My brother John and I didn’t start wrestling until high school. While we had a lot of catching up to do, neither of us minded working hard. We literally trained and wrestled year round.

By the time we graduated high school, we were competitive with kids who had been wrestling (in some cases) 10 years longer than us.

What did we have working for us … and what does your wrestler need to reach his full potential?

Intrinsic Motivation – or motivation that comes from within.

I’ve often wondered what kept us going. We weren’t the best … but we kept at it.

Come to find out, there were 3 psychological needs we were meeting through wrestling. These needs allowed us to stay “intrinsically motivated” – or motivated by nobody other than ourselves.

We’ve all seen it. Great wrestlers who cut their careers short because they don’t enjoy the sport anymore. Maybe a parent pushed them too hard, they cut too much weight, or they just didn’t have any fun.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this – especially how it relates to my 5 year old son. So what can we (you and I) do to help increase what is called “intrinsic motivation” – that is our wrestler’s own motivation train and compete.
Research shows that 3 psychological needs must be met to allow for intrinsic motivation.

These 3 needs are:

  1. The Need for Autonomy – This is a fancy term for choice. Your wrestler needs to feel as though they have a say in the matter. In a sport as tough as wrestling, there is a fine line between pushing them and forcing them. I think that line is crossed when a wrestler starts cutting weight too young, starts competing too young (if they don’t enjoy it), or is pushed too hard in training. Personally, I know I need to be careful with this one. My brother John and I decided to wrestle because we wanted to. Nobody pushed us into the sport.
  2. The Need for Relatedness – This is your wrestler creating a bond with his teammates and coach. Studies show that it is essential for motivation to come from the inside. This might look like your wrestler forming deep relationships with his teammates and coach. For me, I know this was true. I had 3 of my high school and college teammates stand up in my wedding, my brother was on the team, and my high school coach was like a second father. I wasn’t going nowhere.
  3. The Need for Competency – This simply means that your wrestler feels like he is getting better. Who wants to keep doing something that you feel you are making no progress on? Ways to increase this in your wrestler include proper short term goals, effective practices, and feedback from coaches to encourage. For John and I, this one was simple. We started whooping kids that were kicking our butts just a few months back. Talk about motivation to work harder!

An easy way to remember these points is the acronym C.A.R. (Competancy, Autonomy, and Relatedness).
Remember, if your wrestler isn’t motivated to get better, then no amount of technique, training, or nutritional work will matter.

They need to want this for themselves. Luckily, we now know how we can create an environment where that can happen more naturally.

What’s next?

Make it so that one of these needs can be fulfilled better through wrestling. Maybe you get a best friend to join the team (relatedness), give them a choice in their training – like early or later in the day (autonomy), or start setting and hitting short term goals (competency).

Either way, motivation should start to increase – which means more fun and ultimately more winning.
Good Luck to You and Your Wrestler!

-Joe Paun