know who you can talk to in your support system 

When you can be honest and open with yourself or someone else, you are giving yourself the freedom to make mistakes. Without that freedom, it can be overwhelming each time you feel like you have "messed up" a training session. Find someone who can listen to your frustrations to help you refocus and realize that this is a small part of the larger picture. 

Give yourself a break

Be gentle with yourself. I've spoken about this in other blogs and I will continue to say this over and over. The longevity of your mental health in sport, or in whatever you do, is critical. If you continue to beat yourself up each time you have a tough training session, you can bet that your motivation for continuing in sport will begin to fade. If you are good at beating yourself up, then it's going to be a hard path to continue following. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt and remember you're human and not meant to be perfect. 

Journal for improvements 

Always keep a journal! When you are noticing your thoughts, write them down! If you can remember what thoughts you actually notice during a practice, good or "bad," you will start to learn how to remind yourself to come back to the moment. 

Just keep going 

Tough sessions often mean great breakthroughs are on the horizon! That's because when we don't give into the thoughts that say "just give up," we tend to make mental or physical breakthroughs that we didn't know we were capable of reaching. It is actually an exciting time, so keep on keepin' on!