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Traits of Elite Wrestlers an Help Us All Succeed

Tom Ryan

Richard Immel

A recent conversation with Ohio State head coach Tom Ryan turned into a discussion about the traits of elite competitors and coaches. Below are 10 personal observations about elite performers along with Ryan’s ‘Traits of the Elite’ that he uses for his Buckeye wrestling team. 

1. Hatred of losing

There is a genetic code among elite competitors that they absolutely hate losing. This is a pathological trait that means an elite competitor will stop at nothing to win. An elite achiever will find the outlet that allows him or her to win if the current outlet isn’t working. 

2. Attention to detail

Every detail, every second, every position, every point, and every situation is important. 

3. Deliberate practice

It’s not just repetition over and over. It’s a very specific kind practice that allows an elite competitor to make adjustments and improve on those adjustments. 

4. Obstacles are an illusion

If the goal is to be an Olympic gold medalist then the elite competitor will reach that goal regardless of circumstance. Injuries, illness, finances, and any other outside distractions do not factor into the desired outcome. 

5. Emotional intelligence

Elite competitors compartmentalize feelings. Feelings are irrational and they can be dishonest. 

6. Finding answers within

Elite competitors need help from others but they know how to coach and motivate themselves without using others as a crutch. They inherently know the answers without having to be told. These are the wrestlers who don’t need to look at their coaches during a wrestling match since they are locked into performance. 

7. An ability to create a new normal

People look at high achievers as abnormal. High achievers create their own worlds despite what others around them might say. 

8. A willingness to cross the threshold

It’s scary for average people to take risks. High achievers aren’t bothered by how they look in mid-air. Great wrestlers were often abused in practice when they first entered a college room since they sought out the best competition. There’s no fear of failure since they are consistently challenging themselves.

9. Staying with the formula

Are you willing to stick with it five, 10, or 15 years to get the result you want? J Robinson was hired as the head wrestling coach at Minnesota in 1986 and said he could win a team championship in five years. He didn’t win until 2001. Average performers drop off at some point because the mountaintop was too steep and too hard to climb.

10. Re-evaluating the formula if necessary

Sometimes a change is needed. Elite performers process information and make critical adjustments while average people can’t rethink. They are trapped by their own shortcomings.

Ohio State Wrestling Traits of Elite

1. Composure/Emotional control

The brilliant unison of the heart and head working together allowing the body to work in its optimal state. 

2. Trust

The foundational ingredient for progress. All in on believing our staff is believable -- that our system and words are held in the utmost regard. 

3. Brotherhood/Leadership ability

One who lifts others up. A bond between two or more in which all parties uplift each other seeing themselves as an integral piece of the whole. 

4. Aggression/Initiator

The consistent chosen response to resolve a matter which must be settled for maximum growth. 

5. Competitive Greatness

The beautifully displayed work when perfectly combined disciplines are attached to the strongest human will. 

6. Intelligence

The aptitude to understand how to jump levels in your sport. 

7. Mental Toughness

Finding a way to give what’s needed in the midst of great discomfort. Pain is temporary. 

8. Leadership Characteristics

  • Example: Our greatest teacher 

  • Truth in Love

  • Embrace discomfort

(This column first appeared in WIN Magazine. To subscribe, go to or call 888-305-0606.)

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